Friday, November 30, 2007

The Poets' Corner — a Poetry Friday post

A few weeks back I purchased a new anthology over in the regular poetry section. I'm not sure if you can completely make out the subtitle to this one, but the book is called The Poets' Corner: The One-and-Only Poetry Book for the Whole Family, compiled by John Lithgow (who, you will recall, is not a professor, although he played one on TV). Let me say this about that: the subtitle? Balderdash. Because Caroline Kennedy's A Family of Poems, which I reviewed in April is decidedly for the whole family, as are a number of other anthologies for children. And the books put together by Garrison Keillor (Good Poems and Good Poems for Hard Times) are pretty much as capable of being shared with the family as Lithgow's book. Just so we're clear that I take issue with the phrase "one-and-only" here. The rest of the subtitle is fine.

If you were to read the table of contents, you would think that this 280-page book contained fifty poems, one each by fifty poets (organized alphabetically by author's last name: Matthew Arnold through William Butler Yeats). And while that sounds like the premise and is, in fact, what is on the accompanying CD: 50 poems, 1 each by the poets listed in the book; it is not all that is there.

Each poet is introduced in a family-friendly sanitized kind of way by Lithgow's prose, and then the "featured" poem is introduced. What do I mean by sanitized? Well, Byron is pretty much just referred to as racy, and Lewis Carroll is described as a kindly man who regretted that children had to grow up so quickly, when most people will tell you that he enjoyed the company of little girls and regretted that they had to grow up at all (and not for Peter Pan-like reasons, I think).

After each poem, Lithgow shares his personal response to the poem, including any personal connections he has (after "Birches" by Robert Frost, he shares an anecdote about hanging from a tree by breaking rope when he was a child, for instance. In addition, for each poet, Lithgow provides a sidebar listing five other favorite poems by the poet (with the following exceptions: he lists only 4 additional poems for Byron and Pound, and lists 6 for Coleridge, Herrick and Shakespeare; he also includes lyrics from one song by Wm. S. Gilbert, who gets nothing more).

And for many poets, although certainly not all, a second poem is included. Not that you'd know that from the table of contents, although for the life of me I don't understand the omission. And not that you can readily figure it out from the index because there is not index. I can understand the decision to skip an index because of the way the book's organized. There's no effort at chronology here, it's alphabetized by the poet's surname after all. But that's all the more reason that the second poems should have been listed under the poets' names in the table of contents. And yes, little things like this actually bother me in real life. (For example, the table of contents tells you that William Blake's "The Tyger" is there, but doesn't mention that "The Lamb" is also included. It tells you that Keats's "To Autumn" is in the book, but not that "The Belle Dame Sans Merci" is there as well.)

From time to time, there are text boxes with additional information — a quote from the poet, perhaps, or a definition of a poetic form, or a link to someplace on the internet where you can hear the poet reading their own work.

What can I tell you about Lithgow's choices? Well, many of them are, for want of a better word, obvious, and cause me to think that Lithgow is fond of reading anthologies himself, since so many of his choices are widely-anthologized. Here's a sampling of what's there, most of which you've probably heard before, and many of which are in anthologies (including anthologies for children): "The Tyger" by William Blake, "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonnet 43 ("How do I love thee?") by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll, "There is no Frigate like a Book" by Emily Dickinson, Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins, "To Autumn" by John Keats, "The Owl and the Pussycat" by Edward Lear, "Annabel Lee" by Edgar Allan Poe, "To a Skylark" by Shelley, "The Emperor of Ice Cream" by Wallace Stevens, "Do not go gentle into that good night" by Dylan Thomas, "The Red Wheelbarrow" by W.C. Williams, "I wandered lonely as a cloud" by Wordsworth, and "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" by Yeats.

And yet, it's clear to me that Lithgow simply chose to feature some of his favorite poems, because of the occasional unexpected choice — such as the lyrics to "The Nightmare Song" by William S. Gilbert — and because of the decisions he made regarding "what to leave in, what to leave out".* He's included Allen Ginsberg, Hart Crane, Randall Jarrell, Ben Jonson, Philip Larkin, and Andrew Marvell. Don't get me wrong, all of them are excellent poets, but they are not nearly so widely anthologized as some of the others, nor are they as esteemed as some of the poets omitted: Robert Browning, say, or Ted Hughes or Sylvia Plath (although their estates are stingy with permissions, so perhaps that was the issue), or Tennyson or Pablo Neruda.

As I mentioned near the top of the post, the book is accompanied by a CD featuring readings of 50 poems, 1 per poet. The readings are each introduced by John Lithgow, who reads several of them himself (and takes on an increasingly obvious mock-English accent in the reading of the Gilbert lyrics). But he managed to get some "friends" to assist. They are Eileen Atkins, Jodie Foster, Gary Sinise, Glenn Close, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Billy Connolly, Robert Sean Leonard, Lynn Redgrave, Sam Waterston, Kathy Bates, and Susan Sarandon. Let me just say that Billy Connolly's reading of "To a Mouse" by Robert Burns is spectacular, as is his version of "The Owl and the Pussycat" and, oh hell, everything else he reads. I'd probably like to listen to him read the phone book. I heart Billy Connolly and his voice. But I digress. Jodie Foster's readings are glorious, and so are Susan Sarandon's and Gary Sinise's and Morgan Freeman's and Kathy Bates, well, if you think I'm going to list everyone, then you're close. There's an occasional track that's only so-so ("Annabel Lee" as read by Sam Waterston, for example), but really, the CD is great. Only you should be warned that the CD is in MP3 format, which meant that my stereo balked at playing it, although yours might not. The computer had no such issue.

So, what's my final take on this book? It contains, after all, so many poems that I already have in other anthologies. And the failure to list the supplemental poems, where they exist, is maddening. And yet, I find myself heartily in favor of it for the simple reason that I believe it might actually introduce the joy of poetry to a lot of folks who might not often shop for poetry books, simply because kindly, professorial John Lithgow is smiling at them from the cover, and assuring them that all will be well. Plus, I love the performances on the CD. Plus, I love poetry anthologies myself. And some of the poems I've been telling you are "obvious" choices are ones I've made myself to feature for Poetry Friday posts. (Oh, glass houses!)

The holidays are coming, folks: Chanukah starts on Tuesday night, December 4th, and Christmas is, as ever, on the 25th. Someone you know may like The Poets' Corner as a gift, although if the someone is a child, then consider the Caroline Kennedy book instead. Or if they're particularly young, go with Here's a Little Poem, edited by Jane Yolen.

*"what to leave in, what to leave out" is from "Against the Wind" by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band

Monday, November 26, 2007

"What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?"

The Writer's Almanac assures me that on this date in 1864, the Rev. Mr. Dodgson gave a handwritten copy of Alice's Adventures Underground to Alice Lidell. The following year brought the first publication of the work by its better-known title, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Longtime readers already know I'm fond of Lewis Carroll; fonder, even, than I'd been aware when I started poetry posts and whatnot over two years ago. Those folks interested in writing books should really take a look at Chapter One of Carroll's work to see how very quickly he establishes his premise and starts the adventure. I promise you need read no more than 6 short paragraphs, and even then, it's only so we can argue about where the real action starts: paragraph 2, where a white rabbit with pink eyes runs past her? paragraph 3, where she hears the rabbit speak and sees it pull a watch out of its waistcoat pocket and go into the rabbit hole? paragraph 4, where Alice follows? or paragraph 6, where she notices that the "well" she's in has pantry-cupboard sides? (I don't see paragraph 5 as a possible option, since it's a single sentence saying that the rabbit hole turned into a deep well, but hey, maybe you disagree?)

"Down, down, down. Would the fall NEVER come to an end!" Well, yes. And no. Because while Alice's fall ended, we know her story was just starting. And more than a century later, people continue to fall down the rabbit hole with her.

Here's the text of 'All in the golden afternoon', which is the preface poem to Alice in Wonderland and refers to Alice Liddell and her sisters:

All in the golden afternoon
Full leisurely we glide;
For both our oars, with little skill,
By little arms are plied,
While little hands make vain pretence
Our wanderings to guide.

Ah, cruel Three! In such an hour,
Beneath such dreamy weather,
To beg a tale of breath too weak
To stir the tiniest feather!
Yet what can one poor voice avail
Against three tongues together?

Imperious Prima flashes forth
Her edict 'to begin it' -
In gentler tone Secunda hopes
'There will be nonsense in it!' -
While Tertia interrupts the tale
Not more than once a minute.

Anon, to sudden silence won,
In fancy they pursue
The dream-child moving through a land
Of wonders wild and new,
In friendly chat with bird or beast -
And half believe it true.

And ever, as the story drained
The wells of fancy dry,
And faintly strove that weary one
To put the subject by,
"The rest next time -" "It is next time!"
The happy voices cry.

Thus grew the tale of Wonderland:
Thus slowly, one by one,
Its quaint events were hammered out -
And now the tale is done,
And home we steer, a merry crew,
Beneath the setting sun.

Alice! a childish story take,
And with gentle hand
Lay it were Childhood's dreams are twined
In Memory's mystic band,
Like pilgrim's wither'd wreath of flowers
Pluck'd in a far-off land.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Quoteskimming

It's a sun-cold Sunday morning here in southern New Jersey, and the last few leaves are rapidly abandoning ship to huddle with their compatriots on the ground. But as it's Sunday, it's time for some quoteskimming.

On Word Choice in Writing

From Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing (which you can see inside at B&N but not at Amazon): "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative."

A word about the book: Priced at $14.95, it'd make a nice gift book for a writer. But if it's just the text content you're after, you should know that it's available for free over in the New York Times online archives: the book was originally published on July 16, 2001 as a column called "Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle" as part of a Writers on Writing feature. The book has only one or two sentences per page, and a bunch of cartoon-like ink drawings, which is how it fills a 96 page book.

On Fiction

As part of my Jane project reading, I found lovely quotes about her by Virginia Woolfe. So when I found a copy of A Room of One's Own at the store, I purchased it and brought it home. I definitely had to read an extract in one of my English literature classes in college, but I'm nearly certain I didn't read the whole thing (not that it's super-long, even). Last night, I read chapter one.

"Fiction here is likely to contain more truth than fact. . . . Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be some truth mixed up with them, it is for you to seek out this truth and to decide whether any part of it is worth keeping." Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own, Chapter One.

"Fiction must stick to facts, and the truer the facts the better the fiction—so we are told." Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own, Chapter One.

On Details

It is a curious fact that novelists have a way of making us believe that luncheon parties are invariably memorable for something very witty that was said, or for something very wise that was done. But they seldom spare a word for what was eaten. It is part of the novelist's convention not to mention soup and salmon and ducklings, as if soup and salmon and ducklings were of no importance whatsoever, as if nobody ever smoked a cigar or drank a glass of wine. Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own, Chapter One.


On what poetry is

"Literature is a state of culture, poetry is a state of grace, before and after culture." Juan Ramon Jimenez, winner of the 1956 Nobel Prize for Literature.

"Poetry, from the beginning, has always belonged to the people, to everybody everywhere. . . . Driving one night, driving from the mountains with my son Michael, then three, in the backseat, I looked back and saw him point to all the lighted homes scattered in the valley below and heard him say: 'Daddy, what are those? Stars on the ground?' . . . Poetry is a part of being human. Or, better put, to be human is to know how poetry means." Al Young, in an interview with The Bloomsbury Review.

On analyzing poetry

This is from an essay called "The Frontiers of Criticism" by T.S. Eliot, from On Poetry and Poets, which I discussed a bit the other day in a post called Some thoughts on literary criticism.

In discussing what was then a new type of literary criticism, which Eliot referred to as "the lemon-squeezer school of criticism", in which the critic "without reference to the author or to his other work, analyse[s] it stanza by stanza and line by line, and extract, squeeze, tease, press every drop of meaning out of it that one can", Eliot warned of the dangers of this type of criticism:

The first danger is that of assuming that there must be just one interpretation of the poem as a whole, that must be right. . . . The second danger — a danger into which I do not think any of the critics in the volume I have mentioned has fallen, but a danger to which the reader is exposed — is that of assuming that the interpretation of a poem, if valid, is necessarily an account of what the author consciously or unconsciously was trying to do. . . . And my third comment is, that . . . I shoud like to find out whether, after perusing the analysis, I should be able to enjoy the poem. For the nearly all the poems in the volume were poems that I had known and loved for many years; and after reading the analyses, I found I was slow to recover my previous feeling about the poems. It was as if someone had taken a machine to pieces and left me with the task of reassembling the parts.


As on Wednesday, I am again reminded of Billy Collins's "Introduction to Poetry", and his comments about students "beating [a poem] with a hose/to find out what it really means."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Highlights

In yesterday's mail, I found an envelope from Highlights Magazine. I was going to post a picture, but, really, it was just a big white envelope with a mailing label.

I opened the envelope, and pulled out the contents, only to find two copies of the December 2007 issue of Highlights Magazine. That's right, my contributor copies!


Ooh! Shiny!

I opened the magazine immediately to page 38, because that's where I always turn in any new magazine, because I knew that was where my poem was located.


Look, there, in the upper left-hand corner!



It's a bit bleary, because the flash didn't work.

Friday, November 23, 2007

All in the Family — a Poetry Friday post

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays during which most people try to see or at least speak to family members. Which got me thinking that I'd share a family story for today, the day after Thanksgiving.

Once upon a time, an Italian poet named Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti emigrated to England after he was forced to leave Italy for supporting a nationalist movement. There, he met amd married the daughter of another Italian emigré, and had four children.

Maria Francesca Rossetti, author of The Shadow of Dante: Being an essay towards studying himself, his world, and his pilgrimage, which was published in 1871. I'm currently unclear whether she was referring to Dante Alighieri, of whom I wrote briefly in a past post, or to her brother Gabriel, who used his second middle name, Dante, as part of his nom de plume. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Maria became an Anglican nun in later years.

Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti, poet, painter, illustrator and translator. While those who knew him called him by his first name, he chose to call himself Dante Gabriel Rossetti when writing because he liked the association with Dante Alighieri. In art and literature, Gabriel tended to prefer mythology and symbolism to real-life depictions. His early art was part of the pre-Raphaelite movement, but he later became quite stylised and was part of the early European Symbolist movement.

He became quite peculiar after his wife's death in childbirth (in part attributable to her laudanum addiction), and became exceedingly fond of wombats. He wrote quite a lot of poetry, some of it marvelous, before succumbing to depression and an addiction to chloral hydrate (which is what happened to the heroine of Edith Wharton's Bleak House. Did anyone else catch this article about evidence that it was suicide, not an accident? But I digress.)

Here's a sonnet by the older Rossetti boy:

Heart's Compass
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Sometimes thou seem'st not as thyself alone,
But as the meaning of all things that are;
A breathless wonder, shadowing forth afar
Some heavenly solstice hushed and halcyon;
Whose unstirred lips are music’s visible tone;
Whose eyes the sun-gate of the soul unbar,
Being of its furthest fires oracular—
The evident heart of all life sown and mown.
Even such love is; and is not thy name Love?
Yea, by thy hand the Love-god rends apart
All gathering clouds of Night’s ambiguous art;
Flings them far down, and sets thine eyes above;
And simply, as some gage of flower or glove,
Stakes with a smile the world against thy heart.


Well-done if you spotted that as an Italianate sonnet (ABBAABBACDDCCD). The various types of sonnets are explained in a much earlier post, and subsequent posts explained some variations, including the Eugene Onegin stanza. But again, I digress.

William Michael Rossetti was a co-founder of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, where he edited their literary magazine and wrote poetry reviews. He also wrote biographies and essays and edited the works of both his poet siblings, as well as contributing to the Encyclopedia Britannica. He married the daughter of painter Ford Madox Brown.

Christina Georgina Rossetti was a poet from the age of 7. She suffered a nervous breakdown when she was 14, and was later swept into a religious fervor within the Church of England, along with her mother and older sister. Because of her religious beliefs, she declined at least two proposals of marriage. At age 31, she published her first collection of poetry, Goblin Market and Other Poems. Coming (as it did) only a few months before the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and being well-received, Rossetti was soon hailed as the new English female laureate. "Goblin Market" is one of her best-known poems. Dedicated to her sister, it tells of the temptations of the fruits of the goblin men, and the ruin that follows when one sister tastes their fruit. The other remains faithful to her way of life and manages to sort things out for them. It's a disturbing and riveting poem, and undoubtedly some sort of commentary on the need for strong religious principles. But again, I digress. (Must be the pumpkin pie hangover.)

One of Christina Rossetti's best-known poems is "In the Bleak Midwinter", which was set to music and popularized as a carol after her death. (You can see/hear a version of the carol sung by Allison Crowe here.) Rossetti also wrote quite a number of sonnets. Below is one of them.

Sonnet
from Monna Innominata
by Christina Rossetti

I wish I could remember that first day,
First hour, first moment of your meeting me,
If bright or dim the season, it might be
Summer or Winter for aught I can say;
So unrecorded did it slip away,
So blind was I to see and to foresee,
So dull to mark the budding of my tree
That would not blossom for many a May.
If only I could recollect it, such
A day of days! I let it come and go
As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;
It seemed to mean so little, meant so much;
If only now I could recall that touch,
First touch of hand in hand—Did one but know!


I expect ALL of you spotted this one as an Italianate sonnet, since it uses precisely the same rhyme scheme as that used by her brother which you just read.

I have no idea whether Papa Rossetti had a favorite child (or, for that matter, whether he was called Papa), but I submit that while Dante had some chops, Christina was the finer poet. If you go back and look at Gabe's sonnet (I'm sure he won't mind if I call him Gabe, right?), you'll see that he only let two lines go without punctuation at the end, and that he usually used line-ending punctuation indicating a pretty significant pause (periods, semicolons and em-dashes). Christina, by contrast, is more subtle. She doubles the number of unpunctuated lines (4), which makes the poem move a bit more swiftly, and her use of commas instead of longer-pausing marks means that you need not hesitate quite so much (particularly as at least two of the line-ending commas are there as part of a list).

Dante also uses formal phrasing (what with the thees and thous and the "est" endings), whereas Christina uses "you." Dante talks of mythological gods where Christina talks of nature; Dante uses Big Important Words, while Christina uses accessible ones.

Take another look at the poems (assuming you've got a moment), and you'll see that they are both writing about love, and that they both reference nature in so doing. The references to nature are probably part of brother Bill's pre-Raphaelite leanings. William Rossetti wrote the guiding principles of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and I think they are reflected in the poetry of his siblings, and more so in Christina's writings than in Dante's (particularly since, between you and me, I think Dante's poem reads as an imitation of those of earlier poets, whereas even now, there's something "fresh" about Christina's):

1. To have genuine ideas to express;
2. To study nature attentively, so as to know how to express them;
3. To sympathize with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parading and learned by rote;
4. And most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues (or poems, as the case may be).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Some thoughts on literary criticism

Lately, I've been giving some serious thought to literary criticism. In part, it stems from my investigation into the life of Jane Austen, who is the subject of my work-in-progress: a retelling of her life using period verse. It probably won't qualify as serious biography despite the phenomenal amount of research I've done (and continue to do), because owing to the nature of the beast, it attributes thoughts and emotions to various persons, some of which are based on inference rather than concrete fact.

But whilst I've been working away at my poems, I've been reading a number of books as well. The occasional contemporary book from my reading pile (some of which I've reviewed here), a fairly substantial number of books about Jane Austen (or including substantive discussion on her), and a number of books about poetry, whether it's late 18th- and early 19th-century poetry (i.e., from the time in which Austen lived, to get the "feel" right) or more contemporary writing, including the Collected Poems of Louis MacNeice and On Poetry and Poets, a collection of essays by T.S. Eliot.

In an essay called "The Frontiers of Criticism", which was first published in 1956, Eliot discusses the changes in literary criticism that occurred between 1923 and 1956, largely as a result of the branching out of literary criticism to inclue the social sciences, linguistics and etymology, and semantics within its purview. Based on the tendency of literary critics to look at the lives of the poets they were studying (often in minute detail) in order to explain the "meaning" of the poems, (which he called "the criticism of explanation by origins," Eliot called into question its usefulness, and I've been much struck by his argument. And so, lucky you, I've decided to blather on about it today.

Eliot used two representative texts to challenge the usefulness of "explanation by origins":

1. The Road to Xanadu by John Livingston Lowes: Lowes attempted to explain the "source" of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poems by reconstructing a bibliography of all the books that Coleridge ever read as a means of identifying "source material" for the creation of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan. According to Eliot, "Lowes showed, once and for all, that poetic originality is largely an original way of assembling the most disparate and unlikely material to make a new whole. The demonstration is quite convincing, as evidence of how material is digested and transformed by the poetic genius. No one, after reading this book, could suppose that he understood The Ancient Mariner any better; nor was it in the least Dr. Lowes's intention to make the poem more intelligible as poetry."

2. Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce: Eliot offered Finnegan's Wake as an example of what critics "would like all literary works to be." Eliot sees the book as a monstrously long prose poem, full of lots of bits that can be isolated, tracked down and sorted out (with a helping of "merely beautiful nonsense" along the way), but claims that such a book gives "support to the error, prevalent nowadays, of mistaking explanation for understanding." Knowing where something comes from does not necessary offer any true enlightenment.

Here's the bit that stopped me cold the other night: Eliot used Wordsworth as an example of a poet whose life has been poked at, and offered some of the juicier tidbits (the mistress in France, his suspected love for his sister). And then he said this:

It is relevant if we want to understand Wordsworth; but it is not directly relevant to our understanding of his poetry. Or rather, it is not relevant to our understanding of the poetry as poetry. I am even prepared to suggest that there is, in all great poetry, something which must remain unaccountable however complete might be our knowledge of the poet, and that that is what matters most. When the poem has been made, something new has happened, something that cannot be wholly explained by anything that went before. That, I believe, is what we mean by 'creation'. (italics from the original; bolded emphasis mine)*


It reminded me that when I started writing about Jane Austen, I'd only read two of her novels, some time ago, and seen three movies, and nothing more. Poems about her life were easier to write then, because I started by learning her life, and then moved on to her art. But once I got to her art, I was enthralled, a word which here means not just "captivated," but also "enslaved"; my admiration for her writing bound me up for a while, and I found it hard to write because of a feeling that I couldn't do her justice. (And hey, maybe I can't, but that's a separate issue.) I can move forward again now that I've freed myself from feeling that I need to impart an understanding of her art to my readers. I'm trying to help my readers understand Austen; separating those threads has made it easier for me to move ahead. Thank heavens for my own diverse reading, or I'd still be stewing in a state of stasis. (How'd you like that alliteration? Too much, right?)

*As a Billy Collins fan, I'm reminded of his poem "Introduction to Poetry", which concludes:

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.


More on this later (you've been warned!). Safe travels to those of you taking to the highways, railways and airways for the holiday.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Night by Sara Teasdale

It's fun poking around in anthologies and page-a-day calendars. I keep finding "new" poets to read and love.

Here's a poem from Sara Teasdale, an American poet born in St. Louis, Missouri near the end of the nineteenth century. I'll be looking for more of her work to read (and most of it is available free online, as she is well out of copyright).

Night
by Sara Teasdale

Stars over snow,
  And in the west a planet
Swinging below a star—
  Look for a lovely thing and you will find it,
It is not far—
  It never will be far.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Quoteskimming

It's Sunday, and you know what that means: time for a bit of quoteskimming.

On Poetry:

"Poetry began when somebody walked off a savanna or out of a cave and looked up at the sky with wonder and said, 'Ah-h-h!' That was the first poem. The urge towards 'Ah-h-h!' is very human, it's in everybody." ~Lucille Clifton

"Don't shackle poetry with your definitions. Poetry is not a frail and cerebral old woman, you know. Poetry is stronger than you think. Poetry is imagination and will break those chains faster than you can say 'Harlem Renaissance.'" ~Mark Flanagan

On Writing Poetry:

"One of the most definable characteristics of the poetic form is economy of language. Poets are miserly and unrelentingly critical in the way they dole out words to a page. Carefully selecting words for conciseness and clarity is standard, even for writers of prose, but poets go well beyond this, considering a word's emotive qualities, its musical value, its spacing, and yes, even its spacial relationship to the page." ~Mark Flanagan

"The imagery gets richer as I write. 'I walk the dog and it’s there' is fine for a rough draft, but I made it more specific in the final draft: 'I walk the dog and plot how it gets stamped on my ankle bone.' . . . I find this to be true of nearly all my rough drafts---the triggering words are mundane, the ending words, much richer. I get more 'live hits' the deeper in I go." ~Sara Lewis Holmes, in her notes about the construction of her poem, "Inked: On Memorizing Gerard Manley Hopkins". You can read Sara's poem, hear Sara read her own poem, and check out the rough draft and notes (from whence came this quote) at Sara's podcast site, A Cast of One.

"Writing a poem is like conducting an argument between your unconscious mind and your conscious self. You have to get unconsciousness and consciousness lined up in some way. I suspect that's why working to a form, achieving a stanza, and keeping to it—deciding that the first and third and fifth lines will have to rhyme, and that you're going to insist on so many stresses per line—oddly helps the poem to be born. That is, to free itself from you and your attentions to it and become a piece of art in itself. Heaven only knows where it comes from! I suppose working out a form diminishes the thousands of possibilities you face when you begin. And once you've cut down the possibilities, you can't swim off into the deep and drown." ~Anne Stevenson

On revision and critique:

This week, the lovely and talented Jennifer Hubbard spoke to a college class about the art of revising. "One interesting question that came up was what to do with criticism that seems to be based on a misunderstanding of your intent. I could think of 3 reasons for such criticism: 1) the person didn't read the work closely enough; 2) the person read into the work something from his/her own mind; 3) whatever was in your head didn't actually make it down on paper. Talking to the critiquer can help establish which one it is." You can check out Jenn's post and the comments here.

"Take a break. Let the story sit a week or two before you go back to revise. After all, 'revise' means 'see again.' You can't take a second look at something unless you first look away." ~David Lubar, quoted by Kate Messner in her speech to the NYS English Council. You can read more revision tips from others (including, well, me) in Kate's blog post.

On characters

What makes a memorable character, particularly in a children's book?

"'It has to do with an intensity of presence,' [Philip] Pullman says. 'Just as some people are so much there that you can sense when they come into the house, so some characters in fiction have the same authority or charisma. Some personal quality makes them more alive than their fellow characters. It has nothing to do with how good or friendly a characters is. They can be horrible, and you can still not lift your eyes from the page when they appear.'" From an article by Amanda Craig that appeared in The Times, called Creating Characters.

On character motivation, again from Jenn Hubbard (and if you aren't reading her yet, really, why aren't you?):

Some things that help me get in touch with the motivations of my characters--the secret and the not-so-secret motivations:

Asking myself, 'What does this character really, really want, more than anything?' (sounds obvious, but I can't believe how far into a first draft I can get before I remember to ask this!)
Writing some scenes from different characters' points of view
Writing scenes that don't appear in the final manuscript, but that help me see how characters interact in other situations
Rewriting scenes with different endings (I thought the scene went this-a-way, but what if it went that-a-way instead? What if the character said this, not that? Then where does the scene go? What am I learning about everyone?)


THE FIRST AUCTION STARTS TOMORROW! You can see precisely which flakes will be on the block this week at The Robert's Snow page. While there, you can find information on how to register to be a bidder, and can check out the bidding rules.

To check out the snowflakes featured in today's blogosphere, click on the Robert's Snow button. Jules at 7-Imp has posted two new 2007 snowflakes: an astonishing winged snowflake featuring "Cupid and Psyche" from Rebecca Guay, and Kathy Jakobsen's DC-inspired "Jefferson Memorial/Washington Monument". In addition, Jules and Eisha have also been keeping an ongoing list of blog posts thus far featuring snowflakes and the artists who created them.

Thirteen Reasons Why - a review from M


A few weeks back, M provided me with a kind of review of Amanda Marrone's book, Uninvited. Today, the wonderfully talented reader/writer that is my younger daughter is back with a review of Disco Mermaid Jay Asher's debut novel, Th1rteen R3asons Why. Without further ado, M's review (completely unedited by me):

13 Reasons Why was definately a great read. It was amazingly well written, which made me never want to stop reading!

The "stories" were so amazing, you had to read more to find out what happened next! I loved this book and I don't want it to be over!



3 reasons why I loved 13 Reasons Why:

1. The characters grabbed your attention.

2. The plot was so well written out, you almost CAN'T put it down.

3. The author, Jay Asher, always kept it exciting!

The "story teller", Hannah Baker, showed us the struggles of a high-school girl through her touching stories and always kept you thinking. She was so relate-able, as was the other main character, Clay Jensen, who anyone could relate to.

So, Jay Asher, keep 'em coming!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Trope and Louis MacNeice — a Poetry Friday post

First, a word about trope. I first heard the word in a music history class in college. I took two full years of music history, since I was a music major, and the word "trope" cropped up in the very first one, the study of Medieval and Renaissance music. I learned then that a trope is a theme, and Gregorian chants are typically tropes. Other religious music uses tropes as well, for Torah and Haftorah in Judaism, and for Psalms in the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Episcopalian churches as well as in the Church of England.

The word "trope" is used in literature to describe a common theme, motif or a pattern. In linguistics, a "trope" is a play on words. In poetry, it is all of the things I've described already, depending on the particular poet and the person analyzing the poems. Suffice it to say that a recurring image, setting or turn of phrase can be a trope. It's most frequently a theme, symbol or idea that recurs within the work of a particular poet, possibly being returned to at various points throughout a career.

As Jama Rattigan pointed out a few weeks ago, apple orchards were a frequent image or motif in the poems of Robert Frost, who wrote "After Apple Picking", "The Cow in Apple Time" and "Goodbye, and Keep Cold". Even "Mending Wall" contains references to Frost's apple orchard.

I've been reading The Collected Poems of Louis MacNeice over the past several weeks, and I'm finally ready to write my first MacNeice post. Reading a collection of poetry spanning the lifetime of a particular poet is an excellent way to discover particular tropes, even if they are not something that the poet may have been aware of. As I mentioned in a "Quoteskimming"* post a few weeks back, his poem, "Bagpipe Music", is one of my favorites. (In all fairness, my list of favorite poems is extraordinarily lengthy.) First, the poem, and then a discussion of trope in MacNeice.


Bagpipe Music
by Louis MacNeice

It's no go the merrygoround, it's no go the rickshaw,
All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.
Their knickers are made of crêpe-de-chine, their shoes are made of python,
Their halls are lined with tiger rugs and their walls with head of bison.

John MacDonald found a corpse, put it under the sofa,
Waited till it came to life and hit it with a poker,
Sold its eyes for souvenirs, sold its blood for whisky,
Kept its bones for dumb-bells to use when he was fifty.

It's no go the Yogi-Man, it's no go Blavatsky,
All we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi.

Annie MacDougall went to milk, caught her foot in the heather,
Woke to hear a dance record playing of Old Vienna.
It's no go your maidenheads, it's no go your culture,
All we want is a Dunlop tyre and the devil mend the puncture.

The Laird o' Phelps spent Hogmanay declaring he was sober,
Counted his feet to prove the fact and found he had one foot over.
Mrs. Carmichael had her fifth, looked at the job with repulsion,
Said to the midwife, 'Take it away; I'm through with overproduction.'

It's no go the gossip column, it's no go the ceilidh,**
All we want is a mother's help and a sugar-stick for the baby.

Willie Murray cut his thumb, couldn't count the damage,
Took the hide of an Ayrshire cow and used it for a bandage.
His brother caught three hundred cran*** when the seas were lavish,
Threw the bleeders back in the sea and went upon the parish.

It's no go the Herring Board, it's no go the Bible,
All we want is a packet of fags when our hands are idle.

It's no go the picture palace, it's no go the stadium,
It's no go the country cot**** with a pot of pink geraniums,
It's no go the Government grants, it's no go the elections,
Sit on your arse for fifty years and hang your hat on a pension.

It's no go my honey love, it's no go my poppet;
Work your hands from day to day, the winds will blow the profit.
The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,
But if you break the bloody glass you won't hold up the weather.


In the penultimate stanza of the poem, and, indeed, throughout the poem, MacNeice discusses then-contemporary life and politics. British and Irish politics, to be precise. MacNeice was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1907. He was educated in England, at Oxford, and his everyday jobs included jobs in academia and as a feature writer and producer for the BBC from 1941-49, which included much of the time that Britain was involved in World War II (they officially declared war on Germany in 1939 following the invasion of Poland). Before the war, MacNeice's poems addressed the depression (economic and emotional) then existing. Poems like "The individualist speaks" and "Turf-stacks", for instance. MacNeice wrote a number of war poems during the Blitz, and wrote more still years after the war was over. "Brother Fire", written in 1943, talks about England's early policy of appeasement toward Germany and the air-raids to come; "The Trolls (Written after an air-raid, April 1941)" tells of the experience of being in (and being witness to) the destruction of an air-raid. Later poems, like "The Atlantic tunnel (a memory of 1940)", "Homage to Wren (a memory of 1941)", and "Rites of War".

In the final stanza of "Bagpipe Music", written in 1937, MacNeice's reference to "the glass" is not to a windowpane or a drinking glass, but to the barometer. The stanza speaks of futility — no matter how much you work, the money all goes; no matter what you do to the barometer, the rough weather (literal and figurative) will come. A poem from eleven years earlier, "Glass falling", written in 1926, presages this closing stanza:

Glass falling
by Louis MacNeice

The glass is going down. The sun
Is going down. The forecast say
It will be warm, with frequent showers,
We ramble down the showery hours
And amble up and down the day.
Mary will wear her black goloshes
And splash the puddles on the town;
And soon on fleets of macintoshes
The rain is coming down, the frown
Is coming down of heaven showing
A wet night coming, the glass is going
Down, the sun is going down.


The tone in these two poems is very different, "Bagpipe Music" being mocking and sharp, "Glass falling" being dolorous. Where "Bagpipe Music" lilts along, racing towards its end with its snappy metre and crackling consonants and short vowel sounds, "Glass falling" mopes along with long tones and humming, vocalized consonants (check out all the Ms and Ns and even the Ws, Ls and Rs) and internal repetition ("down" appears 8 times) or slower words like "ramble" and "amble". It uses assonance to keep itself slow, and onomatopoeia (the use of a word that imitates a sound) to give effect, as where the "goloshes . . . splash". There is an end-rhyme scheme of a sort as well, that lends the poem structure, although it's not a specific form (ABCCBDEDEFFE).

And yet.

With all the differences, these poems both speak of inevitability. Of the inability to prevent or avoid bad weather, actual or figurative. Of the bleakness that comes with the clouds and rain and the disappearing of the sun.

Well. I don't feel right leaving you on such a sour note, so I will include a third poem by MacNeice, from his final collection of poems which was published only days after his unexpected death from pneumonia in 1963.

Coda
by Louis MacNeice

Maybe we knew each other better
When the night was young and unrepeated
And the moon stood still over Jericho.*****

So much for the past; in the present
There are moments caughte between heart-beats
When maybe we know each other better.

But what is that clinking in the darkness?
Maybe we shall know each other better
When the tunnels meet beneath the mountain.


For those of you who care about such things (and I will assume I'm not the only soul who does), MacNeice's "Coda" is written using tercets (three-line stanzas), and is a variation of a roundel or rondeau, in that the line "Maybe we knew each other better" (or a variant thereon) appears in the first line of the first stanza, the third line of the second stanza, and the second line of the third.

The Collected Poems of Louis MacNeice that I've been reading is the 1967 edition edited by E.R. Dodds. Afficianados should note that a new edition called The Collected Poems of Louis MacNeice edited by Peter McDonald was published in January 2007 by Faber & Faber, and can be gotten as an import through Amazon (I couldn't find any other sites that had it).

* Quoteskimming: My term for ganking writing-related quotes from here and there
** ceilidh: pronounced kay-lee; a Gaelic term for "visit", it refers to a dance
*** cran: a measure of the quantity of herrings caught
**** cot: a cottage
***** Jericho: Not used here to mean a town in the book of Joshua, but a recurring motif or trope in MacNeice's poems, and most likely a reference to his college days. Jericho is the name of a neighborhood in Oxford, which takes its name from a pub called the Jericho Tavern. In the 1950s, it was a red-light district, just the sort of place one might find "a bit of skirt in a taxi."




In other news: This is the last week of featured snowflakes for the Robert's Snow for the Cure project. The first "batch" o'flakes opens for auction on Monday, November 19th at 9 a.m. EST and runs through Friday, the 23rd at 5 p.m. EST. You can see precisely which flakes will be on the block next week over at The Robert's Snow page. While there, you can find information on how to register to be a bidder, and can check out the bidding rules.

To check out the snowflakes featured in today's blogosphere, click on the Robert's Snow button. Jules at 7-Imp has posted a new 2007 snowflake from Brian Biggs called "Ice Skaters Waltz" done in black and white and grey. In addition, Jules and Eisha have also been keeping an ongoing list of blog posts thus far featuring snowflakes and the artists who created them.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

In Memoriam Robert Louis Stevenson

Today is the anniversary of Robert Louis Stevenson's birth. I've posted about Stevenson once before, to mention A Child's Garden of Verses, a still-used collection of poems written for children.

Stevenson led an interesting life, to say the least. He was a noted Scots author who wrote in both English and Scots, although his English writings remain famous. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Stevenson was born into a well-to-do Scots family; his father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all noted lighthouse designers and engineers. Both their profession and proximity to the North Sea contributed to Stevenson's lifelong love of the sea. Stevenson suffered from "weak lungs" his entire life; it is possible that he had tuberculosis, but whatever the cause, his health kept him indoors during the winter. From a young age he was put in the care of a nurse (then a word for nanny), Alison Cunningham. Like his parents, Cunningham was a Calvinist, and told him many stories about hell-fire and damnation. She also included stories about witches and ghosts, which doubtless influenced his later writings, particularly Jekyll and Hyde, written long after he'd repudiated many of the tenets of his Calvinist upbringing. But I digress.

After completing university, Stevenson toured Europe for several years, looking for a climate more beneficial to his lungs. While in France, he spied a woman in a restaurant and made a rather grand entrance (leaping through a window) in order to make her acquaintance. Alas, Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne was at the time a married woman, but that did not prevent her from falling in love with the smitten Stevenson. When she wrote to him after she returned to her home in San Francisco and reported that she was ill, Stevenson set off after her in a rather gallant (if ill-thought-out) manner, arriving at her door years later nearly dead himself. The now-divorced Osbourne nursed him back to health, and married him in May, 1880. She and her child moved to the Napa Valley with him for a while, and then eventually back to Scotland with him. (Later moves included various places in Britain, France, the United States, Hawaii, and other South Pacific Islands, eventually making one of the islands of Samoa his final stop.) Stevenson died in Samoa at age 44.

In addition to poetry, his life's work included these still-read classics: Treasure Island, written for his step-son; Kidnapped, a historical novel; The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the result of a remembered dream/nightmare, the first draft of which novella was written in three days. He also wrote other novels and novellas, short stories, and nonfiction, including a number of travelogues.


Picture-books in Winter
by Robert Louis Stevenson
(from A Child's Garden of Verses)


Summer fading, winter comes—
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs,
Window robins, winter rooks,
And the picture story-books.

Water now is turned to stone
Nurse and I can walk upon;
Still we find the flowing brooks
In the picture story-books.

All the pretty things put by,
Wait upon the children's eye,
Sheep and shepherds, trees and crooks,
In the picture story-books.

We may see how all things are
Seas and cities, near and far,
And the flying fairies' looks,
In the picture story-books.

How am I to sing your praise,
Happy chimney-corner days,
Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
Reading picture story-books?


As it is now Autumn, and Stevenson's birthday, I thought I'd share another of his seasonal poems (for the above poem is decidedly wintry*, no?).

Here's the text of "Autumn Fires", from A Child's Garden of Verses:

In the other gardens
  And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
  See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
  And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
  The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
  Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
  Fires in the fall!



* For another winter poem by Stevenson, see my earlier post, which includes his poem, "Winter-time".

In other news: This is the last week of featured snowflakes for the Robert's Snow for the Cure project. Following this final flurry, everyone involved with the project is hoping to see an avalanche of bids on the various snowflakes. The first "batch" o'flakes opens for auction on Monday, November 19th at 9 a.m. EST and runs through Friday, the 23rd at 5 p.m. EST. You can see precisely which flakes will be on the block next week over at The Robert's Snow page. While there, you can find information on how to register to be a bidder, and can check out the bidding rules.

To check out the snowflakes featured in today's blogosphere, click on the Robert's Snow button. Jules at 7-Imp has posted two! brand new! 2007 snowflakes. One from Vladimir Shpitalnik (in spectacularly Russian form) and another by Yuyi Morales called "Little Night", which is actually a little sculpture perched atop a snowflake platform (which is, itself, atop a music box). In addition, Jules and Eisha have also been keeping an ongoing list of blog posts thus far featuring snowflakes and the artists who created them.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Favorite Poem Project - a Poetry Friday post

As I've said repeatedly, poetry is really best when read aloud. And it can be even better when recited from memory.

Today, I set out to write a post about Louis MacNeice, but that will wait for another day, because while I was checking a little something out, I found a site where you can hear lots of poems. Not read or recited by important orators, or by poets, but by regular people. Everday, regular people. Fifth grade girls, very old men, folks of all races and economic backgrounds.

You will be amazed by their choices, and the reasons for them.
Retired 81-year old anthropologist recites Shakespeare's Sonnet 29, after talking about his early life in an orphanage, and what that poem meant to him as a 7th-grader, and how it helped him through the horrors of war.

Fifth-grade Katherine Meckling recites Theodore Roethke's "The Sloth."

Twenty-something John Ulrich from South Boston smokes his cigarettes, and talks of suicides and herion overdoses, before reciting Gwendolyn Brooks's poem, "We Real Cool."

U.S. Marine Stephen Conteagüero recites W.B. Yeats's "Politics," and talks of his life with his wife, Lourdes.

Baptist minister, Rev. Michael Haynes, the child of Afro-Caribbean immigrants and a child of the depression, speaking of prejudice and history and more, sits in the cemetery, near the graves of his ancestors, and reads (and recites in part) "A Psalm of Life" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

There are more, of course, maybe a total of a dozen or so stories and poems. I hope that today, you'll give one of them a look and a listen. Go to The Favorite Poem Project, former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky's project, and feel the power of poetry.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Nothing Gold Can Stay -- A Poetry Friday Post

This morning, I had to drive S to school because she opted to stay home and finish a bit of homework she'd forgotten rather than take the bus that comes an hour before school opens. (I don't quarrel with her decision, which was sound, or with her priorities, which were to spend all last night studying for a major unit test in Spanish, and I enjoy time alone in a car with my girlies.)

On the way, I was still pondering what poem to use today for Poetry Friday. And S and I began to talk about the changing leaves on the trees. S's favorites are the "leaves that look like peaches — gold, with a hint of pink". (I like the dark eggplant-purple of the occasional ornamental tree, but only when it's contrasted with greens; they lose their magic for me when everything goes to rust.) And it hit me that the poem I most wanted to share today was Robert Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay."

"That's a sad poem," said S. "It was used in The Outsiders. Have you ever read that book?"

The answer is that I haven't. In the time and town where I grew up, once you were done with children's books, you moved on to grown-up titles. S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, first published in 1967 (when I was three), was clearly around when I was a teen, but I never heard of it until S read it in middle school. But the poem plays a key role in the book in the relationship between the characters Ponyboy and Johnny. And because S so strongly associates the poem with the characters in the book, she finds it sad.

And really, it is sad, or at least fatalistic. But first the poem, then the discussion:

Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.


On the surface, this is not truly a poem about autumn. The first four lines are about spring, and early growth of plants and leaves, when the first yellow greens appear on the trees. In the fifth line, the leaves are just leaves, but use of the word "subsides" shows a settling or falling sort of motion. And then the sixth line is the "turn," where Frost gets to his real topic. The subsidance of leaves reminds him of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Dawn is lost, but day remains. And then that last, killer line with a fatalistic ring to it, decrees that "Nothing gold can stay." It can be taken to mean that nothing can stay gold, and S.E. Hinton's character, Johnny, says that it's about the importance of appreciating the things you loved in youth, and about staying "golden", or young. But I think it means that nothing can stay young.

For me, the poem is about the transient nature of youth, with a hint of loss. And in my mind today, remembering this poem (I don't yet have it committed to memory, but I sure remembered the leaf references), I thought that "Nothing gold can stay" suited the brilliant-gold of the autumn leaves quite well. And so, evidently, did Robert Frost. Here are the last three lines of this poem from an earlier draft, at a time when the poem was called "Nothing Golden Stays":

In autumn she achieves
A still more golden blaze
But nothing golden stays.



Today's poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay," was first published in 1923, in The Yale Review. But Frost played around with it for several years, and several earlier versions of it exist. The earliest of these other versions was sent to a friend in 1920, and ended as you see above. Frost's initial focus was on the evanescent quality of new growth. Buds are golden before green. Leaves appear to be flowers before they unfold and "subside" to be leaves. Trees burst forth in color again in the fall, then the leaves subside once and for all to earth. In later revisions, he decided to universalize the poem more. By introducing the idea of Eden, Frost injects a human element into the poem without spelling it out. The sinking of Eden is a reference to the "fall of man," but it echoes the idea of transience: Eden was short-lived, but the rest of man's time on earth has been much longer. Dawn, usually the time when the sun rises, is describes in falling terms as well, but dawn "goes down" to the bright light of day. Is that really a decline, or an improvement? Again, dawn is transient and over quickly, but day lasts far longer. Perhaps, then, Eden was transient, and the longer time spent after the fall is to be preferred? Is our preference for "gold" really such a good thing? Is not the long day better than the short dawn? Is not the summer longer and more durable than the budding spring? Is it not worth our while to recognize that youth's a stuff will not endure* and to appreciate our adulthood?

The poem concludes strongly, for a number of reasons:

"Nothing gold can stay."

Why does that line pack such a wallop?

Well, first, looking at metre, it is different than all the rest. The first seven lines are essentially iambic (a two-syllable poetic foot in which an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable, ta-TUM), although the first line has an oddball because "nature" is usually read NAture, not naTURE. The first seven lines each have six syllables to them. That last line has only five. And it's trochaic, with a truncated ending. (Don't panic - it means that it has two-syllable feet that are trochees, in which a stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable, TUM-ta, but that the last foot only has one syllable, which is accented, so the line reads TUM-ta TUM ta TUM.)

It's written in rhymed couplets. Not just any rhymed couplets, either: but end-stopped rhymed couplets (which is to say that each line logically pauses at the end, where the commas and periods and semicolon can be found). This could easily become sing-songy in the wrong hands, yet Frost manages his images well enough that I find myself not truly noticing the rhyminess of it on a conscious level. Particularly if I read it aloud (as one should), where the pause after a comma is not as long as that created by a semicolon or a period. Especially since the lines "So Eden sank to grief,/So dawn goes down to day" form a single sentence, and don't rhyme with one another. Instead, they create a break before that last line, which stands alone.

Second, looking at word choice, the line begins with a negative: "Nothing." While there have been hints at loss and falling and evanescence throughout the poem, creating a vaguely melancholy tone, this word is aggressively negative. Also, as written that last line can be read as a command, rather than as a commentary on loss. It is a far broader statement than any that comes before it, generalized as it is to all things (in the negative). Gold cannot stay.

A possible stretch: While folks don't usually interpret the poem this way, one could stretch so far as to say that gold in that last line might not refer to the "just-Spring" qualities in the poem (with a nod to e.e. cummings), but could refer as well to money, which one cannot, after all, take with them.

For some other commentaries on the poem, check out these essays over at Modern American Poetry. The second one, analyzing it from a linguistic point of view, is fascinating to me, although I'm sure most people don't have the patience for it.


What think you?



* The quote "Youth's a stuff will not endure" is the closing line of "O Mistress Mine" by William Shakespeare. It was a song sung by the character Feste in Twelfth Night.




To check out the snowflakes featured in today's blogosphere, click on the Robert's Snow button to the left. The girls at 7-Imp have a lovely image of Alissa Imre Geis's snowflake, “Hope in Winter,” which features the first stanza of Emily Dickinson's Hope is the Thing With Feathers. In addition, Jules and Eisha have also been keeping an ongoing list of blog posts thus far featuring snowflakes and the artists who created them.

While there, check out their Poetry Friday post today, all about Alice. Yes, the one from Wonderland. No, not the one from the Restaurant.