First a Little Life Update
So I took my Census test yesterday. It was a fairly low-key event. I ran a full four miles solidly starting right after Janet left (I think I ran it all because I wanted to get home in time to shower and get ready and get my ID all set with enough extra time to walk over to the Clinton Community College building on the Maquoketa High School campus, where the test was held). The woman in charge was very nice, friendly and familiar, a local person I recognized. Only two other people took the test—a couple I also knew, having taught for years with one of their lovely daughters. So we all talked a lot—even me to some extent—as everyone filled out our paperwork, and then it was test time. My actual version seemed somewhat easier than the practice test, on which I missed three question by hurrying too fast. Unfortunately, I missed two on the actual test, and I don’t get to know which ones, so I am not sure what I did wrong. Now I am stuck wondering if 92% is good enough to anticipate getting some work or if I should retake the test this Friday…
Then later on, about noon, I froze my knuckles digging at length through our freezer, searching for a partial bag of frozen meatballs I knew was there. I had seen it several times before. But I could not find it yesterday. Essentially, I not-quite-emptied the freezer three times before I located the apparently invisible bag lurking, of course, in the very bottom. Naturally, if I’d actually emptied the darn thing I would’ve found the meatballs much more quickly. The process, however, had several benefits besides providing the appetizing (though ill-nutritious) dish I was supposed to create for supper. As yesterday was also garbage day, I placed about half a dozen years-and-years-old never-consumed items in the trash; freezer burn is a terrible taste to inflict on oneself.
But enough of this diary work…
Today’s Bit of Poetry
Here’s a later poem from the most productive period (about 1975 until 1982 in case you hadn’t figured that out for yourselves yet). I remember working on this quite a lot, so it must have considerable meaning for me. I recently found another poem that I annotated with cryptic notes like those I wrote for “Freya’s Steel” a few years after I had written that poem. At the time I felt pretty pretentious pointing out such things to myself, but now, sundered by decades from that younger person I was, it intrigues me how my mind worked and how much I thought I was packing into a poem (perhaps I should post that poem one day soon, although I have been striving to reduce the amount of old poems I reproduce with commentary here).
Like all of the poems I’ve presented here, at least so far, I like this one. And for once it’s not a romance poem. Not even romance of the imaginary sort. In 1980 I was on my own without any live female in my love life. So I guess I got thoughtful because this is a philosophical poem, considering the wide chasm between a mystical reality and our mundane lives. It takes its inspiration from the medieval concept of “the music of the spheres.”
As I learned early in my youthful efforts to read Dante, medieval astronomical scholars believed, since the world was the center of the universe, the moon and the sun and planets and the stars all revolved around our earth, the Aristotelian or Ptolemaic system. What held the astronomical bodies out in space were invisible crystalline spheres, the quintessence or the fifth element (other than the ancient earth, water, air and fire “elements”) of which everything in Heaven was made. The apparent motion of the moon and the sun and the planets and the stars resulted from angels rotating these spheres (and as astronomical observations got better and better, the subordinate motions of various planets on their own little tiny crystal spheres attached to the large sphere that marked an orbit). The motion of each crystalline sphere created a sound, and the combined harmony of all the spheres was the heavenly music which we never hear down here on earth.
My poem particularizes this lovely quantity of bad science…
Bright hidden music fills and rings us all
liveslong in amber oboes, stringed lutes and
piccolos. Quick harpsichord and chimes call
continually while hidden drums beat unscanned
in the blood: between the pulse feel silence stall
the colored melodies rising round us in a grand
polyphonic tumult. We deaf ones crawl,
bereft of all but what we understand.
And die, and never know the actual song.
Birdcall, churchbell, windwhistle, symphony,
still fugues of heartache summon constantly—
sad bitter mirrors of unsubstantial threnody.
Such homely shreds seem that for which we long,
while, still, the unheard musics sound. We’re wrong.
also entitled “Bright Hidden Musics”
25 August 1980
I don’t recall any particular biographical events inspiring this sonnet, a disciplined form I feel very fond of. Trying to get any clear meaning compressed into fourteen lines while adhering to any rhyme scheme at all—whether the really restrictive Italianate or the more liberal Shakespearian pattern—is an excellent way to discipline your writing. I especially enjoy how relatively smoothly this one speaks. Even Shakespeare frequently had to bend his syntax and mangle his diction to get those rhymes and rhythms perfect (or as perfect as he wished). I was pleased at how little I had to contort as this poem evolved.
The rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b-a-b-a-b-c d-d-d-c-c.
Sonnets traditionally, especially in English, fall into two large parts, the octet or first eight lines, and the sestet or the final six lines. Frequently the poet expresses and elaborates a problem or situation in the octet which is resolved in the sestet. Shakespeare, ever the most cunning of us all, liked to develop a problem in the first eight lines then completely complicate matters beyond belief in the next four and then in a rhyming couplet resolve everything neatly, quickly and stunningly. If you count, my sonnet breaks into nine lines and five lines. Today I’d like to think I chose to make the first part nine lines long in honor of the nine planets (of course in 1980 Pluto was still a planet, and that’s still the way this old-fashioned codger thinks of it); in reality I think it just took nine lines to say what I had to say. And five is the number of visible planets to the naked eye, as well as (like nine) a longtime magical number, like the fingers on my hand.
Those first nine lines describe the heavenly music percussed by the pulse of our blood. I had been listening (and still do) to a lot of Johann Sebastian Bach in those days, particularly the Brandenburg Concertos, so you may, if you wish, imagine, say, the Third or the Fifth (any of the fast movements) accompanying this poem. Today, thanks to buying a complete Bach CD set, I can listen to a lot more of his work. My opening section ends grimly, as we mundane mortals, crawling in mud, never hear the heavenly symphonies because we only accept our own science or our own personal understandings.
In the closing five lines, various earthly sounds faintly echo the celestial music, and we mistake such earthly noise/music for the sublime. Incorrectly, tragically.
Medieval science was of course wrong. The earth is anything but the center of the universe, and we with the other planets orbit the sun. Only the moon orbits us, and I already wrote a poem or two on that topic. So I guess the ultimate sorrow in the poem is that there is no heavenly music whatsoever. But then we are “bereft of all but what we understand…” So can we trust what we understand?
Deep, ain’t it, though?
By the way, at the start of this blue commentary section, did you notice that I used a preposition at the end of a sentence (“of”)? Although traditional grammar/usage directives condemn that particular choice (and I usually follow, so that the final clause above would become “a disciplined form of which I am very fond,” the pattern I have usually chosen to adopt in these posts), I have decided to play around with a looser, more colloquial tone—originally inspired by the use of dictation to create text (although I am typing this one; the MacSpeech Dictate software has gotten remarkably creative in its misunderstandings of what I clearly say, and I notice that the prudes who created it make it incredibly dense about cuss words—even after training it to know my voice saying various “unacceptable” words it renders as shipped or talk, for instance). The old-fashioned rule has inspired such famous witticisms in rebellion as Winston Churchill’s “That is the sort of thing up with which I will not put” (quite clever really) and the more recent “No prepositions at the end, huh? Then make it a disciplined form I feel very fond of, jerk.” The modern abusive crudity is not quite so clever as Winston’s indelible remark.
Regardless, someone told me while ago that reading the old-fashioned correctly-placed-preposition constructions is actually too challenging for many people to figure out these days. Strange. The whole intent of the evidently now-antiquated rule was to make one’s meaning clearer. However, time passes and things change. So I am making the effort to awkwardize my style for clarity.
And Now for a Little FoxHunt
I know the students I’ve taught for a long time now seem to think every verb requires a prepositional adverb. The model would be “clean up” or “pick up.” Everyone seems to choose a short, one-syllable, unclear verb with a preposition following after rather than a multi-syllable verb that requires no modification of that sort. (Personally, I wonder if it all may be an ultra-Right wing plot to undermine our language and dumb us all down, thereby simplifying the brainwashing of the public that seems to be Fox News’ dire purpose. — And I’m not sure if I should attach an LOL to that…)
Speaking of lambasting the moronic Right (not the whole Right, the moronic wing—or has the entire Right gone idiot, thanks to Fox News and corporate don’t-think advocacy?), sadly my Facebook page recently has much more excitement, debate, discussion and insight than I’ve mustered the will or time to enshrine here.
Regardless, the House passed the old Senate health care bill for reconciliation, historically, on Sunday night. Today I am proud to be an American.