Above the quiet dock in mid night,
Tangled in the tall mast’s corded
Hangs the moon. What seemed so far away
Is but a child’s balloon, forgotten after play.
This December we began the month with a full moon (Dec. 1) and we will end it on a full moon (Dec. 30). A little lunar cheer to ring in the New Year for any holiday revelers trying to find their way home.
I was on an explore out at the farm last weekend, trying to find the beaver dam that has been transforming the landscape of the east end of the property the past couple of years. it wasn’t hard to find, a massive structure nearly 3 feet high and over 75 feet long. They have been busy. From their perspective (the beavers), it couldn’t be a more perfect placement, right on a fence line between a public wildlife reserve and private property, its unclear who if anyone but the beavers have jurisdiction over these change in events. Talking to a neighbor whose back third of his property is now underwater, he said, “One the one hand I’ve lost a big chunk of the land I used to bow hunt, on the other, the beavers have done more in 2 years than Ducks Unlimited did in 30 in creating wood duck habitat.” My intuition says the beavers and the wood ducks have won and we’ll all have to just get used to water being where it never was before.
By Walter de la Mare
Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.
“A poem is good if it contains a new analogy and startles the reader out of the habit of treating words as counters.”
T. E. Hulme
By Ezra Pound
The light became her grace and dwelt among
Blind eyes and shadows that are formed as men;
Lo, how the light doth melt us into song:
The broken sunlight for a healm she beareth
Who hath my heart in jurisdiction.
In wild-wood never fawn nor fallow fareth
So silent light; no gossamer is spun
So delicate as she is, when the sun
Drives the clear emeralds from the bended grasses
Lest they should parch too swiftly, where she passes.
“Who hath my heart in jurisdiction. In wild-wood never fawn nor fallow fareth.” A wonderful line, yet its an example that Pound had yet to completely break free of the ties to classical poetry. In Balatetta he was starting to bend them. I have no idea how this poem came to be, but as someone who is fascinated by writing sonnets, I have a theory that this started out as a sonnet or he was consciously or unconsciously influenced by the sonnet structure. It’s lines are constructed mostly of ten syllables. The rhyming scheme further supports the theory, but what to make of the fact it has ten lines not fourteen? Sometimes when I write I find I have said all I really want to say in fewer lines than fourteen or I edit out the fluff and lines get cut. It would be fun to know what the real story behind the creative process on this poem.
One of the criticisms of Pound was that he was an “imitator”. He borrowed liberally from the genius of others and found a broader audience for that creativity. I do not find that a fault, as I think Pound furthered the discussion and built on the ideas. Pound was a net-worker, a mentor, a connector of people, who inserted himself into the discussion among modernist thinkers and artists because he had something interesting to contribute. Where he can be faulted is trying to take more credit than he deserves for his “originality.”
One of the proof points those critics point to is that Pound’s ideas around image and his concepts of poetry were first formulated by T. E. Hulme, who died young in 1917 during WWI. I admire Pound for building on Hulme’s work and insuring that it continued to influence his own and other’s writing after Hulme’s death. Pound included five poems of Hulme’s in his book Ripostes and all five are striking examples of a poetic form that the Imagists would expand upon in years to come. Hulme wrote very little poetry that survives, but he was instrumental in the Imagist movement. Hulme defined image as the constant bombardment of sensory information before analysis. Image is the base of human experience. Intellectualizing raw images, he argued, was constrained because language over-simplifies the nuanced complexity of what our eyes, ears, touch and taste experience and is therefore inadequate of our unfiltered reality.
I find it fascinating that Hulme’s ideas on poetry and image were profoundly impacted by his interactions with the philosopher Henri Bergson. Hulme sought out Bergson in France in the 1890’s to talk about Bergson’s writing. Bergson believed there are two forms of awareness: one based on intellect, the other based intuition. Bergson declared that intellect serves knowledge, whereas intuition serves to increase the enjoyment of life’s experience through the senses. The idea of intuitive writing fueled the concepts that Hulme and Pound furthered in their poetry.
The decade before the start of the 20th Century was a time when science, physics, philosophy and art were still connected in creative thought. Knowledge had yet to be partitioned into intense specialization that the great walls of minutiae had not yet been built. Bergson’s philosophy emphasizes the unexpected in novel thinking, the creative process and freedom. Bergson won the Nobel Peace prize for Literature in 1927 for his contributions on his theories around time, identity, free will, perception, change, memory, consciousness, language, and the limits of reason.
The concept that the totality of experience can not be put into words, spurred Hulme to reject the flowery, stilted language of classical poetry and experiment with a more visceral approach to verse. He advocated for a poetic form stripped of unnecessary adjectives to allow the reader’s mind to free associate in creating their own image. Hulme felt that poetry could be a vessel for a wider array of the experiences of life if it were freed from convention.
“The artist tries to see what there is to be interested in… He has not created something, he has seen something.”
For a longer more complete overview of Hulme’s contributions to poetry check out the biography of Hulme in Poetry Foundation.
“It is a delicate & difficult art fitting rhythm to an idea…communicating momentary phases in a poet’s mind.”
T. E. Hulme (1883 – 1917)
Trenches: St Eloi
by T. E. Hulme
(Abbreviated from the Conversation of Mr TEH)
Over the flat slopes of St Eloi
A wide wall of sand bags.
In the silence desultory men
Pottering over small fires, cleaning their mess- tins:
To and fro, from the lines,
Men walk as on Piccadilly,
Making paths in the dark,
Through scattered dead horses,
Over a dead Belgian’s belly.
The Germans have rockets. The English have no rockets.
Behind the line, cannon, hidden, lying back miles.
Beyond the line, chaos:
My mind is a corridor. The minds about me are corridors.
Nothing suggests itself. There is nothing to do but keep on.
Every 200,000 years or so the Earth’s polarity switches and the magnetic poles rotate, with the compass needle swinging from north to south, and then in another 200,000 years, back again from south to north. The current magnetic field of the Earth is weakening. Although this change doesn’t happen on a human time scale, there are many scientists who feel that another polarity reversal is “imminent” in the next 10,000 years. The magnetic pole wanders around at the top of the world about 50 miles a day as the Earth spins, in search of a good jumping off point.
In poetry, polarity shifts happen every generation. I can relate to the passion of the Imagists, who rebelled against the stuffy confines of romanticism and decided to rip-up the rules of poetry during the early 1900’s. Why do I relate to this period when rhymes were being left behind for something more abstract? It’s because part of my fascination with sonnets is it feels like I am rebelling against the current pervasiveness of free verse. I feel the pull of poetic polarity reversing and with it the liberty to not necessarily beat the “iambic pentameter bongos,” as Billy Collins would say, but to try and find a new language within the sonnet form. I find writing sonnets an act of rebellion with every rejection notice I receive, in the same way that I can imagine Hulme, T. S. Eliot, Pound and William Carlos Williams found it liberating to break free of it.
I have given a lot of thought about what it is I find attractive about the period of 1900 to 1950 in poetry. I think it’s because I can relate to the language, there are not many old English words in use during this time that make sonnets and poems of a slightly earlier period sometimes difficult to understand. I like the tension of discovery within literature during this period. The expanse of poetry being written at the start of the 20th century is a connection to parallel movements in philosophy, painting, physics and politics, the old romantic classical period of elitist imperialistic politics not yet waned and the new modernist approaches of creative thought and social justice evolving. This tension between old poetic forms and new fresh creative approaches infuses both with a fluidity of language that I find pleasing to my inner ear and a strength of character for the forcefulness required for change that is inspiring. The early 20th century is the final period before technology reshapes the world in every way. And yet, without technology, all of my endeavors into poetry would not have been as likely or even possible, as the world comes to me magically through my little Chromebook and me to it.
One of things I enjoy about sonnets, is almost every poet, even the modernists from 1900 to 1950, published at least one sonnet or a poem that is based on an evolution of the sonnet structure. Its fun to dig around and try and find the toss off, that may not represent the vast majority of a poet’s work, but was included none the less, just to show how high up on the poetic tree they could lift their leg and mark their territory. This is a period, where the magnetic pull of sonnets and classical rhymes still heavily influences creativity, the attraction of Dante and Shakespeare still strong, that even the most ardent modernist is compelled to roll up their sleeves and try their hand, just to prove their greatness against the best.
Here’s one of Ezra’s original sonnets. I particularly like the lines, “Oh, I have picked up magic in her nearness. To sheathe me half in half the things that sheathe her.”
by Ezra Pound
No, no! Go from me. I have left her lately.
I will not spoil my sheath with lesser brightness,
For my surrounding air hath a new lightness;
Slight are her arms, yet they have bound me straitly
And left me cloaked as with a gauze of æther;
As with sweet leaves; as with subtle clearness.
Oh, I have picked up magic in her nearness
To sheathe me half in half the things that sheathe her.
No, no! Go from me. I have still the flavour,
Soft as spring wind that’s come from birchen bowers.
Green come the shoots, aye April in the branches,
As winter’s wound with her sleight hand she staunches,