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« Why Renaissance Babies are ugly (Elatia Harris) | Main | Step lively, you wretches ... »

December 05, 2011


The following comment from Dean failed to appear for mysterious reasons, godly or ungodly, we cannot say. Perhaps Elatia was right. Accidental Blogger may be expressing a distinct antipathy for texts replete with relgious references :-) I will give it a shot.

Starkly, or even faintly (not necessarily heavy-handed), gratuitous word-play of any kind understandably detracts from poetry. This is one reason puns can be so repugnant. If the word-play involves an injection of religious sentiment for no other reason than to impart seriousness and depth the poem otherwise can't support, then it fails. That may be the case with this poem, but not necessarily because of a purely religious reference. As suggested by the author, and thanks to OED, we learn that "Lord" meant "A master of servants; the male head of a household," before it meant, "God," an obvious figural employment of the term. Its etymology? "In its primary sense the word ... denotes the head of a household in his relation to the servants and dependents who 'eat his bread'..." (the word having a prehistoric form entailing a contraction of elements meaning "loaf" and "ward"). The author mistakenly believes the religious meaning is inapt because it's literal. To the contrary, the religious meaning is there, front and center, but it's a figure

I think this poem is a nice effort, but not particularly tightly rhythmic. Unless you're John Skelton or Christopher Smart, your long series of short lines, here in threes and fours, gets tiresome. The alliteration is forced at times. The tone is derivative, too. I hear an echo of a very lovely poem by Donald Justice in his 1967 Night Light, "Poem to Be Read at 3:00 a.m.":

Excepting the diner
On the outskirts
The town of Ladora
At 3 am
Was dark but
For my headlights
And up in
One second-story room
A single light
Where someone
Was sick or
Perhaps reading
As I drove past
At seventy
Not thinking
This poem
Is for whoever
Had the light on

In both poems, the night scenes involving a highway, particularly the dark silence "but for" the cars, evoke a kind of nostalgia, although Justice tactfully leaves out details of the domestic interior, and so he leaves them for the reader to imagine.

I'm baffled, though, by the question provoked by the comment to the Culleny poem. Would the same reader not appreciate Wallace Stevens' "Sunday Morning" for the same reason? How are religious references special in poetry? What if a reader who doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving decides not to like this poem on account of the explicit reference? I think the question has to do not with religious themes, but with the overwrought devotional message of some typically bad verse. That does not seem to be the case with this poem.

@ Dean:

Thanks for taking the time to comment. Thanks, especially for Wallace Stevens', "Sunday Morning." If I ever had read it, it was a long time ago and completely forgotten. Isn't it wonderful that I can copy and paste your reference into Google and find it in a matter of seconds?

My brain's neurons, for whatever reason, do not take to verse very easily. So I copy and paste into OpenOffice, and reconstitute full sentences as in prose. After a bit of practice, I go back to the original and read aloud to myself.

Now I need to understand, better, what the poet intends. That is why God created comment threads. See

The neurons in my brain would have acclimated to good verse 50 years earlier, if the Internet were around at that time.

Naw, Norm, you don't need to understand what the poet intends. That's why God created Harold Bloom, whose Poems of Our Climate will help with most of the Stevens corpus. I recently read for the first time Steven's own The Necessary Angel, a collection of speech transcriptions I'd always had a hard time penetrating. What an eye-opener this go-round! The man was brilliant, inspired, etc. He saw a place, a reason for poetry. And his poetry certainly suits the reason.

I, too, have a hard time with poetry. But when the mood (or the "climate" or the alignment of the spheres) is right, it strikes like nothing else. And I don't worry much about whether or not "the main characters are Mary and Jesus" and such. Each rereading reveals or suggests something new, and deference to Bloom and other readers, including Stevens himself, makes new revelations interesting. I have a hard time with poetry, but for some assortment of reasons and half-reasons, I think it's worth reading.

You found "Sunday Morning" online in a manner of seconds. It took some time (ten, fifteen minutes) for me to settle on the text of the simple Justice poem. Some sites featured versions with punctuation (with or without a concluding period), some none, and at least one left out several of the closing lines. I found no versions from images of books. I'm not entirely confident I have the right text.

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