Startlingly, I keep finding old villanelles I have completely forgotten writing. This one should, however, prove to be the last (and in my own view, the least). I actually located it about three weeks ago when I went through the poetry folder (you can see it in the photograph here) and dictated about a dozen poems into computer files, copying ten over to WordPress to save as the bases for future posts (like this one). It has been awhile since I last inflicted one of my poems on you, silent readers (truly, not many comments considering the number of hits both WordPress and the map widget record), and I do have to work half the day today as well as flee the house in the morning for its biweekly cleaning, so it’s time for another poem, I guess. And a final (?) villanelle.
Let’s consider this one an experiment that led to some of the more successful villanelles (which you can read here, here and here). It is also like an addendum or commentary to “Freya’s Steel,” an impossibly convoluted (and therefore challenging) poem that seems to be or becoming—as I reflect on my poetry-writing phases now—quite central to my poetic imagery and concerns. I had seen Jacob Bronowski’s Ascent of Man series on television (PBS) that year (I believe it was that year and not earlier), and many things about his historical overview of the development of scientific thought/perspective and technology stimulated my imagination. (I bet they still would; I saw one episode rebroadcast several years ago as part of a PBS retrospective package, and although Dr. Bronowski looked quaintly old-fashioned in that godawful Seventies clothing and the quality of the video looked antiquated as well, as older films always seems to do, even though they looked modern and clean in contrast to older stuff in their own day, the episode still enthralled me.) In particular, repeatedly, since the series was rebroadcast soon after I moved to Maquoketa (but after I got a television set), the episode that included his analysis of steelmaking, via Japanese swords. The complexity of the process and the necessary complexity to transform pig iron into steel through carbonization and doubling (take a look at the epigraphs to “Freya’s Steel”) and redoubling the steel billet under hammering and heating, fascinated me. Layers seemed to me at the time to be the essence of art (or at least artistic or aesthetic experience), and I wanted a poem or any artistic creation or experience to be not an onion but something more crafted (so the sword image worked brilliantly).
I am not sure I can summarize or objectify all the things that the blade of steel came to signify for me, and in “Freya’s Steel” I was deliberately and consciously wrapping it around all sorts of things—snow, love, isolation, craft and art, seasonal change and weather…
This poem uses that same set of imagery, as you will quickly tell.
The quicksilver sunmusic binds air and ice,
upon my unsubstantial surface forges you,
and bends sight, soft like steel, behind our eyes.
A wet wind roars from bright skies,
seeks pure elements to weave through
the quicksilver sunmusic, binds air and ice.
A simmering magic boils anciently wise
in this fleshy cauldron fired by thoughts of yew,
and bends sight. Soft like steel, between my eyes,
I have a warped work and weather. Into my cries
a bubbling rune steams primevally new
the quicksilver sunmusic, binds air and ice.
I have struck you flaming frozen out upon my thighs:
with my tongue I’ve twisted, shaped and rolled you
to bend sight soft like steel between their eyes.
All I know in say and all I do are lies.
Thus you in my windhand will shrive them through,
for the quicksilver sunmusic binds air and eyes
And bends sight soft like steel behind your ice.
4 April 1976
30 September 1978
The speaker appears to be forging a poem (or maybe a relationship) in these stanzas. I think I am more comfortable that the addressed audience is a poem, but as long as “you” is not a person, maybe a relationship (if one can talk to a relationship, even as a figure of speech) will work as well. The creation process is like forging and smithing a sword or any piece of steel.
I am not sure why I decided to give it two dates. I only have this draft, so I don’t remember now how much of the poem as it stands was accomplished at either time.
On Sunday morning, while Janet—very unusually for her—lazed in bed for a while before officially arising. I read the second of the three parts in Samuel R. Delany’s Atlantis: Three Tales, a memoir of his youthful education in music (playing the violin), art and sex (if you don’t know about Delany, those three are not an unusual combination) as well as an essay in exploration of artistic form and beauty, expression and aesthetics. Not only did his eloquence and narrative/expository skill shame me—as always—but that memoir made me blush at the wordy and extensive shallow dredging of my past here in this blog. He deserves to be read…