COMPLEX LYRICAL POEM

writing the complex lyrical poemObjective

To create a traditional poem in blank verse (iambic pentameters).

Starting

On a starting a poem page we developed:

Let no radiances conspire
to play that fragrant tune;
for all its elixir and shimmering fire,
shut out the distant moon!

Pretty enough, but with dangers because:

1. a ballad is too hurried: we are meditating on a situation, not telling a story
2. so strong a form may betray us into using hackneyed rhymes.

A suggestion is provided by now with the years passing, the twentieth on the previous page, a happy alternative to the usual breath/death rhyme. We now write whatever will make the lines longer and the content bulkier, trying to retain something of the previous rhythm and tone:

Through all this damascene of light and shade,
in things relinquished or mislaid there stays
a moment in the fragrant room, the blaze
of words unspoken or of hopes obeyed:
shut out the shining moon.

For as much unfathomable as those women were
and bulky the unwrapped fervour of their breath,
ah well, that was long ago, and not in the twentieth
or the thirtieth time of advent do bodies stir:
dry thoughts: another tune!

however impossible the dreams were or in arrogance
the years move forward from that last goodnight,
still diademed in her most tranquil light
the orb of all we were or had been is askance
of what we will assume.

Not very exciting: should we correct or press on? Much depends on the distress the failings cause, most notably:

the cliché: last goodnight
muddled expressions: mislaid there stays a moment. . time of advent. . . were or in arrogance, etc.
discordant metre: still diademed in her most tranquil light is a beautiful line, but quite out of place here.

Certainly we can't rewrite without rethinking what was aimed for: some stanza that married shut out the distant moon! with the more meditative not in the twentieth or the thirtieth time. The present shape may well serve for a short lyric, since tune has many rhymes, but let's do what we did before: try to get one stanza right.

Step Two: Get One Stanza Right

Start with the second stanza. We can write any number of acceptable last lines: it's the first four that need work. So, first this:

For, however unfathomable those bodies were,
or the stern fervour of their breath,
those thoughts were orphaned long ago and not on their twentieth
or thirtieth advent do the phantoms stir
in what we hear and would forget.

And then:

For, however unfathomable those bodies were,
or stern fervour of their breath,
their forms were orphaned long ago and not
on their twentieth or their thirtieth
advent do the phantoms stir
there with the lies we would forget.
in this small garden plot.

Step Three: Write in the New Stanza Form

Not very good, but we have replaced the wavering rhythm and irregular form with something more compact and manageable. The new form — 5a 4b 5c 4b 4a 3c — perhaps has narrative possibilities, and we should now be thinking of fervour, orphaned thoughts, evacuated shapes, hallowed ground, etc. in the context of moonlight and her insubstantial promises. We now write more stanzas, as the words come, but keeping to the form, however nonsensical or contrived the result:

For, however unfathomable those bodies were,
or the wet fervour of their breath,
their forms were orphaned long ago and not
on their twentieth or their thirtieth
advent do the phantoms stir
in this small gardened plot

The walls are as they stood. The wind is bluffing
to drag out all that was. The tree
rehearses in the same old tune
it played for us in turn. You want from me
well, what then, what? There is nothing
here but darkness and the moon.

Warm-breathed and fragranced as the voices then,
from the rich vellum to their fall
was only decrepitude in bodies thrown
in softness that again, again
must flatter as the mosses spawl
into the lichened stone.

Much as I made of those tendernesses
Of the dark eyes blinkered and afraid,
What tarantelle the eyelash made, what braille
was in light touches laid.
Hang up the linen sweep of dresses,
refold the peacock's tail.

Still turning and returning as I was then
as the dark rifles through the head,
The heart was in the pounding blood, the course
over the warm hills and instead
I see a kindly now old gentleman
and day and day's remorse.

As ineluctable as we were then, who knew
what the dark trees carry in their train?
Yes, life is inexhaustible but choose
one, one only, and do not stain
the bright fabric of the small and true
with the daylight's blunting use.

Step Four: Step Back and Polish Up

Well, sort of. The shortcomings are too obvious to need exposition. We have to cut, rework and polish:

However unfathomable those bodies were
or the wet fervour of their breath,
their forms were orphaned long ago and not
on their twentieth or thirtieth
advent do the phantoms stir
in this ungardened plot.

Though warm they were, and their voices meet
in a rich vellum to a fall,
all was decrepitude, the body's starched
exactions on the sheet,
yet still the same the voices call
as pubis bone is arched.

Though much I learned of tendernesses,
of dark eyes blinkered and afraid,
the tarantelle the eyelash made, what Braille
was in small fingers laid,
set by the quickstep of the dresses,
forgo the cuckoo's tale.

Come, return to me as I was then
as the past pummels through the head:
the heart was in the pounding blood, the course
lay always through the bed,
and not as now old gentlemen
set by the days' remorse.

As ineluctable as all was then, who knew
what the dark trees carried in their train?
That love was inexhaustible but leaven
only in its gain.
Chaste and thin the light falls through
from that still moon in heaven.

Comments

The poem began with variations on Hardy's stealing moon, which then acted as a catalyst, generating the usual reflections on moonlit assignations and lost opportunities. Job done, the moon shrinks into something hardly perceptible, quite different from the radiant beauty first invoked. That process is not uncommon in poetry, though the trace of commonplace association remains in the shape of the poem, its tone or context. Lyrics often need something like this: other genres are more complexly orchestrated.

 

 

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