summering with William Carlos Williams

The end of summer is a ways off, but with the start of school there is a change in summer’s energy at least. For me, I’m bracing to become some version of those balloon figures you see at car dealerships, the ones that are flung in various directions depending on the wind. That’s what teaching mode is like for me, lots of energy and enthusiasm.

car dealership balloonIt’s a mixed blessing, though, as there is a part of me this time of year that wants to stand back and reflect. Could be my birthday, could be the looming end of summer, could be knowing that what happens during the semester is a huge shift, and I don’t love change. I’m reconciled to it, and I love teaching. But yet there’s an unnameable feeling that comes.

This week’s poem – “Summer Song” by William Carlos Williams – touches a bit on what that unnameable feeling might be like. Through the personification of the moon, Williams builds a short narrative whose logic leads up to a compelling closing image and thought. I consider the closing question from a grounded place, but am lifted by it nonetheless.

Summer Song – William Carlos Williams

Wanderer moon
smiling a
faintly ironical smile
at this
brilliant, dew-moistened
summer morning,—
a detached
sleepily indifferent
smile, a
wanderer’s smile,—
if I should
buy a shirt
your color and
put on a necktie
sky-blue
where would they carry me?

* knocking around with kenyon & meyers

The Suitor – Jane Kenyon

We lie back to back. Curtains
lift and fall,
like the chest of someone sleeping.
Wind moves the leaves of the box elder;
they show all their light undersides,
turning all at once
like a school of fish.
Suddenly I understand that I am happy.
For months this feeling
has been coming closer, stopping
for short visits, like a timid suitor.

*

box elderIn the poem above, I’m moved by the way things knock into each other in the scene described, and how that knocking mirrors how the poem is working structurally. The lyric momentum here swings between the three “likes” in the poem. Each one is a simile of life: a person sleeping, a school of fish, a timid suitor.

The specificity of each, however, is what makes their presence move beyond image and metaphor. The whole poem moves through them: the suggested breath of “someone sleeping”knocks into the next line about the wind; the fish “turning all at once” turn in such a way that they knock like the mind of the speaker’s sudden understanding; and then the ending pushes things into a further understanding of silence and resilience.

This short lyric brought to mind this haiku by Bert Meyers:

I can only laugh
when my daughter spreads her arms
to catch the cold wind

Both poems, for me, reflect a bit of what this time of year feels like. May is like a hinge between spring and summer, and you can hear the seasons’ doors creaking on the leaves.

Happy creaking!

José

* Keats’ On the Grasshopper and Cricket: a reenactment

Image
Sir Sprinkle Belly in the role of The Grasshopper!

This week on the Influence: (a) play!

It’s winter time and I realize that I haven’t posted up a winter poem.  One of my favorites is John Keats’ “On the Grasshopper and Cricket”.

It is a deceptively playful yet serious sonnet.  Statements on “the poetry of earth” occur twice, breaking up the poem’s argument which consists of a parallel between the lives and seasons of the grasshopper and cricket.  The grasshopper is playful in summertime; the cricket’s song survives with us in the wintertime.

The rhymes are musical and yet there is an undertone of mortality despite the harmony.  The first line hits with two charged words “never dead” and then bounces along with the grasshopper.  This charged feeling is repeated with the words “ceasing never”.  Life – earthly life – is emphatic.

This parallel would be enough except (and as a good sonnet should) there is a turn – only here it occurs at the end.  The cricket’s song suddenly brings forth the memory of the grasshopper.  It is a visceral evocation worthy of Mr. Negative Capability.  Suddenly – like some poetical Venn Diagram of genius – the poem ends with summertime in wintertime.

Keats is the man.

Here is the proof:

On the Grasshopper and Cricket – John Keats
The Poetry of earth is never dead:    
  When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,    
  And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run    
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;    
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead      
  In summer luxury,—he has never done    
  With his delights; for when tired out with fun    
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.    
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:    
  On a lone winter evening, when the frost     
    Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills    
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,    
  And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,    
    The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
***

...and Lord Sprinkle Foot as Cricket!
…and Lord Sprinkle Foot as Cricket!

It ain’t easy being Sprinkle Foot.

Cookies are courtesy of my lady’s family household.  I totally decorated cookies this week.

Like a boss.

See ya next year (ha!),

jose

p.s. Keats wrote the above sonnet in a contest with his mentor Leigh Hunt.  With this, the mentee became the mentor … ‘s buddy? – the matinee became the mentorasaurus…rex…the –