The observant amongst you will have had cause to wonder at Rolfe Humphries’ use of the term “free meters,” in the subtitle of his Green armor on green ground : poems in the twenty-four official Welsh meters, and some, in free meters, on Welsh themes,[i] especially those of you who have noticed how rigid the 24 official forms can be, once cynghanedd is added in. So I have cause to answer your wondering awe in Gwyn Williams’s words: Continue Reading →
When I was quite young, I thought “certain” was a verb. I was sure of this because I could think of no other reason that a choir of angels would tell a coven of shepherds that there was no well between them and the manger where the baby Jesus slumbered. I could well imagine a clutch of shepherds — man and boy, old and young, fit and decrepit — stumbling across the rocky pastures and open fields surrounding Bethlehem and falling into wells. I knew from Primary stories that the Holy Land was rife with wells, and figured that the greatest fear a shepherd might have was stumbling into one of those open pits in a mid-winter’s night that was so deep. Had I asked my dad Continue Reading →
To me, turkey has always meant dark meat — the leg and the thigh. This may be because of an association I made early on between dark meat and the dark lady of the sonnets. I had no idea who the dark lady was, nor how the lady was dark, nor yet how dark the lady was. I really didn’t know what a sonnet was, for that matter. But since dark meat was clearly darker than the meat of the far drier breast we were served — the so-called white meat — I concluded that the dark lady must be darker than another, hypothetical, light lady of the sonnets. At that time I didn’t know about the fair youth of the sonnets, or I might have made the association with the dork laddy of the sonnets. Continue Reading →
Rolfe Humphries’s fine poem, “Winter, Old Style,” with which he illustrates the Welsh meter rhupunt, ends with these lines:
The trees are bowed in the bare wood; there is no shade in any vale.
The reeds are dry and a loud crying howls outside the horse’s stall.
The light is short. Sorrow and hurt harry the heart with inward war.
So an old man does what he can, stares through the pane at night’s black square.[i]
Note how assonance echoes in these lines, and how the rhymes slant. Perhaps because I am an old man, “Winter, Old Style” calls to mind another poem on the same theme, “An Old Man’s Winter Night,” which begins:
All out-of-doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.[ii]
Though the meter of this poem is the iambic pentameter we call “blank verse” — because the lines don’t rhyme — notice how much internal alliteration and rhyme fills these lines. But you have to look to notice; this is a fine example of Robert Frost’s ability to make blank verse seem as natural as a speaking voice. Neither of these instances of verse is natural speech. Each of the poems is a highly artificial construct from the materials of natural speech, words and rhythm and meaning, and neither sounds like the plain speech Continue Reading →
“All early Welsh poetry is rhymed. The word awdl, used for the work of a chief bard, is the same as odl meaning rhyme, and an awdl was rhymed speech” as Gwynn Williams informs us[i]. This is an old, old word in Indo-European languages, cognate with “ode” in English, which comes, already singing, into our language from the Greek. But the hypothetical (and reconstructed) Indo-European root Continue Reading →
In a response to my last post, Jonathan Langford asked two questions that I wanted to answer immediately. But I made the mistake of thinking about his questions as I was formulating my answers, and my answers grew more complex. The first question was this: “Your concluding claim, ‘Our verse deserves our greatest effort, because it is a gift we offer others who breathe the same language,’ makes me wonder: What does it mean, in this case, to ‘breathe the same language’?” Well, language defines our species; languages define our communities. Children come out of the womb programmed to listen to speech, and to speak. It is an innate ability, an inborn need, an appetite for conversation, a hunger of the tongue. We breathe language Continue Reading →
It seems like lately every time this post is due, I’m away from home. In April, it was Pacific Grove; in May, Ithaca; in June, this month right here, yesterday, I was in Rock Creek Hollow. That’s up in Wyoming. In April, as I was right near Robinson Jeffers’ home in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Continue Reading →