Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Attenuations on a Theme by Yeats

All right, it hasn't really been six weeks,
And I've been busy. When the circus left,
I was about my less enlightened craft.
Now every motion of my body lacks
The sense of singing. All the animals
Have gone to entertain the shopping malls.

A prisoner can gild a caliph's house
He can't inhabit. Old, I bear the name
I gave myself before my art had come;
And I live in a lodging without lease.
I buff the floors, and still the floors declare
They head nowhere I have not been before.

The cages of the animals collapse;
The clowns have wheels beneath their living rooms.
Too late to try out any other names
Or board the caliph's azure sailing ships,
I sit before a battered desk and wait,
The sound of words like incandescent light.

13 comments:

nevid said...

Well, my minor point is that I don't really like the near-rhymes of the stanza endings: "animals/malls", "declare/before", "wait/light", though it's possible you'll say you never meant those as near-rhymes. They are, though, just not near enough. And then, the Yeats poem is so emotional - lots of "heart"s and whatnot, that it seems to me yours either draws on that without doing it itself, or is missing the emotion - your own mode a more dry, restrained type of that. Last kvetch would be the "sound of words like incandescent light". Has the sound of one of those darlings one should kill. A little flavor of self-congratulation, somehow, in that combination of words, as if the poet is saying he's writing lovely, incandescent things. I'm sure this was not intended, but sounds that way to me. Specially when Yeats is abasing himself, saying his ladder is gone and he has to lie down again in the foul rag and bone shop, etc. -- the source of inspiration being something dirtier, more abject.

Them's my grumpy thoughts, but the poem does have the mark of your Rueful Ones, and I like those.

nevid said...

same with "weeks/lacks", "house/lease", "collapse/ships", and the rhymes they envelop, i.e. "left/craft", "name/come", "rooms/names". It looks like a careful and deliberate scheme of those thingies now, but I don't like them! Why? Hmm. I think because they call attention to themselves or something, whereas maybe they were used to be LESS obtrusive than actual rhymes.

Rathnashikamani said...

Great free verse!

RHE said...

Rathnashikamani,

My hunch is you think "free verse" means "poetry I didn't have to pay for."

RHE said...

N,

No one seems to object to the clang-clang of the rhymes in Shakespeare's sonnets or Keats's. Do you think there's something inherent in off-rhymes that makes them more appropriate when used unobtrusively? If so, how would you judge whether an off-rhyme scheme, comprehensively followed, was obtrusive or un-?

nevid said...

Totally subjective comment, mine, and I realized, posting, that this is hard to justify. I am hardly a rhyme-purist - I think off-rhyme is fine - not sure why it was bothering me. Possibly the calculated offhand effect - an artful artlessness or something like that? I spent some time in the car just now thinking about something Paula T said years ago, about having received a criticism from someone about the too-well-made poem or something like that. Seems a strange objection -- we don't object to a too-well-made house; cabinet; car. But technique is one of those tricky things. Can't do without it, but when it's there, we (I) like it to be invisible, or seem like it's not there. Agree that clanging rhymes are not preferable. Sorry for unsatisfying reply.

RHE said...

Not unsatisfying. These things are about musing, not laying down the law (though one does smile a bit at the thought of one of those obtuse critics telling Keats that "Grecian Urn" is just too finished. "Couldn't you mess it up a little, Keats?").

Nev said...

I think it's an interesting effect, the final consonants rhyme, but not the preceding vowels. Off rhyme, slant rhyme, near-rhyme, whatever you call it, expands one's options, certainly. I like to do the opposite - use vowel rhyme and to hell with the consonants.

I actually like that you did this - a kind of hybrid between your blank verse and full rhyme.

Nev said...

You know, I didn't respond to your comment about how funny it would be to advise Keats to mess things up a little, because that seemed to open up such a huge topic: how it is to cast a backward eye on art. We could also implore Keats not to use the other tools that make the Urn what it is, i.e. the specialized vocabulary, the inversions, the high tone, the lecturesome injunction at the end, the whole "what it IS-ness" of a poem written in 1819 -- the whole project of the Romantics. You could say, what's up with the "unweari-ed", yo?

I mean.

They're all just notions. Notions change. Absolutes = the opposite of tastes.

Richard Epstein said...

I would have said,`what's up with the "unweari-ed", yo? ', if only I'd thought of it.

Nev said...

:)
*fist punches the air*

Richard Epstein said...

And you're right about how much convention counts. Folks in 1819 didn't go around saying "thee" and "thou,' unless they were making bad movies about Quakers, but it was perfectly acceptable in High Art, just as it is a convention in our poetry to pretend that "the" is a line of poetry and that using "shit" as often as possible makes one contemporary and daring and very happening. For about 1960.

We are due for an aesthetic revolution of some sort. All of our most pressing conventions, for formalists and vers librists alike, are at least two generations old. Mostly more.

Nev said...

yeah, was going to mention the "thee" and "thou"s. Indians and Pakis still write poems that way. Because stuck in time warp -- like the Empire left, and took radio with it.