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“The Bard” and “A Requiem”

December 15, 2009

As promised in the main post on the Cento Generator, here we have two randomly-created whole poems, one a sonnet, one a ballade, that managed to sustain sense or almost-sense all the way through, and occasionally reach unsettling heights of meaningfulness.

As with the previous load of fragments, I’ve cleaned the punctuation up a tiny bit; I have also given them titles, because I like titles, though in this case I’ve followed the editors of Anglo-Saxon poetry and tried to keep them as sensible as possible – titles as ‘useful shorthand/reference point’ rather than ‘deep comment on the subtext of the work’.

The Bard

Created half to rise, and half to fall,
I can call spirits from the vasty deep:
Ne’er saw I, never felt a calm so deep!
I write of Hell; I sing (and ever shall),
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all,
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
Never did sun more beautifully steep
Of Heaven, and hope to have it after all,
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold,
Who said “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold;
And wander roads unstable, not their own.”

I mainly like this one for the concept of “the telephone / Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold”, it must be said. However, the serendipitous concatenation of “speak out” and “Who said” in consecutive lines is also rather good, as is the opening quatrain.

This second one is strangely affecting, to me at least: it seems always to be on the verge of perfect sense, perhaps because there are the shadow-patterns of several poems distinct behind it, without ever quite reaching a coherent thought. And yet the first quatrain and the last, in particular, have extraordinary and otherworldly power.

A Requiem

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me,
Though wise men at their end know dark is right.
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight,
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be;
Do not go gentle into that good night;
Rest of their bones, and souls’ delivery.

Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea;
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
Death be not proud, though some have callèd thee:
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright –
How Roses first came red, and Lilies white.
Two houses, both alike in dignity,
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
Rest of their bones, and souls’ delivery.

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
(And in some perfumes there is more delight)
From ancient strife break to new mutiny
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
And you, my father, there on the sad height.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree,
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Rest of their bones, and souls’ delivery.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height –
Nay, I have done: you get no more of me.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
Rest of their bones, and souls’ delivery.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Seamus permalink
    December 15, 2009 5:55 pm

    My God. “A Requiem” is smoking hot, and fizzing once again with coincidental resonances:

    How Roses first came red and Lilies white
    Two houses both alike in dignity

    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
    Rest of their bones, and souls’ delivery

    Though I have voiced reservations against over-liberal exploitation of this rule in the past, one of the things I like about our avenue of study is that it teaches us to be forever looking for underlying connections between lines and phrases. Some poetic forms rely on the audience’s ability to do this; I’m thinking in particular of haiku and its associated forms, which very often consist of nothing more than two ideas and an implicit invitation to find the link between them.

    none to accompany me on this path/nightfall in autumn (Basho)

    no sky no earth/but still snowflakes fall (Hashin)

    looking at the moon my thoughts are sad/though it is not autumn for me alone (Oe no Chisato)

    and of course

    the apparition of these faces in the crowd/petals on a wet black bough (Ezra Pound)

    There’s something very Dadaist in making a computer create centos; very reminiscent of cut-ups and automatic writing. And the point in these things is how your mind goes to work on them just as it would go to work on any poem, and when there is no conscious writer at work, there is no preconceived shape imposed, even by yourself, on your thought.

  2. wickedday permalink
    December 15, 2009 11:35 pm

    My jaw dropped when this one came up. So many resonances. Like the reference to red and white in stanza 2 that’s echoed in the envoi, and the multiple references to death and light and dark.

    And the point in these things is how your mind goes to work on them just as it would go to work on any poem, and when there is no conscious writer at work, there is no preconceived shape imposed, even by yourself, on your thought.

    Yes. We are a pattern-hunting species, as everyone from Dawkins to Pratchett has pointed out, and the instinct to look for coherent meaning in things is insanely powerful. (See: pictures in clouds; invention of religion; conspiracy theorists; Nostradamus.)

    It’s an often unhelpful tendency, but I think in this case the human knack for knitting things together is a good thing. You could say these are reader-created poems – where the author is genuinely absent (hello, Roland Barthes) because there is no single author, and so the resultant poem has only the meaning that any given reader assigns to it. It’s the ultimate in deconstructionism. Maybe. Or something.

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