Poetry Challenge Three – A Poet’s Epitaph by William Wordsworth

What a lucky name for a poet: Wordsworth. Did you ever think that? You must have.

The challenge this fortnight was to write a poem using several rhymes I chose out of Wordsworth’s poem, ‘A Poet’s Epitaph.’ The poem I am linking to here, rather than pasting it whole, for various reasons having to do with convenience. Go check it out, then post your poem here.

I agree with Leah – this was more difficult. It pulled a completely different kind of poem out of me than I usually write. I’ll post mine in the comments this time.

If you want to participate but you aren’t ready, the various challenges never close. You can post a poem within the limits of the challenge any time you are ready.

45 thoughts on “Poetry Challenge Three – A Poet’s Epitaph by William Wordsworth

  1. I can justify supreme existence – can I justify my own?
    What is life, unless I crouch, squint, blow my hair aside by sunny brooks?

    Unless I snatch green stones from sunny brooks

    What is life unless I crouch, with one foot planted in the muddy brown,
    One foot journeying through watercress where no one ever looks?

    The bright obliterate where no one looks

    ***

    Soul, will you have a cup of dust?
    Brittle hair to suck within the grave?
    Gnaw instead of bread a gravel crust?
    Will you follow Death in leather leads, his slave?

    ***

    I can justify existence, can I take the hook off from the latch?
    What is life unless I syllogise and improvise and botanise?

    I call a lily’s name; botanise

    What is life unless I chase the leaves I spot, the swallows that I watch,
    One foot falling past the other foot on grass, both hands upraised, both eyes?

    The dark pits of the light-devouring eyes

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    • I like it. 🙂 (At first that was going to be my only comment, but then I thought I’d give you a little walk through of how I read and experienced the poem, in case that were of interest or use, and also to give some substance to my first statement.)

      At first I was surprised by how long some of the lines were– I suppose because that’s not common in your poetry, at least in what I’ve seen of it. Then it occurred to me that this was fitting in a poem that is about a person beginning to ask himself (herself?) whether he has been thinking just a little too much, to the detriment of actual existence, in all of it’s glorious unfiltered immediacy.

      I like the words and images you use to convey that in that first part– the green stones snatched from sunny brooks, the blown aside hair. It has a freshness and immediacy to it and paints a very pretty picture. I think there’s also some allegory going on there, with one foot planted in the muddy brown (anchored in established truths?) and the other journeying in the bright obliterate (actual living and openness to the unknown).

      The second part seems to be presenting a rhetorical alternative to actually existing, and also perhaps underlines that the way we justify our existence is by actually existing. The alternative is death, or hanging out in the shadow of death. The first three lines of that stanza roll along predictably enough, not in a bad way, and then the fourth image caught me by surprise, before making me chuckle. It has a sauciness to it, which also works to lighten the atmosphere from the contemplation of death before returning to a reconsideration of the questions in part one. The speaker can justify existence now, can he actually exist? Take the hook from off the latch? Good line, btw. Only this time he seems to ask himself, what is life without the abstract thinking? To use a cliche, it isn’t either/or, it’s both/and. Syllogising is also a natural, human activity, also creative. It’s all a part of one well lived life.

      The last line is the best and my favorite. It has an obvious (but not too obvious!) spiritual meaning, and it also works so well with the rest of the poem– the hungry eyes looking to be filled with light, beauty, the outdoors. I like the upraised hands, too. It’s a very reaching poem.

      Phew! I said a lot more than I realized I had to say when I first started typing. And this was with a toddler whining in my ear off and on, so forgive me if it’s a little disjointed, and please tell me if I’m reading wrongly!

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      • Oh! And there was something else I noticed and loved about this poem that I wanted to mention- the way the non italicized lines are sort of think-y and considering, and the italicized parts that follow sound as the soul’s affirming, authoritative, musical echo. It’s wonderful. 🙂

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      • I started reading, Leah, but then hurried on to the poem itself because I didn’t want to be reacting to or influenced by your comments. You are a quick, sensitive reader and I am easily swayed (feeling uncertain about my tendency to over-read, plodding along as i do, and thus miss the
        enchanted forest, or simple backyard-garden-beauty, of a poem)–so I deferred, and now am wandering through an old graveyard listening in.

        When comments are finished, there will be time enough to add more. And more, if the large number of exchanges about the “Many and Many” poems becomes a trend. (A bit of an exhausting trend for Alana, I fear.)

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        • “And more, if the large number of exchanges about the “Many and Many” poems becomes a trend. (A bit of an exhausting trend for Alana, I fear.)”

          Ah yes, the dark pits of the light devouring eyes wait for Alana to speak. We can be patient, though. We’re nice like that. 🙂

          I’m not as sure of my reading on this one, honestly. I think I am an imaginative reader, but sometimes that equates to me imagining away from the poem (or whatever work of art) rather than further into it.

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        • Or was it the meter that made it seem predictable? If so, that’s a good argument for my longer-final-line effect…

          Generally, I find that lines with an odd number of feet feel more complex and sophisticated, as if they contain a bridge within them (the middle foot acts as a bridge to the two halves) while an even number of feet gives a settled, neat feeling, because everything is divided whole (with only silence in the middle.) Perhaps I should lengthen the first three lines of the middle section by a foot to give it more continuity with the rest of the poem.

          As far as the long lines, I’ve done some experimenting with this, but I think this is the first poem of nine-foot lines that I’ve been able to finish and put on the blog.

          I think the nature of the challenge kind of predisposed me to use longer lines, because it was easier to use the assigned rhymes by putting them at the end of a sentence.

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          • “Or was it the meter that made it seem predictable? If so, that’s a good argument for my longer-final-line effect…”

            Yes and yes. 🙂

            I thought afterwards I should have expounded on that statement more, sorry about that. I mostly meant the meter, and also that using those assigned rhymes in the context of death and the underworld was somewhat predictable, in the sense that they naturally lend themselves that way.

            “I’m surprised that you thought drinking dust and eating hair was predictable. When I first met with those images or similar in the hell-online page I was pretty shocked by them. Have you seen this sort of thing elsewhere much?”

            Ereshkigal and Inanna are friends of mine. Okay, not really, but I did read a whole book about them once! It was a psychological interpretation of the myth, quite fascinating. (I don’t know a lot about mythology, but enjoy reading what I can on Jungian psychology and have picked up a bit that way.) So, those images and associations were perhaps more familiar than they would have been otherwise because of this. Again, I don’t think this was a weakness in the poem. They are good lines.

            “Perhaps I should lengthen the first three lines of the middle section by a foot to give it more continuity with the rest of the poem.”

            I don’t know. . . I suppose it depends on what effect you want the most. As it is, the middle section works as a parenthetical aside, a musing within the musing, almost a poem within the poem. I think it is interesting this way, but I also like continuity. Although if you lengthened the lines, you’d lose your effect of having the last line of the stanza longer, which seems to work particularly well here, imho. 🙂

            Also wanted to add– it was encouraging to know that I read the poem more or less as intended, since I had some doubts on that score. Now I like it even more, lol.

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      • Thank you! I’m glad you like it. I would say your take on the poem is pretty accurate to what I meant by it.

        I’m surprised that you thought drinking dust and eating hair was predictable. When I first met with those images or similar in the hell-online page I was pretty shocked by them. Have you seen this sort of thing elsewhere much?

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      • Excellent comment, Leah, on an excellent and fun poem. I did not catch the metaphor to “I can justify existence, can I take the hook off from the latch?” Your comment “The speaker can justify existence now, can he actually exist? Take the hook from off the latch?” clearly pointed out an analytical shortfall I have when reading.

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    • Big thoughts–good for the mind!, as a former priest friend liked to say. The challenge brought out another element in your poetic make-up, Alana. And it revealed an earth-bound spirit, a tension between joy in creation and a yearning to get behind, or beyond, natural beauty. I think the phrase “bright obliterate” sums up that quest perfectly. It’s a wonderfully abstract/concrete image. A very poetic way to talk about God.

      But since questions form the basic structure of this poem, I’ll begin with my own. Assuming that the speaker in the second section is the same as in the first and third (and maybe I shouldn’t make that assumption too quickly), who is the “you”? Or is it an internal dialogue, the speaker questioning himself? A related question has to do with where dramatic emphasis should be placed when reading the second section aloud, or aloud-in-your-head. I tend to place the stress on the second word in each line : you, hair (ugh! What an image!), you,and you. But if you mean for the stress to be on the first word–as if these were polite,and therefore ironic, invitations instead of stark reminders of what happens if life loses its spiritual component.

      Also,why use some end punctuation but not all? This was only a problem for me once, but it seemed important –in the final stanza, with no period after “both eyes” I interpreted the concluding phrase as a clarification of those eyes. (i.e., the eyes of the speaker). BUT the use of “the” to qualify “light-devouring eyes” –another striking and appropriate image; #2 on my list of felicitous expressions–makes that image rather more distant and possibly ominous than it is meant to be, as if the speaker were transformed at the end into a kind of mysterious being, mystical at best , almost demonic at worst. With a period,however, this distant tone is not confusing because then it is easily understood that the universal human yearning for transcendence can contain an element of danger (“dark pits”–which I understand refers to the seeds in some fruit, say cherries, but the emphasis on negative color along with the other meaning of “pits” makes the image ambivalent) and excessive self-focus (“devouring” as opposed to something less passionate, such as “absorbing” or “consuming”).

      Amazing,what a tiny punctuation mark can do! But the maybe I am thinking way too much about particulars instead of letting it wash over me in its rolling waves.

      I was greatly moved by the whole experience of reading and rereading,and I don’t want to turn it into a kind of scientific dissection which causes life to disappear, so I’ll stop here, and save my other comments for later. They are all positive, by the way.

      Quite an achievement this poem is. Thought provoking. A well-made thing.

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      • Thanks. Yes, to the idea that my joy is earthbound.

        I changed the punctuation to the way I really wanted it. Had missed the inadvertent lapse, so thanks. The italicized snatches are meant to be unpunctuated. I agree that last line feels a little darker than I wanted it.

        The pits of eyes are the irises. I don’t think ‘dark’ is ambiguous, because it’s found in the same line as its opposite, light, which implies a relationship. Only what is dark can devour light – the eyes are always hungry for light, straining after it even in darkness. And given that the poem involves some very disturbing questions, despite the visceral joy that is sprinkled throughout, I think maybe it could still work.

        The “will you” questions are based on this: http://www.hell-on-line.org/TextsANE.html

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          • OK, you got that. Well yes then, the “pits” of the eyes would definitely be a comparison with the pit of a cherry or similar fruit. Not a reach at all.

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          • Clarification: I knew about the connection, but I was confused about terms. The way I understand it now, the “dark pits” are the pupils. The iris is the surrounding color that makes for blue eyes, brown eyes, etc. So it is the pupil that let’s the light in,becoming larger or smaller in response to outside conditions. Now I am going to go back to my initial comment and see if I can explain, at least to myself, the reason for “the element of danger” that I though was present in the last line.

            You didn’t see any ambiguity there because dark and light are natural opposites and therefore imply a relationship.I agree. And yet, if I look deeply into my cat’s eyes, the pupil is what attracts my gaze and evokes a response. (I have never been able to look deeply into another person’s eyes that responsively because I get distracted by more immediate feelings–so I am not sure that the cat’s eyes comparison is valid, but let’s assume for now that it is.).

            That response of mine contains an element of mystery. Since the pupil–an empty black hole–does not tell me anything about what’s going on inside Charlie’s head, i begin to associate that with the possibility that he is hiding his thoughts and intentions from me, and that he may be planning an attack, or worse, that he is trying to hypnotize me, sort of the way some snakes do to their prey before swallowing it (I started to say “devouring” but remembered that those snakes are less active in their eating habits, chillingly so.). So a small fear begins to arise in my imagination as I look into the “pits” of his eyes.

            I already mentioned the two contrasting meanings of that word. A seed inside a cherry is a hopeful thing (even if dangerous to one,s teeth if not careful). But the other kind of pit could be threatening (you might fall in, something could be hiding there) or even a source of fear or sadness (an open grave).

            Given all that, you can see why “devouring” could take on a negative feeling, even though by itself, and particularly in the context if human society, it is rather a good thing to be healthy enough to be able to enjoy food zestily.

            Conclusion: No theological or mystical elements in the poem, but a hit of mystery, possibly danger, in the final line. Just a hint.

            But now, for me, that slight tone becomes positive in that sight itself is mysterious, gloriously so, and allowing ourselves to be enthralled by what we experience is dangerous much the same way as a prolonged party, or an all-night dance, or any exuberant behavior is – it could interfere with the pedestrian routines of everyday life. Probably not, however, so the “danger” itself also provides a bit of a thrill.

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            • Yes, I see. A couple of things. First, I’ve realized that this line, while it has some energy and some thought-provoking features, is basically a bad line of poetry. The reason is an unacceptable incoherence. If the irises are fruit and the pupil a stone (pit) then the obvious implication is that the eye is something to be eaten (devoured) not something to devour. (And I won’t cry “irony!” – that’s just cheating.)

              Thus, even though the comparison works at a purely sensory level (I really can see the eye looking like a cross section of a blue or green cherry) it probably would only be appropriate in a poem from the point of view of scavengers birds or something else that could make use of the specific idea.

              On the other hand, if the “pit” is simply a hole of darkness, the line works a lot better, but you are right, the overall implications are sinister. Not because the pupil hides instead of revealing – that is a mere artifact of its receptive action.

              But rather because the eye, in my line, becomes something like a “black hole” – always devouring, never enlightened. Again, in a different poem that could be used to illustrate the “lust of the eyes” or the stupidity of a foolish person, but here it doesn’t really get at anything to the purpose of the poem. The line needs to be balanced by an idea of nutrition, of some real good being done by the light that is “ingested” by the eye.

              So, if I ever work up this poem I’ll have to reimagine the last line.

              But here’s the second thing: your description of how you respond to eye-contact with people and your cat is definitely not how most people experience eye-contact so I don’t think that it’s completely valid for you to bring that to a poem, unless the poem is written by a person who also experiences things that way, and is describing that experience. While I do know what it is to be quickly overwhelmed when I look someone in the eye, I am aware that most people can do so comfortably. (I’ve learned that when I am about to look someone in the eye, I can make it more comfortable for me by focusing on what I am trying to express to that person instead of what I am seeing in that person – thus making me less receptive, less sensitive.) But, I am at least free from the tendency (I think) to attribute sinister intentions to something that is simply an artifact of a bodily function. I think it is interesting that you note that Charlie’s pupil does not reveal his thoughts to you. It made me think about what we except to see when we look into someone’s eyes.

              Generally, people do seem to expect that they will be able to “read” the person’s thoughts or emotions to some extent when they look at their eyes. However, this expectation is not based on the idea that the physical eyes themselves can emit thoughts. Instead, it is based on years of experience in reading subtle facial language. The brain notes and gathers, automatically, all the information about the movements and relative positions of the face’s features and cross-references that information with the words and vocal inflections and any other information about the person’s feelings and thoughts. Tiny tightenings or loosenings of various muscles all combine to create an “expression” – an arrangement of the face’s features – that has long ago become associated with various emotions and thoughts in our experience. The face is a mask that tells the truth, and the quickest point of reaction is the eyes.

              The pupil, then, is not “hiding” any intentions – it is not the place where intentions are formed. It is simply the body’s darkroom (in the photographic sense.) It only responds to light, not to ideas. The direction in which the eye is pointed, the slope of the eyebrow, and the contraction or relaxation of tiny muscles around the eye, in humans, give the veiwer’s brain information about the intentions and emotional state of a person. The face of a cat reveals less of this because there is less to reveal.

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            • I noticed the slightly sinister element the first time around, but thought it was intentional, because people are, after all, a little scary, the possibility described in the second section being, I think, inherent. Only perhaps this is painting the poem a little darker than you intended or than makes for an accurate image?

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            • Yeah, it’s just a bit off from the preceding lines, a little bent, a little… mmm… non-final. It might have worked with that middle section.

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      • Me, the would-be doctor of the practice of . . .: “But if you mean for the stress to be on the first word–as if these were polite,and therefore ironic, invitations instead of stark reminders of what happens if life loses its spiritual component.”

        You: What was that again?

        Oh boy, I got so lost in my stuffy analysis that I forgot where I was . . . And now I can’t recall how I might have planned to finish the sentence! Maybe this is a good reminder to spend more time on poems (reading &writing them) and less on talk about them. It’s just that I like everything about poems, including talking and listening when they are the subject. I’ll try to stay focused and not give in to the urge for smallish talk (about stress points, for example).

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        • Nah, don’t sweat it. Everyone brings something to the table. You’re our detail guy. I’m more of a big-picture girl. But stress points are important. Generally, I expect my poetry to be read with the same stresses that you would give that sentence in normal speech. Whether those natural stresses line up with the meter I intend is on me. I don’t think I can dictate how someone hears the words physically.

          The exception might be, I suppose, where there are two possible rhythms. For instance, in my first Holly Brightweed poem, Holly sings a song, a “hodgepodge melody” while riding home on her bike. I purposely made that hodgpodge melody fit two meters at once – the song she is singing, and the “song” I as the poet am “singing.” However, I guess I’ve always hoped that an attentive reader would notice, try it both ways, and basically just get a smile and an “aha” out of it.

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    • The revisions work well. And having finally read Leah’s comments, I can see that I went a bit too far in my “reading” of your poem. There is nothing in the lines that is directly theological, mystical, nothing even remotely demonic – what was I thinking? (I’ve been spending a lot of time reading “Glorybe2God” and others like it. I think I need to spend more time crouching by streams, chasing leaves and swallows, even botanizing!)

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      • I know what you mean. For me, the religiously-informed consciousness is necessary for a full life, but the religiously-consumed consciousness is problematic. Most of the people I’ve known who spent their days thinking about religious subjects became unbalanced, even mentally ill. Certainly weirdness and abuse abounds among such.

        I imagine it’s important for monastic communities that they have handicraft and so forth. But for every monastic who lives life instead of living a religious fantasy, who lives life while holding a perfectly natural converse of the spirit with the maker of life, there must be at least ten bearded weirdos with extreme convictions, obsessive thoughts, and a view of God that none of us would be able to bear in a normal state of mind.

        I cannot accept the viewpoint that says that this whole world is simply a distraction from God, a test to see whether we will turn away from it and toward him. Perhaps such apocalyptic viewpoints were natural at certain times and place. It was more natural, perhaps, from within a society, perhaps, where everyone was consumed by the pursuit of destructible fortunes – a pursuit that characterize human effort when people are largely deprived of divine awareness.

        I come back to the simple fact that God put us in this world and made us bodies which are exquisitely atuned to the movements, colors, music, tastes and visions of the natural world. I don’t believe God creates for the purpose of deception. It may be that he raises up a few people here and there to a higher nature while still walking these lands, but I don’t believe his hand can be forced in this matter. It seems to me that his purpose in doing so, at least in part, is so that someone will be there to pray for the rest of us.

        I believe the fundamental religious activity is to enjoy God’s gifts with thanks, and to make some effort to offer them back to Him. (We have our own selves, our powers and being, as his gift.) But we must realize that when we offer God’s gifts back to him, he almost always returns them to us again, to enjoy in the normal manner. In this way we establish a sort of divine commerce with the Lord, and what spiritual affections may grow within the cultivation of this commerce is a matter within his hands.

        As you can see, I have very little sympathy for asceticism, despite my ecclesiastical affiliation. If I saw someone who could live an asceticism formed of enjoyment, I would love that person. St. Porphyrios is such a one, but even he spoke guardedly of some problems with the ascetic lifestyle. For him the meaning of his life was that he loved Christ and Christ loved him. He was true to his monastic committment but he didn’t emphasize it as the essence of his life or the aspect of his life that he wanted others to follow, unless they were called.

        In the end, I believe God gives each of us what we really want from him, what we truly expect and seek from him, in faith. In this way he leaves us our autonomy while remaining intimately involved with us. The mere fact that someone has had a spiritual experience while in pursuit of some activity or while possessed of a certain belief, does not in itself validate that activity or belief. God himself, when he comes to us, is completely other than all the effort we have employed in trying to find him. His autonomy is far more complete than ours.

        So yes, to brooks and swallows and falling leaves. God is there. But we can’t offer these things back to him unless we first enjoy them with thanks – unless we attentively evaluate, understand, and wonder at them. That’s what poetry is for, in my view. It helps us teach one another how to do that. Every poem I write is an offering, or a confession, to God.

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        • Another very helpful reflection. Thankyou! I’m copying this for discussion with Mary Anne, who is very suspicious of my interest in Eastern Orth. Christianity, knowing my history so well. I tend to throw myself at things, get myself all worked up, and then wonder where in the world I am. As you can see from this and previous comments about poems, “self” probably might be keeping me farther from truth rather than, as I hoped, closer.

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          • No problem. Hey, you should check out some of the literature on “giftedness” in adults. They ALL emphasize the tendency to jump from one interest to another. Most people don’t have intellectual and artistic appetites that needs constant feeding. If you do, you have a gifted intelligence. I’m not suggesting you rush out and acquire Mensa bragging rights (or maybe you already have them, heh heh) but becoming aware of the reason for the differences between ourselves and others is necessary, I believe, for being OK with who we are.

            As for the Orthodox Church, there’s a lot of room for intellectual pursuits here, and pursuing those intellctual pursuits will be good for you whether you ultimately join or not. Joining the church, on the other hand, is not an intellectual act. It is an act of loyalty, and you have to look at the reasons for undertaking the burden of such a loyalty from all sides.

            Basically, the way I feel about it right now is that if you believe in Jesus you must eventually settle somewhere. The Orthodox Church has a lot to recommend it right now, not the least of which is that I can get away with saying things like those in my comment above.

            The spiritual food you get here is pretty much the best to be found anywhere. Just stay away from idealogues, is my advice.

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    • I just now came across a passage in a novel that brought your poem to mind. The main character, Kate Morrison, is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, but as a child she lived in remote Ontario along with her two older brothers and a baby sister. After the tragic death of their parents in an automobile accident, the brothers decided to manage the farm themselves and take care their sisters, ages ten and two, so as to retain a sense of family.

      Kate teaches undergraduates, but prefers research. Her speciality is invertebrate ecology and she spends time investigating the effects of pollution on the population of freshwater ponds. During one of her lectures she has a flashback to a childhood experience that shaped her future plans:

      * * *

      “What I remembered was Matt [her brother] and me, in our usual pose, flat on our bellies beside the pond, our heads hanging out over the water. We’d been watching damselflies performing their delicate iridescent dances over the water when our attention had been caught by a very small beetle crawling down the stem of a bulrush. . . . When he reached the water the beetle didn’t so much as pause. He just kept on walking. The surface of the water dimpled for a moment as his head butted into it, and then it wrapped itself around him and swallowed him up. . . I peered down into the water and saw that our beetle, still marching steadily downward, was surrounded by a glistening silver bubble.

      ” ‘It’s air,’ Matt said, craning forward, shading the surface of the pond with his hands to cut down on the reflection. ‘He’s got his own submarine, Katie. Isn’t that something?’

      “I know how the beetle did it now of course . . . Many creatures who live on the water-air boundary carry down an air bubble with them when they submerge. The air is trapped in a velvety pile of hairs, so densely packed that they are completely waterproof. As oxygen is used up, more diffuses from the surrounding water. . .”
      * * *

      I was so pleased to see that the author allows her character to experience “The bright obliterate where no one looks” but she also develops them to the point where they can “botanize,” sort of.

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  2. Caring for Graves with Grandma

    “Time’s worn it’s way like an old, old brook across these graves!
    How faded must the flowers look, to your young eyes.
    I’d botanize, and name each one, but love, my own;
    here’s work! let’s slave!
    and rid this grave
    of gathered dust
    and earthy crust
    and these sad flowers– dead and brown.”

    I still can hear her voice and feel her eyes:
    always one to “botanize”,
    speak of flowers, watch for dust,
    lament the wasting of a crust-
    and care for graves.
    That puzzled me, the way she’d slave-
    on graves. As if their glory were her own,
    she’d scorn to leave one bleak and brown.

    “Then do you think they watch?”
    I’d then demand, because, I own
    I wanted, once, to make her own
    what worth it was she found in graves,
    what thing it was for which she’d slave,
    and why the gate we would unlatch
    each spring, to prune for flowers, watch
    for snakes, and clear the leaves left dead and brown.

    But she would never say. For all she told
    the zeal to clean and hate of dust
    were their own ends, the soul and crust,
    of all she did and loved and why she slaved.
    That nothing hid within the grave,
    she was most firm.

    “They do not watch.
    It’s only dust
    that’s buried there, beneath the crust.
    Souls to bodies do not latch,
    We tend the place to keep up looks
    and clear the mess left by the brooks.”

    Did instincts deeper than those crusts
    that turn all things to less than dust
    keep root in her, past sight of eyes?
    I do not know, yet were I bold to botanize,
    I’d say a truth for which she’d slaved
    in mystery I can’t unlatch,
    secret, silent, buried, waits
    in seedlike form
    within her grave.

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    • This is almost virtuousic. I really don’t have anything to criticize. (Yay!) As a copy-editing note, you once have ‘it’s’ for ‘its’ in the first line.

      Aside from its contemplative, musical, and emotional virtues, I’m really impressed by the way you were able to weave the rhyming words repeatedly in and throughout the poem, often as end rhymes, a few times internally. I think it was wise that once you identified ‘crust’ as dirt you were pretty consistent in that usage. It works.

      Finally, the ending thought is wonderful – it’s a thought that belongs to the most essential religious impulses, but it’s handled poetically. Well done.

      Wish I could elaborate more but am distracted by shoulder pain.

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      • Thanks! You are very kind. 🙂 I haven’t been able to write poetry in forever so truth to tell I was rather pleased with the way this one turned out myself. I did think some of my word usage was a bit predictable. . . more so than yours. . . but it seemed to be what they wanted to say and I was more focused on trying to see if I could experiment with meter successfully, so am glad to hear you thought it was musical! Your rain lands poem inspired me that way, but I needed a bit of a nudge to actually act on the inspiration.

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        • Yeah, I’ve been struggling for a while to get anything written a well. So the challenges have been a help for me in the same way – also, I think, the impetus to read and study for the sake of whatever we happen to be discussing has been helpful.

          Oh yes, you did experiment metrically, didn’t you. I was more impressed with the multiple uses of the same words, but I recall now that you were nervous about straying from the prescriptive meters. Yay! Good for you.

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    • This will sound strange, Leah (or familiar, if you have spent time with teenagers lately) but it’s true. I had this great commentary going–about how successful the character portrayal is, about the clever uses of the b-word, about the complex dramatic movement in the first stanza, about the masterful, intricate single-sentence, 8-line third stanza, about the indirect but very powerful references to death through use of nature images (flowers, leaves, detritus left by minor flooding, even snakes), about the implied religious theme in the final four lines (seed/resurrection – or am I reaching again?) – I mean I was really rolling, proud that I was getting the big picture, pleased with myself but more so with your poem . . . and suddenly I twitched, or my tablet did, and the screen went blank. All gone. Every last word. But the good news is, all comments were good (i. e. positive).

      Now, however. . . if I may,

      (1) I didn’t know how to read/understand the last four words of the third line, “but love, my own;”

      (2) I was puzzled by the rhythm change in the last line of stanza #5. No, not puzzled exactly; just surprised. Well, disappointed, or maybe distracted.

      (3) Also distracting were the two instances of inverted word order: “why the gate we would unlatch” and “Souls to bodies do not latch” – – – not saying these are bad, just that they stood out.

      I’ll end with my favorite lines or phrases: “And rid this grave / of gathered dust” “. . . and feel her eyes” “lament the wasting of a crust” ” ‘They do not watch. / It’s only dust / that’s buried there'”

      For someone who hasn’t been writing for a while, you’re comfortable with it – smooth – graceful. Maybe it’s like riding a bicycle. Once you learn, you never unlearn. Something deep inside remembers.

      Nice poem!

      Like

      • Albert, thanks for bringing up these questions. Leah may have her own answers, but I want to propose a few considerations.

        1.) I think “but love, my own,” is a form of address. The grandmother is addressing the grandchild as “love, my own.” There are quotation marks around the whole first stanza, so I think that supports my reading.

        2.) I disagree (if you can disagree with a disappointment) about the last line of stanza 5. I recall that I used to become nervous with a feeling of having identified something incorrect whenever the meter of a poem wasn’t absolutely predictable and even and changeless. However, some people schooled me and eventually I realized that switching a foot around like that is actually musical. It should be used consciously and to effect, but it’s perfectly permissible. I think it’s worth cultivating an enjoyment for that kind of thing.

        3.) It’s true that the syntax arrangement “subject verb object” is the most common one in the English language. However our language is partly inflected and therefore can also sustain a limited range of alternate syntax.

        When to use it is largely a question of style and emphasis. I’m no believer in the dictum that poetry has to sound like casual speech. God forbid – casual speech as we commonly hear it has become so incompetent and unlovely and automatic that the very idea it could encompass the whole purpose and range of language seems almost blasphemous to me. Why, most Americans don’t even speak in complete sentences anymore! There are many words we don’t fully pronounce (I’ve been trying to make myself say “going to” instead of “gonna” but it’s almost impossible for me, so I’m just witching to “will” or “intend to” or “must.) Whole tracts of meaning-bearing words are quickly falling out of use as the anti-intellectual impetus cultivated by public schools continues to heap scorn on “sounding like a book.”

        If casual speech, with its uncritical ways, conquers poetry, and poetry ceases to exert any influence on casual speech, our language will die.

        So I think that in order to have a corner of our life where we experience language normally, we have to not only write poetry, but also cultivate a poetic diction. However it’s worth being aware that 92% percent of the poetic world will HOWL if you tell them that – some nonsense about something Wordsworth wrote once. I take my stand with the Inklings on this question.

        So how to decide whether an alternate syntactical arrangement is acceptable? Well, the first word and the last word of a line are generally considered to be emphasized because they naturally catch our attention. So you can sometimes justify an alternate syntax if it emphasizes the words you want emphasized. Another good one is if it causes the important words to land on the stressed syllables of the meter.

        Generally, if a line appears to have been tortured in order to fit a rhyme scheme, that’s bad. However, if there are, say, three stylistically acceptable ways to arrange the words in a sentence and one fits the rhyme scheme and the other two don’t, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to choose the rhyming way. Generally, stylistic concerns answer the question “does this sound good and make sense” not “does this sound average or usual.”

        So with regard to the two examples you brought up (good eye, by the way!)

        “Souls to bodies do not latch.”

        The usual way would be

        “Souls do not latch to bodies.”

        What that rendering would miss is the immediacy of the comparison “souls to bodies.” It would also miss the solemn pacing of Leah’s line, which is really quite effective.

        Also we have, “Why the gate we would unlatch.” To me this is a little more iffy. It is perfectly acceptable and readable but I think that it causes a little bit of a false reading that has to be corrected mentally as the line goes on, mainly because putting the object first causes it to be mistaken for the subject.

        “Why we would the gate unlatch” would be better because it puts the subject first. It also has the added value of the triple-repeated ‘w’ which is a very musical effect.

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        • Thanks Albert (and Alana!) for these comments. It’s helpful and interesting to hear how someone experienced the poem, especially after such a thoughtful reading. 🙂 You’re definitely not overreaching with seed/resurrection. The secret of resurrection was pretty much the whole point and I’m glad it worked.

          “. . . the indirect but very powerful references to death through use of nature images (flowers, leaves, detritus left by minor flooding, even snakes),”

          I’m very glad that was effective as well!

          Regarding the other points you raised.

          1) What Alana said. 🙂

          2) Truth to tell, I’m not exactly sure what we’re talking about with that last line, and although in general I agree switching up feet is okay and a wonderful tool when used properly, something I am trying to grow more comfortable with– I hadn’t consciously done so here! Is it that “left by” reads as a dactyl rather than an iamb? I heard it as an iamb in my head when I was writing, but perhaps that is not the way it reads most naturally. Could one of you clarify for me exactly where in the line you hear the rhythm change?

          3) Hmm, I’m really glad Alana commented here, because I could not have articulated all of that about alternate syntax, but I’ve had similar, unarticulated feelings– especially about the value of a poetic diction that is different from casual speech. Of course I want to be cautious to use that in a way that is more graceful and expressive than casual speech, rather than simply an excuse for clumsiness in pursuit of a rhyme! In the case with the gate, I was mostly striving for way to end the line with “unlatch.” I may change it around now as Alana suggested. Not sure yet. I might rewrite the line entirely if something comes to me.

          Thanks again! Will be back to leave some comments on your poem soon.

          Like

          • Leah, your “and clear the mess left by the brooks.” to me sounds like a divided line : da-DUM da-DUM {pause) DUM da-da-DUM. I remember your discussion with Alana about mixing up rhythm patterns, so probably since my ear was not developed that way (I always thought “mixing up” meant reversing the order of stresses or using two or three heavy stresses in a row for emphasis, but not using a pause in place of a syllable) it was harder for me not to be surprised by the iambic set up followed by what seems like an unnecessary pause, then a single but unimportant stressed word, “left,” and all this followed by the running rhythm of “by the brooks.”

            HOWEVER . . . Now that I think about it, the faster movement of the last three words fits the meaning perfectly, and maybe the pause does too (since it gives more weight to the important word, “mess.”) Yes, if we are allowed take-backs, I hereby withdraw my “disappointment.” I think I was listening too hard, and forgetting about the context.

            Another lesson: read without preconceived, or, more accurate in my case,, “received” expectations about form.

            Like

    • Leah, I’ve been thinking about what I want to say about this poem, and the significance it had for me. I understand the sentiment you bring the poem round to at the end. When my grandparents were alive, they were very generous to us. My parents were very poor when I was young, and my dad’s parents had us over to dinner several times a week during some stretches to make sure we were all getting proper nutrition. At Christmastime, we would always go to their house on Christmas Eve after the church service. When we kids walked in the door we always found a pile of Christmas presents that hid half the tree. It was lavishness beyond imagining.

      My grandfather passed a way a couple of years ago now. He was a quiet, troubled man who had lost his faith on the beaches of Normandy. Shortly after his death, I saw him in a dream. I was wandering through a house I half recognized and I opened a closet and found an avalanche of glimmering Christmas presents, more than I could carry or open. I knew at once that my grandfather was somewhere in the house. I went out and found a family gathering in progress, and my grandfather sat quietly on a chair. I sat next to him and he began talking to me as he had never done in life. I was amazed by his brilliance, his good sense, his experience, and his peace. But when I looked at him he was gravely wounded in his temple. “It will heal,” he said quietly.

      Like

  3. It’s been hard to let go of that other theme of mine from “Many and Many….” even though I’ve just returned from a beautiful place where men & women and families seem so happy (or maybe because of that):

    LOSS

    I heard the door
    Swing back. A latch
    Clicked. Footsteps died
    Out. I couldn’t watch

    That dark descend
    On me like dust.
    Old feelings fell away
    To leave a crust

    Around my heart,
    Her home. I own
    The loss myself.
    There’s a grey, brown,

    Sad, weighted cloud
    Inside. It looks
    Unlike meadows
    Unlike swales or brooks–

    Romance’s places
    Where I would slave
    And die for her.
    It’s now love’s grave

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is very nearly perfect. May I suggest something for the last line? I have done a lot of experimentation with the effect of lengthening a line at the end of a poem or stanza. I think this would be a good place to use that effect. You have this really tight writing, just flawless meter throughout, and it expresses the tight feeling of that moment of pushing-back-the-panic when you’ve been left behind, and it also successfuly transitions to the diminishment of living without the person you once loved. And it’s pulled off perfectly right up to the end – but the last line feels a little too trivial. Metrically, an extra foot in the line would weight it down and make it the anchor of the poem.

      It wouldn’t merely work metrically, though. It would also work semantically – for the simply reason that it’s not clear what ‘It’s’ refers to in that line. If you add the antecedent – “My heart,” I’m guessing? – you satisfy both needs at once. Try it and see whether you like the effect. You can re-post the poem if you have a revision.

      Other than that one thing, I think this is very good. You succesfully evoked the experience of abandonment in the first stanza in a very sensory way – the door closes, the foodsteps fade out – instead of just saying “She left.” That’s good. Then, you talk honestly about what’s left behind – we aren’t left with a life of ongoing passion after a relationship ends. Instead, there’s a dryness, a diminishing as I said. I think this is well handled and emotionally honest.

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    • I love how clean and measured this is. Each word is clear and balanced and carefully placed. My favorite part is “There’s a grey, brown/ Sad, weighted cloud/ Inside.” Both the sound and the sense of those words, arranged as they are, contributes to the feeling of heaviness, slowness. And I think having a change of stanza in the middle of them is brilliant, because it gives a further effect of that emotional cloud forming, descending, and settling. You can almost hear the speaker take a breath, then, as he tries to describe how it looks.

      No real suggestions from me this time around. Just wanted to say I enjoyed it and a little about why.

      Like

    • It was a tough one. I feel my use was a little strained, but without it my form would not have been balanced so I had to make it work.

      Like

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