Monthly Archives: December 2011

Dec. 19, 2011 Smoke

It’s only been 11 months since his last appearance in these pages, but it’s always a thrill to accidentally stumble across a new Greg Delanty poem in print. The poem below appears in this month’s Atlantic. Although it completely lacks a rhyme scheme or a meter, it’s strictly formal. Le’ts take a look at how. [And at this point I might recommend reading the poem first, before my exegesis ruins it for you.]
First off, just look at the dang thing. It’s 7 lines (a half-sonnet?), of roughly similar length. He’s indented each even-numbered line, and even they are slightly shortened word-wise to create a uniformity of size. The indentations themselves are kind of throw-backs to rigidly formal verse from the entire past of English letters. Appearance says a lot when we’re examining form, and here the lines look like a tightly-constructed, self-contained entirety.
Second, the sound of the words. Here Delanty has uncorked the whole bottle of traditional poetry tools, employing repetition (I know/I know), assonance (chimneys/mingle, brief/breeze), and alliteration (shooting/shawl/shoulders) to bind the lines and create internal coherence. In the absence of strict rhyme, poets often use these techniques to make the poem “sound” complete, to make it sound as if the distribution of syllables is at least somewhat ordered and harmonious. The placing of those words is thus important, which brings us to our final inquiry: rhythm.
Again, rhythm is kind of what works for the poet who’s working without a meter. How does one talk about rhythm? I don’t know. I guess it’s just the combination of what’s said and the alternating speeds at which it’s said. To think about that we use lots of clues: emotional clues in the words themselves, line length, punctuation of all sorts, and (particularly deviations from normal) syntax, among other things. This poem is four sentences long. The sentences vary in length; there’s essentially a long sentence, two short sentences, and another, longer sentence. The first sentence sets up a nice tempo for what’s going on in the poem, because it’s sort of a cascade of beats. When you read that first clause, you really can’t help but place the accents on the PLUMES and TWO CHIM syllables, and you’re hard-pressed to find another accent at all. That is: It’s descending, in a way, there’s a brief rev after the comma, but I think “become each other” is resolving and restful too, speed-wise. The next two sentences–stating knowledge and fact in an almost defensive tone–are brief and emphatic: look at all the monosyllables. When I look again, those two sentences are like the heavy beats at the very beginning: they set us up for a resolve. And so what we heard with the “become each other” of sentence one, we now crave for the poem in its entirety. What is the poem becoming? And then he just hits you with a lovely, slowly tumbling sentence, the line breaks tugging us deeper into the words (since two of them appear both natural AND as the place where a comma might have gone–that is, they “stop” us, in a good way), and the final metaphor of the poem (white shawl) giving the whole thing emotional weight. It strikes me as a very traditional lyric poem, with a simple observation and metaphor strategy. And it has a roundedness that I don’t think he could top evenhad he used iambic tetrameter and rhyming couplets. I hope you’ll agree that it’s no less beautiful for the rigidness of its construction. It’s free verse in name only! -ed.

Plumes from two chimneys opposite the café
mingle, become each other. I know
what the smoke says. I know that life is nothing
but a brief wisp. For now, we’re together
shooting the breeze, intermingling like the smoke
that is a white shawl over the shoulders
of the invisible goddess of the cold, keeping her warm.


Dec 12, 2011 Epithalamion

Dear readers,
not much time for analysis today, alas, and the poem’s a damn good and long one. I can be assured that there will be at least one person who will read the entire thing, as it is dedicated to a long-time member who got engaged over the weekend. And strangely enough that individual is also the only member who I can say for sure is a G.M. Hopkins fan. I hit last night on the idea of printing an epithalamion today (a poem in celebration of marriage), and lo, Google helps me figure out that Hopkins wrote one in 1918. Had no idea. Hopkins is employing his usual trickery, his oddly-accented words, his funky syntax, his archaic knowledge, and his neologisms (“downdolphinry” is particularly pleasing to my ears). He’s also picking up on all the standard and very traditional hallmarks of epithalamia in English, from Spenser, who wrote the most famous one, to Milton, whose version is embedded within a book of his verse epic Paradise Lost. I wish I had a thing or two to say about form, rhyme, and meter here, but perhaps I’ll leave that to the experts. Have a good day. -ed.
Hark, hearer, hear what I do; lend a thought now, make believe
We are leafwhelmed somewhere with the hood
Of some branchy bunchy bushybowered wood,
Southern dene or Lancashire clough or Devon cleave,
That leans along the loins of hills, where a candycoloured, where a gluegold-brown
Marbled river, boisterously beautiful, between
Roots and rocks is danced and dandled, all in froth and waterblowballs, down.
We are there, when we hear a shout
That the hanging honeysuck, the dogeared hazels in the cover
Makes dither, makes hover
And the riot of a rout
Of, it must be, boys from the town
Bathing: it is summer’s sovereign good.

By there comes a listless stranger: beckoned by the noise
He drops towards the river: unseen
Sees the bevy of them, how the boys
With dare and with downdolphinry and bellbright bodies huddling out,
Are earthworld, airworld, waterworld thorough hurled, all by turn and turn about.

This garland of their gambols flashes in his breast
Into such a sudden zest
Of summertime joys
That he hies to a pool neighbouring; sees it is the best
There; sweetest, freshest, shadowiest;
Fairyland; silk-beech, scrolled ash, packed sycamore, wild wychelm, hornbeam fretty overstood
By. Rafts and rafts of flake-leaves light, dealt so, painted on the air,
Hang as still as hawk or hawkmoth, as the stars or as the angels there,
Like the thing that never knew the earth, never off roots
Rose. Here he feasts: lovely all is! No more: off with—down he dings
His bleachèd both and woolwoven wear:
Careless these in coloured wisp
All lie tumbled-to; then with loop-locks
Forward falling, forehead frowning, lips crisp
Over finger-teasing task, his twiny boots
Fast he opens, last he offwrings
Till walk the world he can with bare his feet
And come where lies a coffer, burly all of blocks
Built of chancequarrièd, selfquainèd rocks
And the water warbles over into, filleted with glassy grassy quicksilvery shivès and shoots
And with heavenfallen freshness down from moorland still brims,
Dark or daylight on and on. Here he will then, here he will the fleet
Flinty kindcold element let break across his limbs
Long. Where we leave him, froliclavish while he looks about him, laughs, swims.
Enough now; since the sacred matter that I mean
I should be wronging longer leaving it to float
Upon this only gambolling and echoing-of-earth note—
What is … the delightful dene?
Wedlock. What the water? Spousal love.
Father, mother, brothers, sisters, friends
Into fairy trees, wild flowers, wood ferns
Rankèd round the bower