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.

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