ROUND ONE MARCH MADNESS 2018 ACTION

Image result for fighting in the rain in painting

Sentimental Poems are fighting it out for the 2018 MARCH MADNESS POETRY crown, but don’t let “sentimental” fool you.

Nothing fights harder than sentimental, for sentimental reasons. Think of a mother bear defending her cubs.

“Western Wind” is a short anonymous poem which once graced anthologies. Was it merit which made it well known? A tricky business, poetic reputation and renown. Found in a 1530 collection of songs for Lute, it’s older than Shakespeare, and apparently 16th century English composers loved writing music for it. The leather-bound Oxford Book of English Poetry reproduced “Western Wind” in the early 20th century, and the New Critics used it in Understanding Poetry, their mid-20th century textbook.

Western Wind, when will thou blow?
The small rain down can rain.
Christ! That my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again.

The first line has interest because it’s 1. a question 2. to a non-person (wind) and is 3. onomatopeia (sounds like the wind).

How sentimental is this short poem?

Brevity can both hinder and help sentimentality; extremely powerful emotion will vanquish verbosity.  Yet brevity is the soul of wit—and wit is the opposite of sentimentality.

“Western Wind” is offensive—it breaks the third commandment, by “taking the lord’s name in vain” with its utterance of “Christ!”  In today’s terms, this is like saying “Fuck!” in polite company.  Whether this had anything to do with the song’s popularity, we are not sure. Can we be sentimental as we curse?  If sentimentality is any strong emotion, then yes.

Here is the history of the modern world in a four line poem.  They say “Western Wind” is  English because it references “rain” and the “west wind.”  True, but the break with Rome, the ravenous, secular British Empire—it’s all there in that irreverent, passionate, outburst, “Christ!”

Does sentimentality have anything to do with a passive (love) complaint?  We certainly think so.  “Western Wind” is passive (love) complaint, if nothing else.

Speaking of passivity, Milton’s “On His Blindness,” the Round One opponent of “Western Wind” in the First Bracket, might be the most famous expression of passivity in poetry: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

The complaint of Milton’s poem hides behind the rhetoric of the devout believer—reading Milton’s poem, the reader feels that somehow there is a complaint which wishes to be expressed (life sucks), but which is transformed, by faith, into I dare not complain.

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Milton shows us how God can be an antidote to mawkish self-pity: “God doth not need/ Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best/Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.”

Can sentimentality be stern?  Is there a sentimental setting, in which the poem, or the poet, fights completely free of sentimentality?  And can this still be called a sentimental poem?

“Western Wind” remains a complaint—and is sentimental for that reason.

“On His Blindness” fights against complaint—and is more sentimental for that reason.

Milton wins.

5 Comments

  1. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 9, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    Stellar.

  2. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 9, 2018 at 7:41 pm

    READING WALLACE STEVENS UNDER THE FLOWERING TREES, 1970

    the assurance of flamingo sugar pink
    against the near jade waters…
    I think of angels, the aprils that they wear and

    carols in the carolinas
    and the abstract wren chosen
    over the pearl edged dove, spiraling,

    and wallace stevens at home,
    never at home, anywhere
    or why is he never

    answering the door
    forever the connoisseur
    the Beats cannot endure of

    the impractical, the expensive
    work of art the extravagant non-protest
    the high toned avering crystal surreal

    of the evening angels whirring
    and the polonaise malaise,
    the palmettos you know you cannot afford

    on your salary
    the rare oranges
    for the sunday brunch…

    but it’s what you feel the most
    the attention to beauty
    amber honey on the toast

    even at the edge of doom
    bearing it out
    and you’ve missed lunch

    in the cafeteria now
    because you couldn’t
    admire enough the outre

    oranges
    you’ll never munch
    haha, can you even imagine

    him saying, oh please have one
    yummy as tropical suns
    while you await

    the bridal apple tree’s
    blooming over the fence of Eden
    to release anointing petals never-ending

    the angels with their swords notwithstanding…
    you cannot hear a word I’m saying
    who wonder if it is too late

    in the tropical green of the sward
    in the painting
    for me to lift the latch on the gate for the

    falling words failling through a
    jeweled space to ever be meant
    for the human race

    for this is a dream not well disguised
    the crayons of children
    not good at growing up

    who will not sup the usual fare
    while they are dying
    for the fairy tale pear on the Sevigne plate

    or who,
    casually pluck the Firebird feathers
    to look as though

    you hadn’t been crying
    to be near the revelatory throne
    in your abstract years now that

    they are mounting up, strange birds
    flapping in the offing
    where the emerald rainbow shone

    nearer to St. John than to the business phone
    in Hartford, Hartford bring me the file
    with the rose birds set against

    the mere and blue green skies
    all those pretty lies they once called poetry
    before they all wised up..

    I cannot forget I am
    reading under the shade trees
    at the college I don’t care if I get wet

    I’m in the peach shadows
    and I know it
    of the moratoriums

    and turn the page
    as it introduces thunder
    over the roses in the Carolinas

    but briefly
    o that you are never sure, never assured
    in the galleries is it out of reach

    the rich intaglios, the peach
    if you saw, if you heard
    in a waning, warring world the

    extravagant exits painted
    like a door
    you could almost go through

    not being really a political you
    you try so hard to comprehend
    what it was that you adored back then

    so far away-o that you’re defending now
    from the relevant, the relevant:
    the visuals and the parrot seeming

    the poet assuming another pose
    in the steady rain pouring in the roses
    angels everywhere now and slippery

    because he cannot stop needing them
    to cover up the tracks of God
    in the elaborate mud

    and near the doorbell now of Zion
    raising an emerald finger, the Deity
    before the floods

    because you know I know
    He loves, He loved
    the poet in his Ethan Allen chair

    (you guess, you’ve never been there)
    impassive near the magazines
    and in nectarine lamplight

    the expensive prayer in disguise and it’s
    dreaming and dreaming…weeping as the pearl edged Dove
    was murmuring into a petaled shell

    Arise! and come

    mary angela douglas 9 march 2018

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      March 11, 2018 at 5:03 am

      • maryangeladouglas said,

        March 11, 2018 at 2:01 pm

        On The Lost Notebooks of Loren Eisley, Ascending Music, The Fawn Coloured Dawns

        they see white gold often shading into the
        rose gold, fawn dawns easily in the day when I looked
        out in vain, some would say, my peers

        to hear that they contained the murmuring of leaves
        those choirs unknown, unannotated
        their skies a silk screen painted with birdsong

        how all things human then did seem suddenly,
        absent and the winged things prevailed
        holy and fountaining, some sacred trust

        and ferns like souvenirs from an ancient green,
        or rust and a forgotten Age, the palette gauged
        were rearranged and the amber fossils in their

        museum cages raged,
        partitioned in sadness.
        there is music in everything but wound up,

        like a dimestore favor
        not a key in sight
        and then, the amplitude of stars

        the silk fanned violet nights
        the folk tale simpletons
        with the riddling Rose

        their pie faces crumbling
        into, Who Knows

        and then, antiphonies, stephanotis Spring,ascending
        oh why not, neverending
        the flights that made me weep

        from fortresses of fleece, fleeing;
        having to evade the staircase with
        no warning

        a long ways down all morning, and then, the shifting
        to the glaced ground where it was winter.
        I was late and the traffic all in ash drifting

        there was no work in the world that day
        the world was canceled
        when I said

        the inlaid clocks can bend
        their deep waves faltered
        in the semi-terraced seas

        what do you Believe in
        emulating sapphire
        when it is showering Pearl

        with not one friend in the world
        and the marled dream-silver spooned into
        all this sleeping;the altered tones

        melting like Messiaen.

        never the snows on celluloid where
        it was impossible to ascertain
        given the technicality of the Project

        was it all a dream, unsayable, then flickering,
        only what was Before us remaining
        and no more the

        here we are or now
        no longer writing on cream paper
        or lifting the coffee can out of the cupboard

        stirring the golden instants there waylaid
        in a linen world perfumed with the
        nearness of Easter, the window shades rippling

        in lilied array;
        the hummingbird inscriptions, gone away
        and I in a garden garbled language hanging onto

        the least quilting scrap, scribbling the news
        the rose endued, with what,
        the sun a mere crystal toy

        my head in my hands
        from the burden of wonder
        and the relay lines down.

        mary angela douglas 11 march 2018

  3. Mr. Woo said,

    March 10, 2018 at 4:24 pm

    The more I muse on it, the more I think this year’s tournament taps directly into today’s Zeitgeist, at least in the West.

    The idea of a sentimental setting which one can participate seriously within, even with sternness, seems important to me.

    Isn’t the Christian worldview, with our fallenness, just that setting? The word sentimental doesn’t completely cover that territory, of course, but sentiment is woven into the Christian response to the tragic elements of existence.

    Christianity has become the new counter-culture, at least in America. Strange times.

    Go Milton!


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