Friday, December 09, 2005


WARNING: If you hate poetry, this post is of no use to you, except maybe to awaken your deadened and decaying soul, you barbaric zombie of the anti-aesthetic wastelands, you!

WELCOME: If you love poetry, sit by me, you illuminated being, and I'll let you peek into my shining heart.

I decided this past week to dive into one of my favorite poetry anthologies--A BOOK OF LUMINOUS THINGS, edited by Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz. Within its gentle pages lives a poem I like very much indeed and revisit with regularity. I like it for reasons I cannot clearly explain with Roman numerals and lettered subheadings or with bullets, asterisks, and footnotes. But I'll try: It makes me feel good. It puts me into a sort of semi-dreamy mood. It is lovely to read aloud. It has a profundity hidden in its simplicity. How'd I do?

Having no clear concept of what's fair use, I'll only quote a small bit, which will be insufficient and leave you bereft, really:

In the middle of the road there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
there was a stone
in the middle of the road there was a stone.

If you laughed, I am giving you the evil eye.

(NOTE: For those who revile the use of "there was," this is a magnificent usage of this construction. See my previous post on this usage issue for more.)

It's called, fittingly enough, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD, and it was written by Carlos Drummond de Andrade. The complete poem may be found here.

Now, please take a moment to read it aloud.

Isn't there something that is greater than the parts there? Oh, and wait until you read the last stanza. You either get it or you don't. And if you do, you are a kindred spirit of mine.

Another poet (poetess?) I am drawn to--although I have misplaced my volume of her selected poetry--is Edith Sodergran. In her poem, WHAT IS TOMORROW?--which you can find in the terrific anthology LOVE POEMS BY WOMEN, edited by Wendy Mulford--she uses repetition oh-so-beautifully. Here is a snippet:

I shall leave you with a certainty like no other:
I shall come back as a fragment of your own pain.
I shall come to you from another sky with a new resolve.
I shall come to you from another star with the same look.
I shall come to you with my old longing in new features.

Those lines make me shudder. They make me want to write better than it's possible for me to write. They make me want to bow, to genuflect, to cross myself, as if I were in the presence of a holy thing. Does it do anything to you? Read it again. Imagine yourself with that force of conviction, that anger, that passion. Now, are you tingling?

I am.

The Bible has beautiful elements of repetition--think of the Lord's supper, the first chapter of John, the Psalms. (The more technical term is parallelism.) Have you read Psalm 29 lately? Let's take a look:

Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones.
Give unto the Lord glory and strength.
Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name.
(verses 1-2a)

The voice of the Lord is powerful;
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars,
Yes, the Lord splinters the cedars of Lebanon.
(verse 4-5)

Look for the use of repetition in the narrative books as well--such as in the creation story--and enjoy it, feel the power and loveliness of it, rather than thinking, "Well, why are they saying this again in the same way?"

Some writers use repetition in their stories--purposely. I think it's a silly bugaboo when some critiquer says, "Well, you used the word 'good' too often in this section." (Hemingway did, too, I might add.) I think the important questions are these:

~1. Is the repetition accidental, a result of lazy writing or hasty proofing or a limited vocabulary?


~2. Is the repetition a purposeful use of sound and meaning to enhance the voice of a narrator or give the story a certain air?

I'm a fan of skillful use of repetition. But you noticed that already.

And so, there's that stone, in the middle of the road, yes, in the middle of the road, that stone.


Camy Tang said...

Poetry totally confuses me. But you love me anyway, right?

Mirtika said...

Yes'm, I do, Camywhammy. I am benevolent that way. ; )
But you need to give poetry a visit now and then. It's good for ya.