The Modern vs. The Cybele

 A Sketch for a Modern Love Poem – Tadeus Rozewicz

And yet whiteness
can be best described by greyness
a bird by a stone
sunflowers
in December
love poems of old
used to be descriptions of flesh
they described this and that
for instance eyelashes

and yet redness
should be described
by greyness
the sun by rain
the poppies in November
the lips at night

the most palpable
description of bread
is that of hunger
there is in it
a humid porous core
a warm inside
sunflowers at night
the breasts the belly the thighs of Cybele

a transparent
source-like description of water
is that of thirst
of ash
of desert
it provokes a mirage
clouds and trees
enter a mirror of water
lack hunger
absence
of flesh
is a description of love
in a modern love poem

Translated from the Polish by Czeslaw Milosz

Continue reading “The Modern vs. The Cybele”

The Nymphs Are Departed (II) or The Most Ancient Recipe for a Poem

eliotSome days ago I came across “the most ancient recipe for a poem”. I found it in a book called “Image and Experience” by Graham Hough. The book was gathering dust in my favorite second-hand book store. It’s a wonderful book; like a cold blast of common sense of common-sense criticism. Perfectly suited for our post-modern world, I might say. Pity nobody is printing the books nowadays… But I’m digressing. So, back to the recipe:

“The most ancient recipe for a poem (is) the poem in which first a natural object is presented, and then some reflection on human experience that arises from it, or is in some way parallel to it” Continue reading “The Nymphs Are Departed (II) or The Most Ancient Recipe for a Poem”

Nausicaa: Gerty and Isolde

People who have studied Ulysses and The Waste Land are familiar with what Eliot called “The Mythical Method”. Guided by Eliot’s review of Ulysses, they understand it as a way to replace the narrative structure of a text. In other words, myth takes charge of granting coherence and structure to the otherwise disconnected images and episodes. However, I think the use of myth both in Ulysses and The Waste Land is not aimed to give structure to the text, but rather to charge it with meaning. In fact, paraphrasing Ezra Pound it would be more accurate to speak about mythopoeia, but I will not go into that… I just want to show how these parallels work. Continue reading “Nausicaa: Gerty and Isolde”

I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing

As part of an assignment in a course on Criticism I read an essay called “The Intentional Fallacy” (The Verbal Icon, W.K. Wimsatt). The author claims that studying the intentions of the poet or any other biographical details is totally irrelevant when judging his work. I like Wimsatt’s effort towards an objective criticism: a critic should not value a poem by Sylvia Plath or Owen because he pities their tragic personal stories…that’s a temptation to be avoided. However, the ideal of the new critics to leave aside everything that is not in the text seems to me a well-intentioned chimera: some of the very tools the poet uses –images, metaphors, etc– do not come from his text, they come from somewhere else. Continue reading “I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing”

Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled…

I’ve been for a couple of months already systematically reading the Comedy. Even though it has been hard work, I only regret not to have done it before. As an Eliot fan, reading Dante and discovering the references in their context and not as isolated quotes has been very enriching. It makes a lot of difference! Continue reading “Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled…”

The Cumaean Sibyl: doorkeeper of “The Waste Land”

How do you read “The Waste Land?” It’s sort of a difficult question, isn’t it? But I was asked exactly that question a few days ago. I started mumbling something while trying in vain to come up with an intelligent answer… Back home I had more time to think about it. So here goes a first attempt. I hope it can be considered intelligent.

A first answer can always be: “as you read poetry”, that is, enjoying its beauty -rhythm and music-, musing on the images from the text letting them flow in your imagination in search for meaning, etc… (the “etc” can be very long). But with “The Waste Land” this answer is not very useful. Continue reading “The Cumaean Sibyl: doorkeeper of “The Waste Land””

The Nymphs are Departed

After the posts on logopoeia and phanopoeia, I guess I have to finish with the third way of “charging” words according to Pound:

Melopoeia, wherein the words are charged, over and above their plain meaning, with some musical property, which directs the bearing or trend of that meaning.

For Pound melopoeia is not the third but the first of the three ways because the special relation music and poetry have. Poems were intended to be actually sung, so it’s clear they had to conform to a specific rhythm, event if it was just to ease the task of memorizing them. This property has been a bit forgotten with the advent of free verse, though “no verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job” as T.S. Eliot said. I think here lies an important point. Free verse cannot be an excuse to hide the musical limitations of a poem, it should be used when the poem needs it, that is, when what the poet wants to say is better said with free verse, because the choice of a specific metric will tie his possibilities and damage the poem.

Continue reading “The Nymphs are Departed”