"Said the Old Codger" by C. Day Lewis, from The Gate 1962.
When Willie Yeats was in his prime,
Said the old codger,
Heroic frenzy fired his verse:
He scorned a poet who did not write
As if he kept a sword upstairs.
Nowadays what do we find,
Said the old codger,
In every bardlet's upper room?
--Ash in the grate, a chill proof vest,
And a metronome.
We are now twice as far from Yeats as Lewis was, so is this still true? Was it true then?
Linda, I think the same sentiments are expressed here:
Say my love is easy had,
Say I'm bitten raw with pride,
Say I am too often sad-
Still behold me at your side.
Say I'm neither brave nor young,
Say I woo and coddle care,
Say the devil touched my tongue-
Still you have my heart to wear.
But say my verses do not scan,
And I get me another man!
I'm not convinced. DP seems to be resenting critics of her own work, to me CDL is criticising his fellow poets.
The Lewis has a flavour of McNeice's Jigsaw II - ie we're all too comfortable to write decent poetry (or live decent lives in the case of Jigsaw 2), which is even more pertinent today, but there's a conformity we don't have now - certainly the metronome has been thrown away and replaced with something much more hit and miss - like using Stonehenge to time poaching an egg, for example.
like using Stonehenge to time poaching an egg, perhaps, or coddling our audience in a thin fur coat...or taking the agitation of a swety night to measure the devotion of a lifetime. But we each survive our own measure.
Not sure the poetry always does, unfortunately :-)
On Saturday, I heard a programme called Home Truths which was hosted (the usual host having died a year ago they are trialing various guest hosts) by Michael Rosen. He had written a brief poem of, in my opinion, no merit whatsoever
- it rhymed by pausing between words which rhymed but there was no scansion or similarity of line length so it sounded really naff.
OK so it was off the cuff
but it was a pretty poor effort to be proud enough
of to air on a national radio station
- even as improvisation.
That gives a reasonable flavour of the result. Someone please post something modern that rhymes and scans to make Monday a better day!
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/14/2005 04:12AM by marian2.
Since I began to read more widely across the poetry spectrum I've decided I like best poetry that scans. Best of all are the ones where the poet can set up a tension between the scansion and the sense.
I've not explained that well, it's the poet who knows just how far they can bend the rules.
I agree - bending the rules is OK, ignoring them is not.
The rules of Anarchy are clear
with Liberties you take'em
and bend the rules both back and forth
until such time you break'em
If Newman Levy can't improve your day, I don't know what to suggest!
One time in Alexandria, in wicked Alexandria
Where nights were wild with revelry and life was but a game,
There lived, so the report is, an adventuress and courtesan
The pride of Alexandria, and Thais was her name.
Nearby, in peace and piety, avoiding all society
There dwelt a band of holy men who'd made their refuge there,
And in the desert's solitude, they spurned all earthly folly to
Devote their lives to holy works, to fasting and to prayer.
Now one monk whom I solely mention of this band of holy men
Was known as Athaneal, he was famous near and far.
At fasting bouts and prayer, with him, none other could compare with him,
At plain and fancy praying he could do the course in par.
One day while sleeping heavily, from wresting with the Devil he
Had gone to bed exhausted, though the sun was shining still
He had a vision Freudian, and though he was annoyed, he an-
Alyzed it in the well-known style of Doctors Jung and Brill.
He dreamed of Alexandria, of wicked Alexandria.
A crowd of men was cheering in a manner rather rude.
And Athaneal glancing there at THAIS, who was dancing there
Observed her do the shimmy, in what artists call The Nude!
Said he,"This dream fantastical disturbs my thoughts monastical,
Some unsuppressed desire, I fear, has found my monkish cell.
I blushed up to the hat o' me to view that girl's anatomy
I'll go to Alexandria and save her soul from Hell!"
So, pausing not to wonder where he'd put his winter underwear
He quickly packed his evening clothes, a toothbrush and a vest
To guard against exposure he threw in some woolen hosiery
And bidding all the boys Adieu, he started on his quest.
The monk, though warned and fortified was deeply shocked and mortified,
To find, on his arrival, wild debauchery in sway.
While some were in a stupor, sent by booze of more than two percent,
The rest were all behaving in a most immoral way.
Said he to Thais, "Pardon me. Although this job is hard on me,
I've got to put you straight to what I came out here to tell:
What's all this boozin' gettin' you? Cut out this pie-eyed retinue,
Let's hit the road together, kid, and save your soul from Hell!"
Although this bold admonishment caused Thais some astonishment,
She quickly answered,"Say! You said a heaping mouthful, Bo!
This burg's a frost, I'm telling you. The brand of hooch they're selling you
Ain't like the stuff you used to get, so let's pack up and go!"
So off from Alexandria, from wicked Alexandria
Across the desert sands they go, beneath the burning sun.
Till Thais, parched and sweltering, finds refuge in the sheltering
Seclusion of a convent in the habit of a nun.
And now the monk is terrified to find his fears are verified
His holy vows of chastity have cracked beneath the strain!
Like one who has a jag on, he cries out in grief and agony
"I'd sell my soul to see her do the shimmy once again!"
Alas! His pleadings amorous, though passionate and clamorous
Have come too late. The courtesan has danced her final dance.
Said he,"Now that's a joke on me, for that there dame to croak on me,
I never should have passed her up the time I had a chance!"
-- Newman Levy
One of my favourite modern australian poets is Gwen Harwood - she was a professional pianist and has said that she approached poetry-writing in the same meticulous way in which she composed music. She wrote in all forms, including free verse, but I like her poems written with the metronome the best, like this one:
O Could One Write as One Makes Love
O could one write as one makes love
when all is given and nothing kept,
then language might put by at last
its coy elisions and inept
withdrawals, yield, and yielding cast
aside like useless clothes the crust
of worn and shabby use, and trust
its candour to the urgent mind,
its beauty to the searching tongue.
Safe in the world's great house with all
its loves and griefs, at ease among
its earthly fruits, original
as earth and air, the body learns
peace, while the mind in torment burns
to strip the cloak of daily use
from language. Could one seize and move
the stubborn words to yield and sing,
then one would write as one makes love
and poems and revelations spring
like children from the mind's desire,
original as light and fire.
Rikki, I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Harwood's poem. It is so well constructed that the flow is not interrupted by the meter at all. I wish I could do that
Johnny - your verse was so much better than Rosen's and cheered me up no end!
Thanks so much, Pam and Rikki - the Levy made me laugh - it's so clever - and the Harwood had me lost in admiration - I must find more of her work.
I feel a lot more optimistic today in consequence.
Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 11/15/2005 04:37AM by marian2.
Marian, Gwen Harwood (1920-1995) was a delightful lady, not just a wonderful poet, but someone who as she got older still radiated energy and a mischievous sense of humour which made her a most welcome participant at any poetry festival.
Here's one of my favourites of hers:
Professor Eisenbart, asked to attend
a girls' school speech night as an honoured guest
and give the prizes out, rudely declined;
but from indifference agreed, when pressed
with dry scholastic jokes, to change his mind,
to grace their humble platform, and to lend
distinction (of a kind not specified)
to the occasion. Academic dress
became him, as he knew. When he appeared
the girls whirred with an insect nervousness,
the Head in humbler black flapped round and steered
her guest, superb in silk and fur, with pride
to the best seat beneath half-hearted blooms
tortured to form the school's elaborate crest.
Eisenbart scowled with violent distaste,
then recomposed his features to their best
advantage: deep in thought, with one hand placed
like Rodin's Thinker. So he watched the room's
mosaic of young heads. Blonde, black, mouse-brown
they bent for their Headmistress' opening prayer.
But underneath a light (no accident
of seating, he felt sure), with titian hair
one girl sat grinning at him, her hand bent
under her chin in mockery of his own.
Speeches were made and prizes given. He shook
indifferently a host of virgin hands.
"Music!" The girl with titian hair stood up,
hitched at a stocking, winked at nearby friends,
and stood before him to receive a cup
of silver chased with curious harps. He took
her hand, and felt its voltage fling his hold
from his calm age and power; suffered her strange
eyes, against reason dark, to take his stare
with her to the piano, there to change
her casual schoolgirl's for a master's air.
He forged his rose-hot dream as Mozart told
the fullness of all passion or despair
summoned by arrogant hands. The music ended,
Eisenbart teased his gown while others clapped,
and peered into a trophy which suspended
his image upside down: a sage fool trapped
by music in a copper net of hair.
Thanks Marian ! I should hope that Rosen didn't spend more than the 30 seconds it took me to come up with mine, but he probably did.
I suspect there is a Kantian distinction to be made about rules and poets, with which all are welcome to disagree. I would suggest that writing poetry is a 'rule making' behavior rather than a 'rule governed' behavior. Some might call that freedom. some might call it creativity. Whichever it is, for the poet it feels like a kind of responsibility to the poem and to the subject matter and to the audience. It is quite different from what one might get from an instruction manual for poets. Personally, I have been trained to be open minded to the poetry in other people's writing, whatever it is called and however it is produced.
"The only thing we have to fear....is ME"
Frankenstein Dracula Roosevelt