Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Hardy’

cosmic hurt

July 8, 2017

A time there was – as one may guess
And as, indeed, earth’s testimonies tell –
Before the birth of consciousness,
When all went well.

Thomas Hardy, Before Life and After

Existence is a wound
That heals when you die
We can’t extinguish hurt
We can only try

You won’t earn any points
For trying to be nice
The cosmos doesn’t care
What we do with life

Everything we ever do
Is gonna fade away
The thing that really matters
Is how we act today

by Richard W. Bray

shocks and stings

February 15, 2017

zzwhitney

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.

Thomas Hardy, The Darkling Thrush

Icy winds blast frigid cold
In this everywhere of snow
Little bird you are so strong
Light up the evening with a song
Is there no place you can go
To warm your fragile feathered soul?
How can you radiate delight
On this coldest winter’s night?
The greatest courage is to sing
In the face of shocks and stings

by Richard W. Bray

Flinging our Souls

December 24, 2014

aaaaaaathrush

I’m goofy for words. And I will happily read and read and read until I find a combination of words which “strikes like a chime through the mind.” Then I will read some more.

Thomas Hardy forges a concoction of meaning, sound, and feeling when he tells us that a singing little bird

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

Of course, every line of “The Darkling Thrush” is a work of art.

Poetry and language are the same thing. Perhaps the people we call poets live the music inside the words with greater intensity than the rest of us do, but all words are music.

Consider the first line of a poem by Emily Dickinson:

From Us She wandered now a Year,

There are a thousand less lovely ways to tell us that a woman has abandoned her family. And the beauty of the sound and rhythm of this line is assaulted by the sadness it conveys.

Here’s the entire poem:

From Us She wandered now a Year,
Her tarrying, unknown,
If Wilderness prevent her feet
Or that Ethereal Zone

No eye hath seen and lived
We ignorant must be—
We only know what time of Year
We took the Mystery.

There are so many things we are not told: Who is this woman? Whom did she abandon? Where? Why? The reader is left to fill in the blanks.

Robert Pinsky proffers a handy metaphor: Novelists wade through words while poets skate on their surface.

by Richard W. Bray

Hope Starved

July 4, 2012

How about when hope is starved
And dreams fade into dust?
How ’bout when your plans
Disintegrate with rust?
Dreams prepared and baked with love
Crumble to a crust
And hope is a mirage
With nothing left to trust

Who deserves to be the kid
Playing all alone?
Who deserves to hear her dad
Only on the phone?
Childhood deprivations
Don’t set like broken bones
Memories cut like razor blades
Even when you’re grown

Parents die in accidents
Puppies run away
Lovers get impatient
And set off on their way
Keepsakes and mementos
Tatter, crack, and fray
Everything you care about
Crumbles just like clay

by Richard W. Bray

For All They Care

June 30, 2012

W. H. Auden

Which is more significant, a person or a star?

People could not exist without stars. Not only does our sun provide us with essential warmth, light, and sustenance, but astronomers believe that all solid matter, ourselves included, is made up of the debris from former stars.

Compared to a person, our abiding sun is surely great and grand. But as far as we can tell, a star is neither sentient nor alert to its own existence. So unlike a human being or even a shih-poo who responds to the name of Max, a star will never want for anything.

W. H. Auden ponders his unreciprocated affection for stars and correctly concludes that despite a star’s magnificence, between the two, the poet himself is ultimately “the more loving one.”

Thus human beings gaze at stars with a longing that the stars themselves could never “return.”

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,

And although the breadth of a star’s life is incomprehensible to a human being, a star is nonetheless ephemeral like everything else in our universe. (When the dividend is eternity, all quotients are miniscule.) Some day every star will “disappear or die.”

Getting back to my original question, is a star’s immense, blazing endurance a match for a human being’s cognizance and sensitivity? It’s a rhetorical question, of course. Even if it weren’t a false alternative, the answer would still lie beyond the scope of human imagination. We could not survive in a universe without stars, and as Richard Wilbur inquires,

How shall we dream of this place without us?–

For his part, Thomas Hardy maintains that the “disease of feeling” is overrated, and “all went well” prior to “the birth of consciousness,”

None suffered sickness, love, or loss,
None knew regret, starved hope, or heart-burnings;
None cared whatever crash or cross
Brought wrack to things.

If something ceased, no tongue bewailed,
If something winced and waned, no heart was wrung;
If brightness dimmed, and dark prevailed,
No sense was stung.

Auden is similarly cynical about the ultimate value of human sentimentality:

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total darkness sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

by Richard W. Bray

nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH

May 27, 2010

Thomas Hardy

Archibald MacLeish

nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH

The poem’s meaning is evoked by the structure of words-as-sounds rather than by the structure of words-as-meanings. And the enhanced meaning, which we feel in any true poems, is a product, therefore, of the structure of the sounds.

–Poetry and Experience
by Archibald MacLeish (23)

Scansion records units of rhythm, not units of sense

–All the Fun’s in How You Say a Thing by Timothy Steele (530)

Vocabulary

Meter: The basic rhythmic structure of written and uttered words (not simply poetry)

Iamb: A unit of language consisting of an unstressed syllable and a stressed syllable, in that order.

I once began a lesson on meter to a group of eighth-graders by exaggerating (both verbally and bodily) the inherent iambic rhythms of the following lines of poetry:

“I cannot go to school today,”
Said little Pegg-y Ann McKay
I have the measles and the mumps
A gash, a rash and purple bumps*

A girl in the class looked at me in utter recognition and blurted out,
“I get it:

nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH
nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH

I was happy that this student immediately picked up on the main point of my lesson, but I was really thrilled because her description of iambic poetry was, in my opinion, superior to the one that is commonly offered in textbooks, a depiction with a musical correlation which mimics a snare drum:

ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum
ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum

Here are some examples of iambic meter:

Iambic Monometer–One Beat (nuh-NUH)

Upon His Departure Hence by Robert Herrick

Thus I
Passe by
And die:
As one,
Unknown,
And gone:
I’m made
A shade,
And laid
I’th’grave:
There have
My cave.
Where tell
I dwell,
Farewell.

Iambic Dimeter–Two Beats (nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH)

The Robin by Thomas Hardy

When up aloft
I fly and fly,
I see in pools
The shining sky

Iambic Trimeter–Three Beats (nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH)

Touring a Past by Dick Davis

There is no boat to cross
From that ill-favored shore
To where the clashing reeds
Complete the works of war
Together with the grass,
And nesting birds, and weeds.

Iambic Tetrameter–Four Beats (nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH,
nuh-NUH)

Now I lay me Down to Sleep

If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take

Iambic Pentameter–Five Beats (nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH,
nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH)

Mad Girl’s Love Song by Sylvia Plath

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born a-gain
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

One Final Thought

…”scanning” a line is not a dramatic, or poetic reading of a line. Scanning a line is reading it in a special, more or less forced, way, to bring out the meter and any definite derivations or substitutions. Scanning will not bring out the other parts of the tension; it will tend to iron them out. On the other hand, a good dramatic, or poetic, reading will tend to bring out the tensions–but note well that in order to do this it must be careful not to override and completely kill the meter. When that is done, the tensions vanish. (Another reason why the meter must be observed is, of course, that if a line is truly metrical, a reading which actually destroys the meter can only be an incorrect reading–by dictionary and rhetorical standards.) A good dramatic reading is a much more delicate, difficult, and rewarding than a mere scanning. Yet the scanning has its justification, its use. We would argue that a good dramatic reading is possible only by a person who can also perform a scansion.

The Concept of Meter by W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe C. Beardsley
from The Structure of Verse, Edited by Harvey Gross (163-164)

Suggested Further Reading:

The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within by Stephen Fry

The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide by Robert Pinsky

Versification: A Short Introduction by James McAuley

by Richard W. Bray

* Sick by Shel Silverstein