There are times when lines collide and comment on each other wonderfully, like in this battle between American poet Jorie Graham (Iowa, Harvard) and Indian poet, novelist, and musician, Jeet Thayil.

Graham has been a force (and a controversy) in American poetry since the early 1980s—when this line was published:

A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls.

The line from Thayil is more recent, but do we care when a line was written?

There are no accidents. There is only God.

These two lines strike different parts of our brains, with equal pleasure.

The inner eye of our senses registers the rooster and the mist and the walls.

Our speculative faculty ponders what it means to say there are no accidents—there is only God.

The order in which elements arrive in a line of poetry make a subtle difference in how we feel about it.

Why is there a sublime feeling of distance in the Graham line?  Because we travel in the line from the rooster—to its crowing—to its crowing all day—to the mist—to outside—to outside the walls.

Graham is not a formalist; but this, her best line, is a perfect alexandrine—6 iambics, one more than in the common iambic pentameter—and this stately meter contributes to the line’s sublimity.

The sublimity of Jorie Graham’s line is no accident. 

Let’s change the sequence of the line, keeping all its parts, all its elements the same, and see what happens.

Outside the walls,
All day, from mist,
A rooster crows.

Just by changing the order, it now sounds like a haiku, with a homely, intimate, “Eastern” feel, rather than a poignant, majestic, “Western” one.  (And it’s still iambic.)

Change the order of the other line and:

There is only God. There are no accidents.

Somehow this now sounds less certain, more dubious, and almost invites the reply: what do you mean there are no accidents?

The line make more sense when God follows accidents; for accidents can seem to exist when they happen, and then only afterwards—we feel, ahh! that was meant to be.  In order for the line to have force, it must be in the order Thayil presented it—with God at the end.

And now, Marla, let us walk outside these walls and discuss which one of these lines finally ought to win at last.

Marla Muse: It is a pleasant evening. Yes, let us go.



  1. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 23, 2016 at 3:09 pm

    What an exceptionally beautiful analysis; not exceptional to Scarriet, exceptional in the general mix of poetry discussions, but why am I surprised? Hard for me not to be attached to a line with the phrase there is only God since that is my deep down lifeline. I loved the discussion about the order of the words in the line, like notes in the music; of course it makes a difference but how often does a literary critic/observer of the scene bring this subtly to our attention? Almost never. Scarriet, the purveyor of the exceptional and rare. Not to mention the fact that with each bracketed foray, I want to read the works of each poet mentioned from cover to cover.

  2. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 23, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    My new favorite cross stitch in golden thread go-to from Scarriet: “Do we care when a line was written?”

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      March 23, 2016 at 3:17 pm

      Can’t stop commenting, must be some kind of enchantment. Jorie Graham’s line struck me in such a mysterious way because whatever kingdom is walled in is a kingdom without mist, beyond weather, beyond Time, out of Time?

  3. Surazeus said,

    March 24, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    The Thayil line is ideological, specifically based on a theist ideology. Because it is attempting to bend reality to fit its ideology, it is a suspect line, and therefore not a poetic line.

    The Graham line is biological, describing how a rooster in the mist crows all day because it does not see the sun. Because it is describing a quirky aspect of biological perception, it is a beautiful and poetic line.

  4. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 24, 2016 at 6:03 pm

    No offense but if I even started to think of the word ideology when reading a poem I would have to stop reading it. It is good to have many points of view though because that means (if we are not rounded up for it) that we are still free.

  5. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 24, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    Meant to say also God is not ideology. God is just- God. That’s how I feel about it anyway.

  6. Surazeus said,

    March 26, 2016 at 2:53 am

    God is an ideology because it is an idea that is not proven or disproven. Some believe it is real and so do not. That is an ideology.

  7. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 26, 2016 at 4:02 am

    God is a Person. I know. I talk to him all the time. He helps me live. This is not my imagination. I respectfully but firmly, entirely disagree with you on this point.

  8. Andrew said,

    March 27, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    I love when Scarriet jumps into Theology.
    Honestly – one wonderful aspect of Scarriet is that she is not a God-hater.

    I agree with Mary and disagree with Surazeus.

    “No doctrine is more despised by the natural mind than the truth that God is absolutely sovereign. Human pride loathes the suggestion that God orders everything, controls everything, rules over everything. The carnal mind, burning with enmity against God, abhors the biblical teaching that nothing comes to pass except according to His eternal decrees. Most of all, the flesh hates the notion that salvation is entirely God’s work. If God chose who would be saved, and if His choice was settled before the foundation of the world, then believers deserve no credit for their salvation.” [John MacArthur]

    Our Lord was dazed from the red –
    then raised from the dead.

    Faith dies in the room – only to rise in the doom.

    Taught… captured: they roll the stone away.
    Caught… raptured. (He stole their own away.)

    Tempt ye the womb?
    Empty the tomb !

    Happy Resurrection 2016 ☻

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      March 27, 2016 at 2:08 pm

      HAPPY EASTER, ANDREW!! Beautiful poem.

      I think a lot of people do not somehow realize that the difference with Christianity (and with Judaism) is that God is as real to us as if He were standing right before us, that we know Him in our hearts and treasure Him there as a real person and for Christians, it is Jesus coming to be with us on earth and most especially after the Resurrection and then after Pentacost through the Holy Spirit that fills us with so much joy and gladness so that even when we may feel alone and dejected, rejected in this world we still have the glorious assurance of His very real presence in our lives strengthened by the ties of His loving concern for us realized through our studies of the Scripture and through our prayers, our personal prayers to Him. It’s true that in our language God is a word, a concept and maybe that’s what the gentleman meant; but IN OUR HEARTS He is our best friend and our help and refuge in all situations, even the smallest detail of our day. Haha. I think this sentence is too long but I said it in one breath I am so happy today.

      • Andrew said,

        March 27, 2016 at 5:06 pm

        Good to hear from you and let’s stay friends ☺

        • maryangeladouglas said,

          March 27, 2016 at 8:45 pm

          He who does the will of my Father…you know the verse (is my sister, my brother…)

          • maryangeladouglas said,

            March 27, 2016 at 9:13 pm

            No Andrew. I am not your friend. Not now. not ever. Say one thing one moment and then cancel it out with the opposite point of view two seconds later. Where is the basis for friendship in that. I’m not seeing it. Doesn’t mean you’re an enemy either. I don’t believe in that. But you are or seem to be two-faced and prevaricating and that’s not a basis for friendship in my book.

          • Andrew said,

            March 27, 2016 at 9:55 pm

            It is not easy…
            Then said they unto him,
            What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?
            Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.
            [John 6 KJV]

            I am trusting in the finished work.

  9. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 28, 2016 at 2:56 am

    It’s good to trust in the finished work as Christ is the finisher of our faith. I’m not judging your character. I just find what you say irritating sometimes. But your character is your own. I guess we both have different things to contribute here. Some things I say strongly because I care about them. I’m not meaning to look down on you or anyone here in any way. I’m glad you love Christ and your a friend of his and that’s for you to focus on for your own happiness. The way the world’s going now we need Him more than ever and I feel badly for people who don’t have this to rely on. I don’t see how they do it. Maybe God is secretly helping them anyway even while they think He’s not really there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: