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‘Refractions’

April 19, 2011
tags:

A shallow dip, the muddy woods beyond
holds tightly cupped the observation-pond;
with coils of netting draped and wound about,
to keep the subjects in, and gourmets out.
From underneath the meshes, spring-tight curled,
an inch-long frog observes the turning world.

Up in the huge uncomprehended sky
the clouds pass silent and unhurried by;
the sun is high but not oppressive yet,
the wind is brisk, the morning air is wet –
the placid in-between of early spring;
the still domain wherein the frog is king.

Somewhere far off, an ice-shelf, warming fast,
begins to crack. Elsewhere a crushing blast
kicks up the sand and shakes a country down.
The scientist considers leaving town:
the rent is high, the grant is running low,
and her department may be next to go.

Here in the quiet pond beside the wood
the frog considers life, and finds it good.

*

This poem was inspired by Helikonios’ post from a couple of days ago about Pacific tree frogs. (They are cute as anything – tiny, and with little ninja-turtle eye-stripes.) I started out with a vague idea of writing something whimsical about frogs, and instead ended up with this. A lot on my mind, I guess.

Back to pentameter for this. I don’t consider pentameter to be an inherently serious metre – it’s the natural rhythm of English, and you can do almost anything with it – but it does seem (to me at least) easier to be serious in pentameter. Possibly it’s all in my mind, the accumulated weight of 700 years of Serious Poetry conferring unwonted gravitas on a perfectly flexible line.

I’m fairly sure it’s illegal to write a poem about frogs and ponds without mentioning the most famous frog-poem ever, Matsuo Basho’s haiku on the subject. This webpage has the original (transliterated) plus thirty translations and a commentary.

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