Saturday, November 29, 2008

Shine, Perishing Republic

by Robinson Jeffers

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire,
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens,

I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother.

You making haste, haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains:
shine, perishing republic.

But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thickening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster's feet there are left the mountains.

And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant, insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught -- they say -- God, when he walked on earth.

* * *

A few years ago, I would have considered this poem much too pessimistic. But now? I definitely am not placing my hope in America. It will succeed or it will fail, but our kingdom is not of this world.

No matter what happens in this world, "corruption is never compulsory." Even when they try to force us, there is always somewhere we can run. If they deny us that, there is always martyrdom. No one can force you to sin.

Hopefully it won't get that bad. But if it does, there is a kind of hope in this poem -- no matter how bad it gets, no one can make us join in the corruption.

Robinson Jeffers died in 1962. So he missed a lot of what we realize as the "perishing" of our nation. I guess he could see the beginnings of it, even from where he was.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Finally, Cento Winners

This contest has been the hardest to judge so far, of all the contests I've done. Who knew it would be this difficult? But such a fierce beauty can be drawn from a careful selection and condensation of the words of others. More than one of these poems made me catch my breath -- feeling, in Emily Dickenson's phrase, as though the top of my head had been taken off. Well done, everyone.

First Place

In Evening Air
by Dylan, from Roethke

Under a southern wind,
Hidden in my own heart,
My lady laughs, delighting in what is.

A suddenness of trees
Turned by revolving air:
You will find no comfort here.
All waters waver, and all fires fail.

The dark heart of some ancient thing
And the sheen of ravens:
Flutter of wings and seeds quaking --
Such stretchings of the spirit make no sound
(I'm martyr to a motion not my own).

Once I transcended time
And came to a dark ravine --
Our small souls hid from their small agonies.

I receive! I have been received!
What speech abides?
How high is have?
The dew draws near
And loves the living ground.

What do they tell us, sound and silence?
The bushes and the stones danced on and on;
I walk as if my face would kiss the wind.

* * *

First place is just lovely. It suggests so much. That's the neat thing about centos -- they force you to suggest rather than say. I only wish I knew more of the source poems. I'll have to seek them out. That last line, especially -- it's pure gold.

This describes, by the way, pretty exactly what I felt the day I was engaged. I walked as if my face would kiss the wind.

* * *

Second Place

by Enbrethiliel, from Chesterton

A child sits in a sunny place
Pure as white lilies in a watery space
Laughing everlastingly
The joy without a cause
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free
Between us and the sea

Though earth be filled with waters dark
Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes!
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen
Surely, friends, I might have guessed
God made the sun to crown his head
The Christ-child stood at Mary's knee
Aflame with faith, and free

* * *

Ah, she knew I was a sucker for Chesterton. But she picked the lines so carefully, it's like a long, sweet laugh that Chesterton might laugh on Christmas morning. You have to breathe Chesterton to condense him so well.

* * *

Third Place

The Return
by Meredith, from Hopkins

I will appear, looking such charity,
It will flame out like shining from shook foil.
Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where springs not fail.
Or ancient mounds that cover bones
Spring, that but now were shut
To the stars, lovely-asunder.

I did say yes
With the sea-romp over the wreck,
And find the uncreated light.
And I have asked to be
Lower than death and the dark,
An ark for the listener, for the lingerer,
For him who ever thought with love of me.

* * *

Again, another poet I can't resist. Is it Christ that speaks now? I do believe it is ... and how clever, to turn the words around from a human speaker to Christ! Who, of course, asked to be lower, so that he might come down to those who love him. This is what a cento ought to be -- a rearranging of the original words to mean something quite new.

* * *

Honorable Mentions

The Penguin Book of the Sonnet
by Dylan

Our spirits grew as we went side by side
Listening to Schubert, grievous and sublime.
Her voice was like the sound of blended flutes
And signified the sureness of the soul.

I had forgot wide fields and clear brown streams;
Breathless, we flung us on the windy hill
To give us comfort through the lonely dark
Calm night, the everlasting and the same.

Fair as the moon and joyful as the light,
Your hands lay open in the long fresh grass.
I marked with flowers the minutes of my day:

One little noise of life remained -- I heard
The very shadow of an insect's wing
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine.

* * *

Mmm ... Dylan seems to be a master of this form. I really, really like his centos. The subject here reminds me of Donne's "The Ecstasy," while being less over-the-top and more real, grounded in the visible (which, of course, is always a hint to the invisible).

* * *

by David S.

Be adored among men,
O loving Pelican, O Jesus Lord!
Wring thy rebel, dogged in den;
Unclean I am, but cleanse me in Thy Blood!

But oh, I've a wish in my soul, dear love,
Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,
That I might wash free of my sins, dear love;
Father and fondler of heart, thou hast wrung.

By the pool that I see in my dreams, dear love,
There, motionless and happy in my pain,
(And the pool, it is silvery bright, dear love,
Of which a single drop, for sinners spilt,
Can purge the whole world from all its guilt)
There will I sing my sad, perpetual strain.

There will I sing my absent Lord and Love -
O wisest love! That flesh and blood! -
That sooner I may rise, and go above -
Numquam draco sit mihi dux
Crux semper sit mihi lux -
O loving wisdom of our God!

* * *

More Hopkins, hooray! But also some great saints. Saints should never be left out, when it comes to making poetry. They know what they're doing. I think my favorite touch in this poem is how the pool turns out to be a pool of Christ's blood. A little surprise, and a thrilling one.