Posts Tagged 'poets'

I’ll Have What She Was Drinking — D Is for…

One of the sad facts of poetry, literature, etc. — is that no one writer is so good that her or she didn’t write clunkers. Even Wordsworth sounded goofy sometimes and not all his work aged well.

I have the Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, 19th edition, with 1,775 poems printed in it. I’m struck with how her writing veers drunkenly from amazing clarity to twee-ness to somewhat apocalyptic or oddly eucharistic (in a rejecting-Calvinism-while-embracing-some-of-its-symbols kind of way). With that much text, and that many drafts thrown in, how could it be any other way?

I was quite relieved to figure out that poem number 331, “While Asters…/…/Their Everlasting fashions — set–/And Covenant Gentians — Frill!” was probably an idea that was written out. It seems to have been waiting for the rest of the poem (number 342). If you go to Adjusting the Symbols, you’ll find a discussion on Dickinson, religious imagery, and the kind of interesting theory that she rejected the Calvinist doctrinal sacraments as empty and exclusionary and got a lot of imagery and poetic power out of creating new sacraments from nature.

There’s a long list of people and a university that benefited from the poems’ publication in many posthumous volumes. It was quite an industry. The critical interpretation of Dickinson’s work is also quite an industry, with an electronic archives that offers the opportunity to see contemporary letters from family members, critical discussion, and links to handwritten samples of the poet’s drafts. (It’s still being built; this is a massive undertaking.)

Dickinson’s writing is an acquired, complicated taste. I sometimes wonder how she came to think the way she did. Possibly it was through insularity. I’m sure there’s some critic out there who has theorized she had some opiate or other drug prescribed by a physician. But personally, I like to think she was just drunk on words and had the time to indulge often. And, as a writer, I’d really love whatever she was drinking.

Being Owned by a Poem

As we move from air to water in Project Spectrum 3, and I try to shift my focus (looking through my huuuge stash of blue yarn), I feel like I’m being followed by snippets of poetry that remind me of the shore, the ocean, and air. Each time I stop and try to remember who wrote what. It’s sort of a non-corporeal process, akin to trying to catch water in a sieve or attempting to move a gust of smoke in a different direction.

The effect is difficult to ignore, like an earworm. I’m being teased into remembering poetry I studied for tests, poetry I read for fun, and lines of poetry friends solemnly recited in High School. After a while, the words sort of “own” a space in your brain.

One of the phrases that keeps cropping up is by Byron, who wrote “Manfred”… a dramatic poem which leans toward the ridiculous (for starters, try a chamois hunter, witches, spirits and absolute Gothic seriousness):

“…the sunbow’s rays still arch

The torrent with the many hues of heaven,

And roll the sheeted silver’s waving column

O’er the crag’s headlong perpendicular,…”

Manfred, II.ii, lines 1-4

Somehow this line snakes into rivulets of water (rife with plenty of imagery worthy of an E.D. advert from Pharma) and then becomes analogous to the tail of the horse Death rides, “as told in the Apocalypse”. Byron isn’t to everyone’s taste, but he’s wonderful at losing readers in a wave of analogies changing like water from one ripple to another, sometimes in the same sentence. And, honestly, these lines are memorable — I like the image of water tumbling and becoming part of the rainbow. (Before things get too scenic and calm, cue the witch of the Alps who appears beneath the sunbow. No, seriously!)

As a chaser, Tennyson wrote a wonderful poem called “Ulysses.” After re-reading the Odyssey (Butler’s version of the Odyssey is online here), it just seems to resonate today:

“Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough/Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades/Forever and forever when I move.” (Tennyson, 1842. Ulysses, lines 19-21).

You can find an online version of Tennyson’s poem here: http://www.portablepoetry.com/poems/alfredlord_tennyson/ulysses.html.

Of course, part of the echo might be a desire to get out of the house and the heat and humidity… to travel to the shore where I can stick my feet in water. But the line “Forever and forever” comes up when I think about my goals and what I want to do next, creatively. If I ever see retirement, I hope I will keep this thought and use it to focus me in a new untraveled path.

August, and the doldrums of summer, seem a great time for daydreaming and reading. So how about you? Are there any poems that seem to lock step with you as you go about your job? Do phrases crop up that make your day richer and deepen your ability to notice shadows and light?


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