FIRST ROUND ACTION CONCLUDES IN THE MODERN BRACKET

Image result for alan seeger

Alan Seeger—yes, he is related to the folk singer Pete Seeger—certainly has a sublime entry:

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

World War One was such a horrible meat grinder, it’s a miracle any beautiful poetry on that war was possible, but poets will find a way.  The theme is similar to ‘all quiet on the western front.’  I will die when it’s “quiet.”  I will die when it’s “Spring.”

The Moderns often point to the Great War as the end of “pretty, Victorian poetry;” it’s not that poems like Seeger’s on WW I were not beautiful, were not popular, were not moving—it’s just that the horror of war “outside” the text began to condemn it (pretty poetry) as naive.  The air-tight jar of art-for-art’s sake was broken by an event too vast and grisly for that jar to survive.

The problem is, however, that when you try and ‘fit’ poetry to the gruesome stupidity of life, it’s no longer poetry.  So now, you’ve not only done a stupid thing by having World War One, you’ve gone and ruined poetry, too.

And this is not to say that all poetry should be flowery and Victorian and how dare you introduce more realistic views—no.  The point is, poetry should never be defined by “what are we going to do about World War One?”  In any way, ever. Because—the dyer’s hand. If you write poetry about iconic stupidity, it will be stupid. After you go to the ironic well of ‘I will die when it’s quiet/spring’ one too many times, you may have to start writing ‘his face was blown off’ while trying to be poetic, and that will take too much effort, or make one indulge too much in brutality for its own sake.  And if you wish to address the stupidity of World War One in a truly serious or scientific way, you probably won’t be using poems.

Seeger’s opponent is Richard Eberhart and his poem, “The Groundhog:”

In June, amid the golden fields,
I saw a groundhog lying dead.
Dead lay he; my senses shook,
And mind outshot our naked frailty.
There lowly in the vigorous summer
His form began its senseless change,
And made my senses waver dim
Seeing nature ferocious in him.
Inspecting close his maggots’ might
And seething cauldron of his being,
Half with loathing, half with a strange love,
I poked him with an angry stick.
The fever arose, became a flame
And Vigour circumscribed the skies,
Immense energy in the sun,
And through my frame a sunless trembling.
My stick had done nor good nor harm.
Then stood I silent in the day
Watching the object, as before;
And kept my reverence for knowledge
Trying for control, to be still,
To quell the passion of the blood;
Until I had bent down on my knees
Praying for joy in the sight of decay.
And so I left; and I returned
In Autumn strict of eye, to see
The sap gone out of the groundhog,
But the bony sodden hulk remained.
But the year had lost its meaning,
And in intellectual chains
I lost both love and loathing,
Mured up in the wall of wisdom.
Another summer took the fields again
Massive and burning, full of life,
But when I chanced upon the spot
There was only a little hair left,
And bones bleaching in the sunlight
Beautiful as architecture;
I watched them like a geometer,
And cut a walking stick from a birch.
It has been three years, now.
There is no sign of the groundhog.
I stood there in the whirling summer,
My hand capped a withered heart,
And thought of China and of Greece,
Of Alexander in his tent;
Of Montaigne in his tower,
Of Saint Theresa in her wild lament.

It is the scene-shifting of this poem which is so moving. Poems exist in time, if we let them.  There are poems which exist in a picture.  But some poems exist only as they unfold.  Poets often miss this principle: a poem is a continual arriving and leaving, and the rare, poignant ones ride the temporal itself. One could state the theme of decay in a much shorter poem, but a short poem would not get the decay in life and memory as Eberhart here so beautifully unwinds it.

Alan Seeger, brave man!  Fare thee well!

Eberhart advances.

~~~~~~~~

The arena can hardly contain the crowd for this one: T.S. Eliot versus Dylan Thomas!

The sly, slim, astute Eliot, unruffled as a cat on a stuffed chair. The bubbling, passionate, beer-soaked Thomas.

Already a few brawls outside the stadium.

The languorous sounds of “Prufrock” as it reaches its mesmerizing end:

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
.
I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

The crowd is lulled into an ecstatic trance, but Dylan Thomas is about to change all that…

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

One of the great drawbacks of homosexuality is that so many great poems are now ruined, because the word “gay” is used in the old sense.

Some scholars believe T.S. Eliot was gay.

Still other scholars think we’re all gay. Let’s just defer to them right now, shall we?

Marla Muse: Tom!  What are you babbling about?

Nothing, Marla, just having fun.  But I think I’ve come down with a cold.

Marla Muse: You might want to take care of that cold. I hear people who are 99 years old and have diabetes and asthma are dying in Italy.

Good God, Marla, now what are you babbling about?

“Parody! Parody!” In the vestibules the Dylan Thomas fans are making a fuss that “Prufrock” is nothing but a school boy parody.

Maybe we should leave, Marla.  It seems to be getting out of control down there.

Marla: Rage, indeed. Perhaps we should leave. Was that a beer bottle which just flew by?

Marla, follow me.

~~~~~~~~

The final First Round Scarriet March Madness Sublime contest in the Modern Bracket is two 20th century poets: W.H. Auden and Edna St. Vincent Millay. 

Marla Muse: Both great poets. And both used rhyme. You know, as time rides farther and farther away from the 20th century, and we look back, it will begin to appear, as we read the poems most memorable, that free verse was no factor in modern poetry at all!

History is funny, isn’t it?

Marla Muse: Not only history, but time!

Is time itself the funny part?  Perhaps it is…

Marla Muse: After many a summer dies the swan.

Tennyson.

Marla Muse: No, that’s mine.  The muses own all of it.

Of course.

Here is the first half of Auden’s energetic march, “As I Walked Out One Evening:”

As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.
.
And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
‘Love has no ending.
.
‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,
.
‘I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.
.
‘The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.’
.
But all the clocks in the city
Begin to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.
.
‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.
.
‘In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
Tomorrow or today.
.
‘Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver’s brilliant bow.
.
‘O plunge your hands in water
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you’ve missed.
.
‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A land to the land of the dead.

“And the seven songs go squawking/like geese about the sky.”  I could recite that line forever!

Look at the Auden fans! Doing a “plunge them in up to the wrist” dance!  What a cavorting mob!

Marla Muse: There’s quite a gathering of Edna fans, too. Millay is heavenly.

Here she comes now with one of her best known sonnets.

Her fans are strewing petals everywhere about her!

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
.
.
The Milly fans are singing, over various strumming chords, “no more,” over and over again, hypnotically, in a simple major key, as they wind about, in a great procession, out of the arena towards the river.
.
The Auden followers are bellowing Auden’s ballad in E minor. A few things are being broken.
.
And so ends the First Round play in the Modern Bracket.
.
Lights, lights, everywhere, as night falls, and music echoes behind the trees.

 

 

 

 

10 Comments

  1. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 24, 2020 at 5:29 pm

    Haha. “Marla: The Muses own all of it.” Can’t stop laughing at that one. It stands to reason they might think they do.

  2. oldhuang said,

    March 25, 2020 at 12:59 am

    Very interesting, more are welcome.

  3. Desdi said,

    March 25, 2020 at 6:04 pm

    Can I get Marla’s number from someone please?

  4. noochinatpr said,

    March 25, 2020 at 9:56 pm

    Here’s a highlight from one eliminated,
    In an earlier round— still, it’s sublimated—
    Penned by Walker Percy, from Lost in the Ruins
    From 1971, in the midst of crazy doin’s:

    Doris and I used to travel the highways in the old Auto Age before Samantha was born, roar seven hundred miles a day along the great interstates to some glittering lost motel twinkling away in the twilight set down in the green hills of Tennessee or out in haunted New Mexico, swim in the pool, take steaming baths, mix many toddies, eat huge steaks, run back to the room, fall upon each other laughing and hollering, and afterwards lie dreaming in one another’s arms watching late-show Japanese science-fiction movies way out yonder in the lost yucca flats of Nevada.

    Sunday mornings I’d leave her and go to mass. Now here was the strangest exercise of all! Leaving the coordinate of the motel at the intersection of the interstates, leaving the motel with standard doors and carpets and plumbing, leaving the interstates extending infinitely in all directions, abscissa and ordinate, descending through a moonscape countryside to a — town! Where people had been living all these years, and to some forlorn little Catholic church up a side street just in time for the ten-thirty mass, stepping up on the porch as if I had been doing it every Sunday for the past twenty years, and here comes the stove-up bemused priest with his cup (what am I doing out here? says his dazed expression) upon whose head hands had been laid and upon this other head other hands and so on, for here off I-51 I touched the thread in the labyrinth, and the priest announced the turkey raffle and Wednesday bingo and preached the Gospel and fed me Christ—

    —Back to the motel then, exhilarated by—what? by eating Christ or by the secret discovery of the singular thread in this the unlikeliest of places, this geometry of Holiday Inns and interstates? back to lie with Doris all rosy-fleshed and creased of cheek and slack and heavy-limbed with sleep, cracking one eye and opening her arms and smiling.

    “My God, what is it you do in church?”

    What she didn’t understand, she being spiritual and seeing religion as spirit, was that it took religion to save me from the spirit world, from orbiting the earth like Lucifer and the angels, that it took nothing less than touching the thread off the misty interstates and eating Christ himself to make me mortal man again and let me inhabit my own flesh and love her in the morning.

  5. March 26, 2020 at 12:57 pm

    How do we know who won the matches?

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 26, 2020 at 10:05 pm

      You need a ticket!

      The only press covering the event is Scarriet, and no press is allowed, so the news is spotty…scores non-existent, highlight reels, forget it, winners and losers, only so often, but as the tournament proceeds you figure out who won and lost…

  6. noochinator said,

    January 14, 2022 at 7:54 pm

    Nice quote about Dylan Thomas, from a 14-Jan-2022 piece by Anthony Daniels (pen name Theodore Dalrymple):

    Another person of the same [poète maudit] type was Dylan Thomas—with this important difference, that he really was a poetic genius. He, too, played the poète maudit, and the role killed him in the end; when one plays a part for long enough, the role is what one becomes. But in the case of Thomas, the poet was real: The single phrase the heron-priested shore is sufficient to demonstrate this. The shore in question was that of the peaceful estuary in Wales that his house overlooked, on which herons often stand motionless as they wait for fish. Indeed, they look like clergymen standing contemplatively before their congregations, but never in a hundred years would I have thought of the phrase, which so exactly and beautifully captures the scene.

    https://www.takimag.com/article/be-your-own-advert/


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