Alliteration from a Master

Defend the Best in order to Live the Best

Wilfred Owens is British.

What? I thought we were looking at poems by Americans for Americans.

Well, no. Any writer who celebrates freedom and living freely would be appropriate for these July blogs on occasional poetry.

Besides, I used Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier” (the first poem for the July 5 blog) as one of the first examples of sacrifices reminding us to live our lives, not just drive.

The Wilfred Owens poem selected for this July 25 blog reminds us of the best of life and living that life.

Owens died in 1918, exactly one week before the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I.

His poetry reflects his years in the war: his rage at the senseless cruelty and devastation of war alongside his compassion for his comrades trapped in the mucky trenches and on the bloody battlefields. Three of his best of these are “Dulce et Decorum Est”, “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, and “Strange Meeting.”

Yet he’s more than just a war poet. Other poems revel in nature and life and love.

This poem, a practice in alliteration and  consonance, takes as its title “From My Diary, July 1914”.

Leaves
Murmuring by myriads in the shimmering trees.
Lives
Wakening with wonder in the Pyrenees.
Birds
Cheerily chirping in the early day.
Bards
Singing of summer, scything through the hay.
Bees
Shaking the heavy dews from bloom and frond.
Boys
Bursting the surface of the ebony pond.
Flashes
Of swimmers carving the sparkling cold.
Fleshes
Gleaming with wetness to the morning gold.
A mead
Bordered about with warbling waterbrooks.
A maid
Laughing the love-laugh with me; proud of looks.
The heat
Throbbing between the upland and the peak.
Her heart
Quivering with passion to my pressed cheek.
Braiding
Of floating flames across the mountain brow.
Brooding
Of stillness; and a sighing of the bough.
Stirs
Of leaflets in the gloom; soft petal-showers;
Stars
Expanding with the starr-d nocturnal flowers.

Closing

July closes our three-month focus on Occasional Poems—Mother’s and Father’s Days, Memorial and Flag Day, and these three July blogs on what we should remember as we celebrate our independence in the mid-summer.

I’m preaching, aren’t I? Sorry. Not.

Should you have a question about copyright, please refer to the July 5 blog.

On August 5 we have the promised Rock Allegory, “Hotel California.” While you’re checking that song out, try a bit of Carmina Burana as well.

Occasional Poetry: Speech as Poem

Abraham Lincoln

Sacrifices are Necessary to Retain Freedom for All

Lincoln. Our 16th President. Writer of the Emancipation Proclamation. Assassinated before the bleeding sides resolved the War of Brother against Brother.

And a poet working in the form of speeches.

The Gettysburg Address is his best work. Here it is, taken out of its prose form and constructed as if Walt Whitman had stuck out a finger and shifted the line lengths. Continue reading “Occasional Poetry: Speech as Poem”

Occasional Poems ~ the Cost of Freedom

Independence should be celebrated all through July, not just on the 4th.

Memorial Day and Flag Day are commemorative occasions just ripe for a poet. While we’ve had this Plague Year, most writers are practicing their skills. Special occasions—especially in this climate–offer many opportunities for practice.

The hardest thing for any writer is to share the work. We spend so much time in our heads and at our desks, tapping away on ideas, that we forget the whole reason of writing is to communicate. We would like our brains to communicate with our hearts. Honestly, though, most of us want to communicate our ideas to other people. Special occasions give us that chance.

Poets in groups can become addicted to Open Mic nights. Everyone reads a bit of their ideas. However, sharing with other writers is not sharing with the hardest audience: families, friends, and the greater world.

Public ceremonies will stretch any writer’s abilities.

When writing and performing for occasions, we have 2 Chief Reasons to remember ~

1] Adhere to audience requirements.

2] Keep to the 4 Requirements of Song.

Now let me add a 3rd:

3] Manipulate structure to stand out. Poets who do so can provide copies of their poems to participants. It’s like free publicity. “All politics is local”, 1930s newspapermen said, and word-of-mouth is the best marketing.

Independence Day

On Independence Day we celebrate our freedoms. Only rarely do we stop on July 4th and remember those who sacrificed so that we have those freedoms. Our two poems for this blog are commemorations, one autobiographical by a soldier prophetic for his own life.

My apologies before we begin for the double-spacing. I am still–still struggling with the new Block Editor in Word Press. The Classic Editor used to let me single space. Grrrr.

Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier”

English poet Rupert Chawner Brooke died aboard a troop ship headed for Gallipoli in April 1915. His poem “The Soldier” is one of the most famous poems written during World War I.

If I should die, think only this of me:

     That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England. There shall be

     In that rich earth a richer dust concealed:

A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,

     Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;

A body of England’s, breathing English air,

     Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.

 

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,

    A pulse in the eternal mind, no less

        Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given:

Her sighs and sounds; dreams happy as her day;

    And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness;

        In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

This poem is especially poignant, for Rupert Brooke sacrificed himself for England in 1915, at the start of World War I, called at that time the War to End All Wars. Unfortunately, that title was not possible and never will be, as long as human nature is what it is.

Brooke himself was prophetic, for he died at the age of 27. An excellent brief biograpy of Brooke and analysis of his poetry is here.

“The Soldier” helps us to envision this person living, just as we live. That connection grips our own hearts closely, for we could easily be required to sacrifice ourselves as Brooke was.

This poem is a sonnet unannounced, for Brooke does not tell us—as many poets do—that this is Sonnet 11 or “A Sonnet”. The opening octet presents to us the loss, ending with the sadly ironic “suns of home” for England’s dead sons buried away from home.

The closing sestet presents the gain and the reason for the sacrifice. The cleansed soul, giving back as England gave. The last three lines are a list, almost like a catalog, individual items with the grouped phrases linked by semicolons: sighs & sounds; dreams; laughter with friends; gentleness; and peace.

Death arouses emotion, but Brooke asks us to THINK about the life lived before death came. Think about life. Be in the present. Celebrate freedom—before we have to sacrifice to keep it.

Gwendolyn Brooks’ “the sonnet-ballad” 

Brooks announces her sonnet but also ties it to the form of “ballad”. Because of copyright issues (see below), you can find her complex poem at this link.

A ballad tells a story, highly repetitive, strongly emotional. The reader must infer parts of the story. Those parts are obvious, however. (A good clue for those of us practicing poetry: not every element has to be included. If it’s obvious, then the reader can figure it out.)

Gwendolyn Brooks poses with her first book of poems, A Street in Bronzeville.

Every folk ballad has the three subject matters of love, betrayal, and death. Most literary ballads (so-called because we know the writer’s name—and that’s the only reason for the word literary) also have those same three subject matters.

In “the sonnet-ballad”, the poem’s speaker mourns her soldier gone. Thus, she reminds us of the sacrifices by those on the home front. They feel betrayed by the death of their beloved.

Particular phrases in Brooks’ poem that haunt us—just as the speaker herself is haunted by her loss. She remembers “my lover’s tallness” and “an empty heart-cup”. She knows her lover had to “court / Coquettish death”.

We also have the powerful circular rhetorical device, when the writing opens and closes with the same line. These two lines are the obsessive repetition of grief: love betrayed by death.

That repetition then makes us see and heed more repetition: the ending of the opening octet is the opening of the concluding sestet—“would have to be untrue”. We want the words that tell of death to be untrue. Here is Brooke’s cleverness: the betrayal is not by her beloved but the betrayal is her beloved.

And now we back up into the poem, this deceptively simple poem of complex ideas, which is the chief reason that I love Brooks.

She personifies Death as a female; that’s nothing new. Brooks, however, crafts Death as a flirty temptress, coquettish, with strange possessive arms. We know that no soldier is truly tempted by death.

Her lover, though, falls to Death. He “stammers”—that hesitation that reaches for life but cannot grasp it because Death draws him in.

He is the “hard man” who changes, an unwanted change by him, by her, by family and friends … yet still changed.

Closing

Both poems—Brooke and Brooks—are poems of the sacrifice that gives us freedom. The cost is destruction, of life, of hopes, of dreams, of potentials.

For that reason, we view Independence Day as more than picnics and fireworks. And for that reason, all this July we look at poems that remind us of the cost of Independence.

We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. ~` John F. Kennedy.

As you write your own Occasional Poems, remember the lessons of rich details and heart-deep emotions, of stories hinted and lines crafted, all to be memorable to your audience.

Copyright Notification: Every writer needs to understand copyright. Works enter Public Domain 70 years after the writer’s death. Rupert Brooke died in 1915; his still-powerful work is now in the Public Domain. Gwendolyn Brooks is an important modern American poet. She died in 2000. I can analyze her poem, but I should not provide it here without permission. That’s the reason she has a link—and when you check all the previous blogs, that’s the reason those poems also have links rather than being presented as part of the blog.
The remaining words of the blog are mine. I’m still alive. All of the remaining words are copyrighted to me, as of the date of the writing of this blog post.