The World Made Up for Us

November 29, 2011

The brides have passed all of the sentence tests
that Polyhymnia wanted. She asked
them to teach us how the earth became
a sullen crib. She thought the brides should sing
of nightmares and miracles, not freedoms.
If we have come to know our strengths, she said,
then perhaps we have come to love our failures
too much. Write it. This is a test.

If Polyhymnia, then nothing is transitory,
just the vast ebbing out of what always flows away.

As Polyhymnia is, there is no sentence here,
just the quiet susurration in her lips.       

Of Polyhymnia, her stone lips breathe silence,
for espousal has always been a poem to awake to.

For ancient, aimless, almost airless Polyhymnia,
the courtier of our language,

the world is made up for us. Always.

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6 Responses to “The World Made Up for Us”

  1. Anna Mark Says:

    The idea or image of the earth as a sullen crib is not an image of freedom for sure, but one of perpetual dependence and rather cage-like. Language gouges out the earth…I had this sense as I was thinking of the angel in the snow…our impressions are, to me, these deep gouges and they are not freeing to me. I sense this stream of thought in your poem. i also really enjoyed reading all the comments…and I miss Thomas.

  2. extrasimile Says:

    Thomas—let’s see. ‘The idea that the earth is a sullen crib from which poetry is the natural expression, where nightmares and miracles are more right than freedoms, and where brides, the beloved, the ones who will birth, are part of the ebbs and tides of both poetry and existence…’ Yeah, I think you’ve got it right. (Good God, did I really mean that?)
    By the way, I’ve looked briefly at the Four Windows Press website and will look more intently at it in the near future. I’m not sure I can match the above summary statement, but I will share my thoughts… (I’m a little busy at the moment).
    John—Yes Polyhymnia and the brides will be making another appearance—probably—let’s see what happens. (I just hope…’Polyhymnia and the Brides’…be a nice name for a 50’s revival do-wop group, wouldn’t it?)
    I did, of course mean G. K. Chesterton. There is quite a good book by C. K. Williams on Walt Williams that I’ve been dipping into recently. I do recommend it. Nothing good will come of conflating the two however.

  3. John Stevens Says:

    This has been a busy weekend here with a wedding in the extended family, so I’ve not had time to reflect on this theme yet, although you did send me back to Keats and I’ll turn later to Bebrowed. That quotation from Chesterton is interesting and gives me something to think about too.
    I agree that this whole question of how ‘poetic’ poetry should be is a difficult one. I suspect that most people who read a bit of poetry now and again are looking for some heightened language but then feel embarrassed by it or uncomfortable when they find it. Your idea that Polyhymnia is a good place to explore all this seems very persuasive to me. Thanks for elaborating. Perhaps you could give her another invitation to your blog?

  4. Thomas Davis Says:

    This is a difficult poem, but one that I welcome. The expression of poetry is often difficult too, but the idea that the earth is a sullen crib from which poetry is the natural expression (if I have got this right), where nightmares and miracles are more right than freedoms, and where brides, the beloved, the ones who will birth, are part of the ebbs and tides of both poetry and existence, is worth any amount of pondering and trying to understand.

  5. extrasimile Says:

    No, on the contrary, I’m impressed that you got so far into what is not a reader friendly poem, to say the least. What a place to find the brides.
    Of course it (they) evolved in my mind, and I think may be still evolving. There is a line from the Wallace Stevens poem, ‘A Primitive like an Orb’— ‘…as if each summer was a spouse,/ espoused each morning…’— that suggests a spousal relationship at the origin of the poet/ poem. I wanted a ‘character’ that would be able to respond to Polyhymnia in such a way that would allow for both the ‘poly—‘ and the hymns. John Armstrong has an entry on bebrowed that argues the trouble with poetry may be ‘the poetic’. I share this concern—the poetic that is clinging to the poem in a strangle hold, a death grip, choking it–and us—in a not so subtle way in order to survive the rush of the next tides turn—but wonder at the implied solution…write poetry that is not poetic? Read anything Keats wrote in that last period before he died and you will see ‘the poetic’ at its absolute best. Polyhymnia, as the muse of sacred poetry, seemed (and seems) a good place to explore this ‘poetic’ situation. If poetry suffers from a dullness and airlessness, then how much more must sacred poetry be in danger of sucking the life out of the living words we use (had better use).
    I will repeat the quote I added to John’s blog that I found in Gary Wills new book, Rome and Rhetoric, from C. K. Chesterton:
    ‘The great error consists in supposing that poetry is an unnatural form of language. We should all like to speak poetry at the moment when we truly live, and if we do not speak it, it is because we have an impediment in our speech. It is not song that is the narrow or artificial thing, it is conversation that is a broken and stammering attempt at song…The poetic does not misrepresent the speech one half so much as the speech misrepresents the soul.’
    Okay, the brides are a many voiced character that could respond to Polyhymnia’s test. They/ she had to teach us how the earth became a sullen crib, sing of nightmares and miracles, etc. The sentences in italic are what the brides wrote. They are self contained; they are poetic; do they actually say anything? (The answer to this question might be determined by what you think Poly’s ontological status actually is.) Reading them, we might be tempted to go along with John Armstrong’s criticism—but then we get to the last sentence (actually the penultimate)… well, that last sentence…I thank you for noting it…I don’t know. This must be how the brides passed the test. It might even be a sentence you could ask if it’s true. Is it true? Always?

  6. John Stevens Says:

    I’m afraid you are going to be disappointed in me Jim.
    I’m puzzled: what to make of the brides? I suspect a classical reference but can’t find it (I only think of Penelope’s maids). Or Orientalism (the Arabian Nights and those doomed brides telling their stories – in sentences). Or is it Hollywood (7 brides for 7 br … only kidding!). Or are you giving us Advent with the earth and the crib? Or immigration officials giving sentence tests to brides entering a country?
    And that crisp injunction “Write it” recalls Elizabeth Bishop’s villanelle about the art of losing – but that’s a digression.
    Nonetheless, Polyhymnia herself is very welcome with her stone statue’s lips or quietly whispered inspiration: “ancient, aimless, almost airless Polyhymnia, / the courtier of our language” – I love that.
    And “the world is made up for us” – what of this? At least poems are made up for us, with help from the Muses. “Always’.


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