Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Poetry Edition

Listen up, suckers -- it's poetry time. If you aren't happy about that, blame Karin. She got me in the mood by writing, and posting on her blog, what strikes me as quite an excellent little paradelle. (A paradelle is a eleventh century French poetic form. Or is it?) So, it's her fault.

Four Subjects

It has been said, accurately enough I think, that there are really only four subjects of poetry. The person who said this was the late William Matthews, and he said it in a poem very sensibly titled "Four Subjects of Poetry."

Four Subjects of Poetry
by William Matthews

1. I went out into the woods today, and it made me feel, you know, sort of

2. We're not getting any younger.

3. It sure is cold and lonely (a) without you, honey, or (b) with you,

4. Sadness seems but the other side of the coin of happiness, and vice
versa, and in any case the coin is too soon spent, and on what we know not

Autumn Poetry

What about seasonal poems? A minute ago, I planned on saying that they don't fit any of the above categories. But looking at the list again, it occurs to me that a seasonal poem, and in particular a good Autumn poem, is a kind of grand slam experience. It hits all four subjects at once. The wistfulness of Autumn, after all, is rooted in experience of nature, and it speaks to the passing of time as well as to loneliness, sadness, and regret. Capture all of that in a poem, and you've hit the poetic ball out of the park. If you will forgive me my metaphor.

This time of year, I often do a mass-mailing of Keats' "To Autumn." I will spare my email contacts the spam this year, and inflict it on you the L&TM5K reader instead. Honestly, I'm not especially what you would call a "poetry guy," but I think this one rewards either a casual or a careful read. It's good.

Two challenges for any the poetry-oriented:

1 - Do you have a favorite piece of Autumnal poetry? Stick that puppy in the comments!

2 - Do you have a fall poem that you yourself have composed? Are you brave enough to put it in the comments? Sure you are.

Keats, Baby!

To Autumn
John Keats (1795-1821)


SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.


Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.


Jenny! said...

I always feel smarter after reading poetry...not sure why since I barely understand what its about!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, as a rule I don't read any poem longer than an Elizabethan sonnet.

Anonymous said...

I thought of W.S. Merwin as an autumnal poet, so I went rooting around in my favorite book of his, The Moving Target. I was right! Though more often autumnal in mood than subject. To cut to the equinox, here are the last three stanzas of "Now and Again." Perhaps especially apt if you've just started the school year and are feeling melancholic.

When you consider how learning happens
You would think once might be enough.
You would suppose such pain would become knowledge
And such knowledge would be wisdom
And such wisdom would stay with us.

Each time
The leaves hesitate but finally they fall.

The stars that came with us this far have gone back.
The wings of the migrants wake into autumn, and through
The hammered leaves the walnuts
Drop to the road and open:
Here is the small brain of our extinct summer.
Already it remembers nothing.

Karin said...

Hey, don't blame Keats on me! My poem doesn't have any thees, thous or thys, no dosts or close-bosomed friends o'er brimm'd with anything.

Keats is great and everything, but could you rewrite this poem using a colloquial vernacular?

Rex Parker said...

Keats rules. In college, there was definitely a Wordsworth / Keats split among my peers when it came to Romantics. I was Keats all the way.

Merwin's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is badass.


Dug said...

There's a poem I really like by acoustic folk thrash star Michael5000. It's called "My Favorite Season Mary Beth".

Anonymous said...

I really like Pushkin's poem on Autumn. Here's a translation: http://bkriplur.blogspot.com/2005/11/autumn-pushkin.html

Rebel said...

Sorry - not a big poetry fan. Pretty much the only poems I really like & understand are by Robert Frost. This one could work for fall...

As I came to the edge of the wood,
thrush music - hark!
Now if it was dusk outside,
inside it was dark.
To dark in the wood for a bird,
by sleight of wing, to better it's perch for the night.
Though it still could sing.

The last of the light of the sun, that had died in the west, still lived for one song more in the thrush's breast.
Far in the pillard dark,
thrush music went,
almost like a call to come in to the dark and lament.

But no, I was out for stars,
I would not come in.
I meant, not even if asked.
And I hadn't been.

fingerstothebone said...

Just a note to say that for some reason, poetry must be in the air -- in case you haven't kept up, the Scarlet Letters also had a poetry entry Sept 11 in which she talks about Trixie having her magnets stolen!

Michael5000 said...

Thanks for the response and the great poems. A few shout-backs....

@jenny!: Yeah, me too.

@karin: Most poets would LIKE appearing on the same bill with Keats. I can see that archaic wording is, uh, oft a barrier to fun in older poetry, but I also think that "Who hath not oft seen thee amid thy store?" is one of the prettiest sentences I've ever read.

@dug: Oi. I suppose I should honor the setup with a link to the oldest extant michael5000 song. Recorded in 1993 on casette tape with a microphone from an office dictation machine. I was way ahead of my time with the whole lo-fi thing.

Anonymous said...

here's one from william stafford, oregon's own. pretty much all his stuff is autumnal too.

Passing Remark

In scenery I like flat country.
In life I don't like much to happen.

In personalities I like mild colorless people.
And in colors I prefer gray and brown.

My wife, a vivid girl from the mountains, says, "Then why did you choose me?"

Mildly I lower my brown eyes--
there are so many things admirable people do not understand.