Monday, July 28, 2008

My latest ripoff...

This is the first stanza of Johann Moser's "Winter in Panchavati," which is itself inspired by the Ramayana (a great epic which I have never read):

"Lordly, these forests in the winter, o Rama,
And the Godavari, droning in its deep mountain gorges;
Lordly, these sun-bright uplands and arch-blue skies
And red jungle blossoms nodding in the breeze;
Lordly, all these tranquil days and starlit, frosty nights,
When by the warm brazier we blend the fragrant wine -
And we remembered you, Ayodhya, gracious city of flowers,
Gracious city of the jeweled hills beyond the mountains;
We longed to stand once more at the threshold of your glory."

This stanza has no rhyme and its rhythms are irregular. But the next two stanzas repeat the first stanza's form, placing triple adjectives and formulas and names of cities in the same places. I was struck by this way of giving form to verse, and I tried imitating it last Christmas... but I ran out of interest and put the poem aside until today, when I finally filled in three missing lines. I had made the form harder for myself by adding rhyme, and the poem became very hard to control. The matter of the poem is the Lent and Easter I spent in Rome. ("Morning stations," i.e. the station churches, were the best penance I have ever done because I hate getting up early but once you get to the church, it is wonderful.)

Roman April

Daybreak: the aquaduct pours light, o Roma,
   Bare-headed dawn in the metro waits, lonely and shy.
Daybreak: the streets are empty for archangelic hours,
   And the dark domes rise in rank on the tide of wonder.
Daybreak: everlasting fountains flash like bells
   When we take our morning stations, armed with our youth.
And we remembered you, Zion, quiet city of sunrise,
   Quiet city of perfect waters and white courtyards;
We longed to wake in the sweetness of your gaze.

Afternoon: the slow discordant chime, o Roma,
   And the long walk home, under a silver sky.
Afternoon: the Appian Way walled with antique flowers,
   And the heavy heat come to a head of rose-red thunder.
Afternoon: our fear of judgment wells
   When we feel the April tempest's gleaming tooth.
And we remembered you, Zion, fearful city of lightnings,
   Fearful city of victorious beauty and everything in an instant;
We longed to walk in the triumph of your praise.

Midnight: the Paschal fire shines, o Roma,
  The shades of night are holy where they lie.
Midnight: now awake in every tower
  The bells are dancing over Egypt's plunder.
Midnight: water falls from brazen shells
   When we sing the new-born lambs in their field of truth.
And we remembered you, Zion, espoused city of glory,
   Espoused city of singing gates and gardens of dancers;
We longed to live in the wedlock of your ways.

I like the first stanza best, but as it progressed the poem came to feel rather gushy. I don't think that this kind of complexity is very profitable, and I still prefer complex chiming and other stuff that happens within one line to overarching schemes that aren't readily apparent to the ear. Thoughts?


Anonymous said...

Well... I like it. I do understand your sense of "gushy" but then what can we gush at if not this? I like the temporal progression - it puts the Christian death blow to the endless wheel of the East.

The form is curious: interwoven, and rhyming in a very interesting way - I might try it someday, but then I may want to tinker with it.

I liked the psalmic and the liturgical references very much... I will add it to my collection, to think about more next Triduum. Something also smells like Tolkien and the grand chorus of victory when Minas Tirith rejoices - but then any Easter hymn ought to.

Thanks very much...

--Dr Thursday

Maureen said...

There is a certain mood in which one really wants lots of words and proper nouns, and a chant-y sort of long rolling speech. I know it drives some people nuts, but I've never found a literature yet that doesn't indulge in it.

Meredith said...

Dr. Thursday:

I'm glad you liked it! "Our true intent is. All for your delight..."


I almost want to hunt up examples now and turn them into a post. I find that I like this style in ancient literature and when Dylan Thomas does it, but not when Swinburne and DH Lawrence do it. (Is "The Marshes of Glynn" by Sidney Lanier a good example of the style you have in mind?)

Sheila said...

Ooh, mi piace!! I really really like your poem, Meredith!

Favorite phrases: "April tempest's gleaming tooth," "water falls from brazen shells," "wedlock of your ways," "fearful city of lightnings," "archangelic hours," "armed with our youth." All so good. Rich, rich, but never cloying .... sometimes I think the true secret of good poetry is to shake off the fear of being overdone in order to tread exactly on the line of the right amount of done. (If you know what I mean?) You aren't afraid to be dramatic, unexpected, a little emotional. But I don't think a line of it is overdone.