Unfortunately for my apparently dwindling readership, going through my poetry files has been entertaining me immensely. As I don’t see actual publication as a reasonable goal, the blog makes a good place to deposit what I find, and I also have enjoyed recently framing each of the poems with some kind of reminiscence and analysis. I may even go back and add introductions and closings to the earlier poetry posts that lack such blather.
Most of the poems I have chosen to present here please me in some way, to at least a tiny degree. And that is true of this one, too. But this one is different. First of all, it is the oldest poem that I have in my poetry files. I have other, worse ones, more humiliating to read today, buried in the volumes of the MPHS Creative Writing Anthologies of my high school years. Probably much fewer than even fifty people have those spiral-bound, typewritten collections yet, so those old poems should be pretty safely buried. I am not sure I know where my copies are right now.
I wrote “Morning dew-dappled” (which has always been untitled until its appearance here)—pretty close to this version—back in the spring of 1971 (as noted below). A subsequent equivalent event cause a reconsideration and some changes exactly a year later, and I have toyed with it since. The poem arose (an appropriate verb in this case) from the morning after our senior Prom at Mt. Pleasant High School, watching the sun rise on a glorious May (I assume it was May) Sunday morning. I was 17.
It is pretty embarrassing to review now what I wrote and presumably actually felt then. It’s too exuberant and demonstrative (and I was showing off my reading and my vocabulary). I know I believed in those freewheeling years that poetry had to be valid (I think we used the word true then), so I know that I actually felt this poem sincerely. I also know I reworked this poem after a similar morning after a similar night-out with a different girl a year later. How “true” does that make this?
Henry James isn’t the only writer to wonder what might happen if two different versions of oneself could meet. I feel fairly certain that my youthful self would think the modern me too ordinary, too dull, too old, too conventional and prudish, too drab to have any connection with himself. But that annoying and selfish teenager humiliates me. Possibly more on that in posts to come. For now take a look at seventeen…
Too Bright for Sight
Morning dew-dappled wine-wild sunrise,
and the gilt-golden sun-shimmerer
brightfantastic crowns the earth
in crimson tendrils of delusion-delicate dawn.
Night succumbs, purpledark
like a demented delirious dæmon;
the moon, a palewhite crystal crescent,
hangs on the edge of the departing night
and the sealight blue of the new dawn sky.
Martyr-marevllous, the myriad musecolored dawn
swirls into the brighteastern sky.
Racing relentless with it,
dazzled eyes encompassed with its psychosis,
alone in my mind: the highway departs beneath.
Inexplicable bubbles foam like Pepsi
inside my electrified mouth—
and alone, whirling with wordy rhythms,
riding meteor-quickly, a surprising sunrise.
Flying alone like a solitary skyborne falcon
into the bright golden dawn,
racing past equinox to discover day.
Out of the bleak night
the sunrise (lovely lady) leads me
silversilked like music, saying
the price of this dawn’s
the doom of the night
(sun stealing sky from the stars),
a weight of ransom paid.
Sorrow is an ethereal coin
with which we purchase our brief freedoms.
Freely soaring in the fragile blueing sky,
wind rushing icecool against me,
sunbright amber too bright for sight,
alone and laughing with the wild wind,
one with the surreal sunrise.
(What price will be paid for this incarnadine dawn?
Who will buy this cola-bubbling purple joy
rising effervescent in my icicle soul?
With what worldly coin will who purchase a wordwine,
wondering in his wage-earning walleted mind
what wily words are these with which I wander?)
Dynamic dancing dawn spills across the world,
the moment, mystic, passed
when night and day, darkness and light,
are balanced evenly on a cosmic scale,
I taught William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis” for almost twenty years in American Literature/Advanced Composition (now there’s a jawbreaker of a course title; someday I may have to discuss the arcane and superficial realities of entitling courses in the State of Iowa to please certain state universities and the Department of Education—it doesn’t really matter what you taught in the course so much as what you called it). Bryant wrote his great poem at 17 (and it really is a great poem; the longer I taught it the more I could see in it, although like most of my students, on first reading it seemed incomprehensibly dull)—tinkering with it and adding a final portion over the next seven years. Click the link and read his poem. Look back at my drivel. I was 17, too. No comparison, sadly.
I have admitted in previous poetry posts to some of my stylistic weaknesses, and you can appreciate them fullblown and unselfconscious in this bit of verse.
In my teens and early twenties (during high school and college) I like most fellow pseudo-poets loved and overused free verse (and/or song lyrics), so predictably this little ode to dawn joy is written in free verse. I also enjoyed using various indentations to excite a poem’s appearance on the page, but in my halting use of HTML today, I can’t do much more so far than get the font I like (Palatino) for various posts (and I intend to go back and edit that HTML aspect of my earlier poems and essays that I hadn’t fancied up with fontwork). So the appearance of this poem here isn’t quite my intention, and in studying the HTML version of this post, I don’t know yet how I got the double-indent on the penultimate stanza. This isn’t the same as the basic word-processed version for page layout, but it’s adequate. I actually like how the last three stanzas remain indented, accidentally—along with this closing—from the actual margin, as they constitute a kind of second movement.
As for the situation/story of the poem: it’s dawn (rather over-gorgeously, but appropriately adolescent perhaps), and there’s a ghost of the moon in the brightening sky. The speaker is driving in a car at highway speeds (“racing relentless”) and feels exhilarated and inspired. Comparing the sunrise to a woman, he begins to feel a sadness of some kind but still finds himself caught up in the rush of light and novelty a new days brings. Parenthetically, a part of his mind wonders if he can sell this feeling or the poem that might result. But he and the day rush on.
I do think a few things link this poem with “Thanatopsis.” Bryant also feels that sadness about something and has Nature offer consolation. His philosophy exposes such adolescent grief as glimpses of the necessary truth: “I am going to die.” Profoundly and Romantically, Nature’s solace has no hint of religious comfort—no afterlife, no reward, simply union with all of dead humanity and with nature in the process of decomposition. Perhaps the consolation arises in his imagery and figurative gambits, as the language conceals the biochemical reality, and the famous last stanza leaps nobly into metaphor and simile and pure gorgeous language. My speaker never probes so far: he feels some sort of sadness but never explores what it might be, caught up in simple sensations, and he just races on, imprisoned in time’s delightful rush, alone.
Some of my youthful literary interests can be felt behind the poem, although I recall trying my hardest to hide the influences.
One reason I still like this poem is because in 1981, just ten brief years afterward (although they felt like lifetimes then), also on a May morning, at dawn, I felt equally balanced between night and bright possibility, having driven in my blue Ford van around Jackson County for hours (all this before a work day) after leaving Janet, wondering and exploring in my imagination and emotions what this new relationship might be or become. Even at 27, it was a deliciously, enthusiastically adolescent experience, and this poem, when I rediscovered it a few years later, reminded me more of that joyful day’s arrival (fortunately I have forgotten the long day at school that followed) than my senior Prom. Or the one a year later.
Even though we had just started to know each other and had not yet gone out on anything like a date together (just group gatherings at The Loft and/or the Maquoketa truck stop café after rehearsals for Romantic Comedy), I asked Janet to be my date to the 1981 Andrew Prom, me being a teacher and expected to attend. Although she made her wifely appearance at later proms, in May 1981 she turned me down.