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Sunday, 10 February 2008


This is the way it ought to be.
Far from the deepest current rushing
to tug my feet caressingly,
far from the dull dry sand, just brushing
the richly salty laps of sea.

The salt was wept by poets, here,
who knew the waves were unforgiving,
who felt the rush and held it dear,
but still they fought to go on living
in joy, in hope, in quiet fear.


(Feel free to ignore these if you want to just comment on the poem. Edit: I recommend just reading the first one.)

1. I've borrowed a metrical trick from the Onegin Stanza. I mean, it's just so brilliant -- by using feminine endings, you break up the tetrameter so it doesn't jingle too much, but it's still more musical than pentameter. I've always been frustrated by the way iambic pentameter can be so, well, invisible. There are advantages to that, of course -- it can be an unobtrusive scaffolding -- but there's still a part of me that insists that metre ought to be felt as more than a vague regularity in the back of your mind. Heck, sometimes pentameter just feels stodgy. As far as I'm concerned, Alexander Pushkin was a genius to come up with this alternative, so naturally I had to experiment to see if I could use it in a different setting.

2. Boy, this one took a long time! Alterations all over the place. If you're interested, here are some of my variations.

First stanza:

This is the way it ought to be.
Far from the danger of the rushing

tide of creativity.
Far from the dull dry sand, just brushing
the richly salty laps of sea.

That first line was the bit that started me off -- an unexpectedly iambic line in a definite conceptual context. The last line of that stanza was the main thing that made me sure I couldn't give up on this poem.

Second stanza:

We can't quite help but wander here.
We know the waves are unforgiving,
we know we mustn't go too near,
yet still we wish to go on living
in joy, in hope, in quiet fear.

Pretentious as heck, right? This is actually a later version than the one I went with, setting aside the changes I made once I reverted to my original version. I had a go at changing this second idea into first person with more natural language, which made it much less pretentious, but a little dull:

I can't quite help but wander here
I know the waves are unforgiving,
I know I mustn't go too near,
but still I want to go on living
in joy, in hope, in quiet fear.

See, this is better, but it's just not as dramatic as my first sketch (It has a nice bit of wander/wonder wordplay, but wordplay is not a reason to keep something that isn't working. Anyone who has ever groaned at a bad joke knows that wordplay just can't carry things on its own. Besides, I still have shore/sure. I'm not sure if that one works for anyone else besides me, but I like the soft reference I find in it anyway).

To be honest, I think the reason I was able to revert to my original idea on the second stanza is because I'd changed the first stanza. The original first stanza was too weak in comparison with the original second stanza, and the ideas conveyed weren't strong enough to carry the (perhaps overly romantic) lyricism of the second stanza, either.

Anyone who thinks I shouldn't have made the changes I did is welcome to speak up; I'd be interested to hear your reasoning. I think I've made the right choices, but I'm not certain.

3. I agonised over saying 'poets' in the second stanza. I'd've liked to have said 'mathematicians' (or maybe 'philosophers', as the exact meaning of the poem shifted) but they both have a few too many syllables. And face it, 'thinkers' just sounds stupid. But the truth is, poetry actually doesn't feel like it's going to eat me. If anything, it's freedom -- a creative release that my parents don't know about and that therefore belongs entirely to me, to use or abuse as I wish.

I sure other people have felt like poetry might eat them, though. Maybe I just haven't been doing it for long enough. In any case, since anyone who reads this knows it was written by someone who writes poetry, referring to 'poets' has an intimacy that wouldn't be there otherwise. And, heck, poetry can have philosophy in it -- the deep kind of philosophy that can save or submerge you.

In other words, referring to poetry in this context can actually feel right, after all.


Anonymous said...

I think you made the right choice. This is a lovely little poem, and the version you went with seems more poignant and less saccharine than the alternate one. But that's a purely subjective judgment on my part, so take it for what it's worth. :)

Quixote said...

I loved the poem, Lynet. The second stanza is as good as it gets Top notch...

Lynet said...

Gosh, thanks, both of you!

(Dissenting opinions are welcome, too. I can just imagine the Exterminator thinking I'm being far too drippy.)

Joffan said...

That's a compelling verse structure you've produced there... however it does tend to encourage me to somewhat overcharged drama:

My meaning's reason can allow
reality in all its glory
to wake me, light my dreaming brow,
enrich my life with chosen story:
the touch of here, the breath of now.

a kind of deconversion verse probably influenced by coming on over here from ebonmuse's site.

Lynet said...

Hey, nice! That's a really strong evocation of what we can get from atheism. If it is overcharged drama, then I must fear I'm not sufficiently critical to dislike it :-)

You've got me interested now. I wonder what happens if I deliberately try to write rather plain verse in that structure. Maybe I should deliberately fight the strength and music of the form and see what happens.

Joffan said...

Thanks, I'm glad you liked it... I guess there is always difficulty in judging one's own work. I'm sure you can guess which line was written first; also I was pleased how easily "reality" slipped into the scan.

Lynet said...

Guess which line was written first? I'm guessing the first or the fourth. Probably the fourth, because I always pick my feminine rhymes first. But maybe it's the first, because, now I think of it, "My meaning's reason can allow reality" does feel like the centre of the poem.

Yeah, okay, I probably wouldn't write a poem from the line "enrich my life with chosen story". I pick line one, with its swift introduction of the topic of reasons to have meaning using a form that, appropriately, mentions the meaning first.

I don't think it's as obvious as you think it is, though. I have to think about how I write poetry before concluding that lines two, three and five are the sort of thing you come up with when you're trying to fit the metre and find a rhyme that doesn't change the subject. I was't thinking that the first time I read it.

Although I must add the disclaimer that, hey, I'm no poetry critic.

Joffan said...

Ha... the more I think about it, the less confident I am that I know how my verse was written. Things shifted place and were tentative all through the creation. So even though I actually "finished" what is now the last line first, it wasn't really "finished" until all the rest was there too.

So, not obvious at all then.