Friday, April 3, 2015
April Fool’s Day (a poem) (April Fool's Day - 1900)
He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by W. B. Yeats
The Oven Bird by Robert Frost
The Carolina Wren by Laura Donnelly
The Way Down by Philip Levine
Old Widow in Spring by Martha Treichler
An Equalizer by Robert Frost
April -- poetry month -- and hang-overs in April Fool's as the New Year, celebrated as the octave of the feast of the Annunciation. For fun, this collection of poems is from older poets transitioning from 19th to 20th century. It is fun to look at formal patterns, how rhyme, meter, stanza lay-out work with the syntax of conversational speech. I hadn't thought of the prank of sewing up a shirt or pant sleeve... the worst prank people remembered was cellophane on the toilet seat... But to get on to the poems.
Robert Bly says, a poem should have images, ideas and a troubled speaker, but recognizes as well that there is a "being that cries out" as consonants cling to vowels.
Yeats' 8 line stanza weaves repeated rich end-rhymes two of which (cloths and dreams) create triplets (2 end rhymes, repeating the word in the two lines that begin with "I"). This contrasts nicely with the set up of the conditional "Had I... I would"; and actual "But I... I have". Note, He also supplies an overlay of repeated vowel sounds:
(the "aw" of cloth (repeated 3 times), enwrought, softly)
(ee: feet, being, dreams (repeated 3 times) because)
(heaven/spread/tread (repeated twice);
Noting such sonic textures, the wishes pile up in 5 lines to the colon, the reality, spread out in the final 3 lines with a triumvirate of dreams where the "other" person enters into the poem. I remember my Grandfather's advice to my parents when they married, "Tread softly on each other's dreams", which seems lifted right out of this poem. Doris was reminded of Roosevelt, "tread softly, but carry a big stick".
As for wishes, Constance reminded us "if wishes were horses, beggars would ride" -- although this poem is deeper and more complex than that, with the idea of dreams being precious, perhaps our only genuine treasure we offer to another. How then, could we not receive them gently?
The small New England warbler, the Oven Bird sings "teacher-teacher-teacher", which perhaps lies underneath Frost's sonnet. The first two lines of the beginning and lines after the volta
clap with rich end rhyme: heard/bird; Fall/all whereas before the other lines alternate rhyme.(bcbdcd)
The final four lines alternate (sing/thing) with a variation on the opening : "bird" repeats in the plural to "birds"; "heard" becomes "words". The rhythm settles easily into iambic pentameter except for the 2nd and final line.
Repetitions such as mid-summer (twice), mid-wood contrast with petal-fall; other fall, fall. (This also appears in After Apple Picking).
The volta at the 8th line does not "turn" but rather the pauses with a semi-colon, to continue
(overcast then shadows "fall").
Contrasting the use of birds, Donnelly's Carolina Wren is a shy bird and can be hard to see, but it delivers an amazing number of decibels for its size. Follow its teakettle-teakettle! and other piercing
exclamations. Here, the form seems regular to the eye, but we picked out the enjambments, where the suspension heightened a sense of possibility; trampoline looping (a memory) attaches to the wren's invisible looping marries a sense of sight/sound, past/present, pinned/yet spinning in the sound.
Mixed reactions -- although we agreed the feeling was peaceful, meditative.
Philip Levine's poem in two stanzas, ends the first with "Goodbye -- a word he is fond of. But here, the speaker of the poem in on the way down... we are not told where, but there is a sense of loss. Perhaps because this 1971 poem was published in Poetry to commemorate Levine's passing in February, our reading included reference to death/resurrection. In the second stanza, the air speaks; everything comes alive -- the frozen dirt, and tears and snowdrop combine, prayer from his breath and the wind "answers in the coat"
as the seeds bow to the earth, hold on. as everything speaks.
Local poet, Martha Tredichler captures the spoken word in the first 3 stanzas; the I appears in the final two stanzas, and "you" is open to embrace perhaps the spouse, perhaps someone else, but certainly the reader.
We ran out of time to discuss Frost's "Equalizer". Also an 8 line heavy-handedly end-rhymed
stanza, but it feels flippant compared to the Yeats.