in verse #54: Bloat and dearth

Language is a bit odd in that it allows some words to have two contradictory meanings — a phenomenon known, among other things, as a “contranym.” One frequent example in English is “cleave,” which can mean to split asunder or to glue together. In this case, as Wikipedia explains it, “Some pairs of contronyms are true homographs, i.e., distinct words with different etymology which happen to have the same form. For instance cleave ‘separate’ is from Old English clēofan, while cleave ‘adhere’ is from Old English clifian, which was pronounced differently.”[i] While intriguing, such homographs interest me less than words which develop two somewhat contradictory meanings through long use. Some lexicographers want to consider them all as homographs; I prefer to think of them as products of double-mindedness. Continue Reading →

in verse #53 : And out of the swing of the sea

Gerard Manley Hopkins is one of the few poets since the alliterative revival to experiment with alliteration as a governing principle of his poetic line. When he wrote “Heaven-Haven,” he was at Oxford reading classics, not yet a Jesuit, just beginning his experiments with ‘sprung rhythm,’ and still uneasy with “his sexual response to other boys”[i] that had manifested itself at Highgate School. Note the almost savage mockery of the nun for choosing to be “where no storms come:”

Heaven-Haven
A nun takes the veil

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.[ii]  Continue Reading →

in verse #52: Walt versus Joseph

9781434103833The theme of this month’s post is foreshadowed in its title. Had I written “Walter versus Joseph” you would sense a formal balance between the two names; had I written “Walt versus Joe” you would sense an informal balance. But the imbalance in formality bespeaks an imbalance in the poetics of two poets.[i] Yeah, yeah, I know: you know Walt Whitman; Walt Whitman is a friend of yours; Joseph Smith is no Walt Whitman. You’re right, and that is one of the main points of the comparison I am about to impose on you, should you accept the invitation. Continue Reading →

in verse #51 : Resurgemus

In my last post, I presented a rather abstract version of Whitman’s compositional process, describing from Matt Miller’s Collage of myself [i] the laborious process of reordering and reworking by Whitman of various prose sources — sometimes his own prose. Today, for a change, I want to present how Whitman reworked one of his early poems, “Resurgemus” Continue Reading →

in verse #50 : In voiceless text

Matt Miller, in his study Collage of myself : Walt Whitman and the making of Leaves of Grass, makes a convincing case that “…the poems of the 1855 Leaves appear in a boiling rush, the size and suddenness of which continue to beg for explanation.”[i]  He makes his case primarily through a careful examination of the notebooks and manuscript materials Whitman used in the years leading up to the publication of that first edition, arguing his point through 250 pages of text and illustrations, the latter mostly of manuscript pages.  What I find most fascinating, because of my interest in Joseph Smith’s writings, is Whitman’s uncertainty as to the Continue Reading →

in verse #49 : Voice of the paper

In responding to my last post, “Voice of the turtle,” Jonathan Langford wrote:

It’s interesting that in your reading, Whitman — who was all about “voice” — is actually print-oriented, while Joseph Smith (source of some of our most striking scriptural quotes about the importance of written records, including but not limited to scriptures) is oriented toward [the] speaking voice.

I was, myself, surprised to learn that Matt Miller, in Collage of myself : Walt Whitman and the making of Leaves of grass, apparently argues that Whitman speculated that Leaves of grass might be a novel or a play as late as 1854, the year before the first edition was published.[i] But then I had never heard before what Miller claims Continue Reading →

in verse #48 : Voice of the turtle

That title is not a reference to Mitch McConnell, no matter how much people say he resembles a turtle. No, it’s a reference to “Canticles,” a book of the Bible hitherto unknown by this moniker to me, but familiar to you as “The song of Solomon,” and it is of interest to us not only because that book is the only one Joseph Smith picked out as “not inspired writings,” and in fact only secular wedding poetry (at least he understood the text, which is more than I can say for many of the monks who struggled to understand the book and place it in the Bible).  The phrase “the voice of the turtle” occurs in the 2nd chapter:

8The voice of my beloved! behold,
he cometh leaping upon the mountains,
skipping upon the hills.
9My beloved is like a roe or a young hart:
behold, he standeth behind our wall,
he looketh forth at the windows,
shewing himself through the lattice.
10My beloved spake, and said unto me,
Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
11For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
12The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of the singing of birds is come,
and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
13The fig tree putteth forth her green figs,
and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

This is of interest to us — well, to me — as an example of Hebrew poetic form. It is also an example of how the sap rises in spring. So, appropriately enough, in this context, we will discuss the voice of Walt Whitman. Continue Reading →

in verse # 24 : appointed to be read in churches

All poetry is appointed to be read in churches; not all verse is.  There is a long history of verse in English, in German, in Russian — probably in every language — written to be read in toilets, in taverns, in rowdy company, and in solitude.  In each case, the writer has an expectation of an audience, although many contemporary poets would neither expect nor hope for their poems to be read in churches.  Certainly the writers of the verse in the second case would not.  Indeed, they might be more shocked to hear their verse read in church — we are talking about a reading aloud — than the aforementioned contemporary poet.  Much of this kind of verse concerns itself with two subjects,  Continue Reading →