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”.
Murmuring by myriads in the shimmering trees.
Wakening with wonder in the Pyrenees.
Cheerily chirping in the early day.
Singing of summer, scything through the hay.
Shaking the heavy dews from bloom and frond.
Bursting the surface of the ebony pond.
Of swimmers carving the sparkling cold.
Gleaming with wetness to the morning gold.
Bordered about with warbling waterbrooks.
Laughing the love-laugh with me; proud of looks.
Throbbing between the upland and the peak.
Quivering with passion to my pressed cheek.
Of floating flames across the mountain brow.
Of stillness; and a sighing of the bough.
Of leaflets in the gloom; soft petal-showers;
Expanding with the starr-d nocturnal flowers.
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.
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.
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”
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.)
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.
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.
When the world appears to be crashing down, when we’re going down the drain, it helps—truly!—to realize that others have survived trials and troubles. Poetry can help, especially since Poetry Mirrors Life.
That’s the lesson in today’s post about “Paper Cup”, penned
by Jimmy Webb of the 5th Dimension.
A Bit on Background
On 3/25, in the post about Dolly Parton’s “Wildflowers”, I noted the 4 Requirements of Song. Poetry has a role to play in our daily lives ~ it’s not just pretty words.
1] Poetry should speak clearly
and 2] from the heart.
Music-driven poetry should also provide 3] strong lines that catch our imagination
and 4] powerful imagery that helps us visualize the situations.
When a poem achieves these 4 requirements, it echoes to our souls. The reason: Poetry mirrors life in its intensity. Other types of communications—essays, films, novels, blog posts—struggle to reach into their audience’s hearts.
Jimmy Webb’s 1967 “Paper Cup” fulfills these 4 requirements—and
also resonates with the current situation.
The extended metaphor in Webb’s poem presents a narrowed
little world into which we cage ourselves.
This world satisfies us with a shower stall, running water,
a den, and refrigerated air, bland walls that make our lives easy.
Then Webb turns this life around with its bleached,
waxed-paper world. We may think we’re in the catbird’s seat, but one day we’re
“going down the drain” and won’t care. When trials and troubles hit so hard, we
sink into apathy. We deadened ourselves to reality so we can “feel no pain”.
Only through this apathy can we say “life is kind of /
groovy in the gutter”.
Webb tells us that such an apathetic life has no purpose. We
are living “without a rudder”. We follow the currents of life and never stop to
consider what we want. More importantly, we don’t consider what truth is.
The crowd declares what is popular and “hot”. We follow,
rat-like, behind the pied piper crowd into a maze that will devour us.
In the film The Matrix, we saw characters awakened to the myriad things that the mass crowd pummels us with in order to keep us distracted. Our focus is forced onto the temporary and earthly things. Drugs, paychecks, sex, blingy rat-race materialism, crime, taxes, insurance—these thingsare what we worry about instead of the IDEAS and SOULS we should care about.
Webb is preaching to us, much as Tyler Perry does with his Madea films.
Webb tells us that we may claim freedom, we may shout
“freedom”, but all those material possessions and other addictions just put us
in a bland round cage. We are “always looking up” since our lives are nothing
Politics of Poetry that Mirrors Life
As Percy Bysshe Shelley said, “Poetry is a mirror” reflecting life. By presenting life, it “awaken[s] and enlarge[s] the mind … a 1,000 un-apprehended combinations of thought.” (from “A Defence of Poetry”)
As Shelley tells us, Poetry Mirrors Life.
Webb wants us to reflect on what we think life should be by
comprehending how bleached-out and bland such a life is. This is the same point
in Dolly Parton’s “lost in a crowd” Wildflowers, with people too afraid to
pursue their goals. In “Paper Cup”, Webb reminds us that a boring constricted
life focused on things is no more than living in a gutter.
A better world is available to us. Webb points out the
problems of merely existing in a mundane world, with distractors that keep us
on the rat-race wheel.
Ha! The wheel in the rat’s cage can be turned sideways to be
a round cup that imprisons us. At least the rat can look through his bars.
Parton’s “Wildflowers” tells us how we can escape that
“common and close” existence. Never forget that we must uproot ourselves from
gardens where we will wither and hitch a ride with the wind.
Webb uses Poetry to mirror Life. He tells us that we have to escape the apathetic life and pursue our goals with passion.
No matter what, we take action to achieve.
On the 15th, more Politics of Poetry as we look at Joni Mitchell’s call of personal change before we can achieve social change.
And from today, the 5th until the 19th, we have the MORE blogs celebrating Easter, running from Palm Sunday to Bright Sunday. Join us!
Writers Ink continues our series of blogs on poetry: sharing & examining, analyzing & interpreting.
February is Love, and poetry is my particular love. ~ M.A. Lee
While I love experimental poetry–free verse and the like, carefully crafted pure verse can amaze. The sonnet with its required length of 14 lines, rhyme scheme and meter length, all written to propose and answer a question, is just one example of poetic skills.
Llike the villanelle and other required structural poems, the sonnet exhibits a poet’s fluency with words and deftness with structure. The majority are actually poetic arguments, as the poet presents a conflicting problem and works to a solution.
Several poets have exceptional skill with the sonnet form:
Any sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay but especially “Time Does not Bring Relief, You all Have Lied”
Robert Frost’s “Once by the Pacific” which alludes to William Blake’s “The Ancient of Days”
Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sonnet”
Octavio Paz’s “The Street”
and the master, William Shakespeare, especially his Sonnet 18, which serves as the focus for this blog.
In Sonnet 18, the persona’s love has asked the perennial question that contains a trap: “Do you think I’m pretty?”
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
The trap part of that question holds the following, waiting to sink the unwary: Do you love me because I’m pretty? Will you still love me when I lose my prettiness? What do you find my prettiest feature?
Shakespeare’s persona sidesteps the question with a question of his own: The prettiest thing in his mind would be a summer’s day: hot as love without burning up, clear of troubling clouds, no problems on the horizon, everything blooming and growing and fruiting.
And then he answers: you are better than a summer’s day, not just for its beauty but also for being “temperate”, moderate. Smart man: he just said her personality is as wonderful as her appearance.
The next two lines and the new two quatrains of the sonnet present evidence in support of the persona’s statement.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Clever, clever persona: Everyone loves May, the first true month of warm weather, filled flowers, lacking the April showers. Remember, though, that May still have lingering showers and the flowers won’t stand up to the bad weather . . . while Summer’s growth—and therefore their love—is strong enough to stand up to storms.
The problem with Summer, however—and the reason that she is better than a summer’s day—is that it never lasts long enough. The poem continues in the second quatrain to present additional problems with Summer. And he infers that she does not have any of those problems.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or Nature’s changing course untrimm’d.
A clever man appeals to his love’s intelligence as well as her emotions. He admits when things are not perfect—and then reminds that perfection is not what he wants because it’s not real.
Summer days get too hot (and he’s already called her “more temperate”).
Clouds cover the sunshine, sometimes for days on end. (She, therefore, is never so dimmed.)
Every fair wonderful things can never been constantly fair. At some point it will “decline”. No relationship, he suggests, is always perfect, whether a problem occurs through accidental chance or through an action we take by mistake.
The best time in the natural world are only temporary. She’s more than temporary to him.
So, his love says, “You love me. You think we’re going great. But what happens when we get older? Will you still love me? Or will you go after some other young pretty thing?”
“Ah, sweetheart,” he replies, “have you forgotten? I don’t love you because of your appearance alone. That may have attracted me, but your personality caught me.”
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st
“Will you love me when I’m gone? Or will you forget about me?”
Clever, clever man with your poem:
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade
When in eternal lines to time thou growest.
Death may have you, but I will always remember you. See, sweetheart, this poem will remind me even when I am in my decrepancy.
“No, sweetheart, look.” And he gives her a revelation in the poem’s closing couplet:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Their love is immortalized. Now everyone will know, for all eternity, that he loves her for herself, her soul, not for any temporary consideration.
The English sonnet (or Shakespearean sonnet, if you prefer), is a simple three quatrain and one couplet structure. This poem maintains without much twisting the required ten syllables, but a strict iambic meter is not maintained—nor necessary.
Rhyme is not necessary to tie a poem together, but this one rocks not only an abab scheme but also four additional methods to “couple” them even more closely:
Repetition >> summer, more, sometime (and yes, that is sometime, not sometimeS), fair, long, and life/lives.
Alliteration >> “fair from fair”, chance / changing, long / lives
Internal Rhyme >> “lines to time”
Anaphora >> 3 lines that start with “and” (with two of those coupled) then a 4th that starts with “but”, 2 coupled lines starting with “nor”, and the last two lines coupled with “so long”.
Sonnet 18 is a lovely poem for lovers in a lasting relationship. Attraction may have drawn them together. Compatibility may have formed the relationship. Yet it’s devotion to the individual, our personality, that holds together the relationship through chance and changing times, through times better and worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
Thank you for stopping by. Return on the 25th for the most beautiful love poem in the world.
“Love the Lord with all your heart and with
all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” from
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