Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Themes and Variations (Commentary)

There were a couple of collaborative poems that particularly caught my attention that I will be commenting on as promised.

One of these is a variation on Line One:
I am not a tree with my root in the soil,
Nor am I an ostrich with my head in the sand
But rather the clay's form from the potter's toil
Demonstrating the power and creativity of the potter's hand.

What caught my attention is that the outcome of this poem is a celebration of life as created by God. Surprisingly the "seed" here came from a poem celebrating death. The first line is by Sylvia Plath. Her poem begins as follows: "I am vertical, but I would rather be horizontal. I am not a tree with my root in the soil." The second to last line is: "And I shall be useful when I lie down finally." Sadly, she accomplished lying down finally and horizontally by her own hand on February 11, 1963 at the age of 30.

Given the origin of this first line of this poem, I was amazed at how it was translated from a poem celebrating death to a poem celebrating life.

All of the starting lines I gave in this collaborative project were from published works, references for which you can find in the comments section of my last post. For the most part I chose lines out of the middle of poems so they would not be familiar, because my project required that I have these created as blindly as possible.

Another result I wish to comment on began with a line from T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I LOVE the ending of this poem, so I could not resist using one of the lines, even though I was afraid it might be familiar. I just had to see what would become of mermaids singing. Here is the end of Eliot's poem from which I took the line:
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
(Whether or not you understand what you just read - and I'm not so sure I do, take a moment to read it again just for its music; read it aloud. It can be quite haunting in a lovely way if you allow yourself to take it in for its music alone.)

As I said, I just had to see what people would do with the line about the mermaids. Here are two of the results:
I have heard the mermaids singing each to each
And cannot rid the sound from my head.
Though to do so ought to be within reach
I choose to watch TV instead

I have heard the mermaids singing each to each
And cannot rid the sound from my head.
Like crashing waves upon a beach
What is done and what is said.
Regarding the first variation, I wasn't sure what to think when I received the concluding line about TV. At first it felt sarcastic - which is fine, this was all free game, but when it was all put together, it reminded me of a poem by Auden called The Labyrinth, which speaks of trying to figure out this maze called life. At the end of the poem, the protagonist looks up at the sky out of the tall hedge maze and wishes he were a bird to whom such thoughts must seem absurd. Sometimes we get so messed up trying to figure life out, we really do have to take a break and just sit down and watch TV! (Or look at nature and wish we were birds!)

Regarding the second, Auden comes to mind as well. The last line contains the words done and said. There is a line elsewhere in Auden where he says, "Sighs for follies said and done twist our narrow days." I'd always thought of mermaid's voices as being melodic, but here I think they are singing a cacophony of frustrating memories of what what the "author" and others have done and said - painful memories of things done and said that just won't stop crashing in the mind like waves crashing on the beach.

OK, maybe it is time to go watch some TV :-)

Once again, my thanks for all who participated in this collaborative effort. I'm impressed with you all!

1 comment:

Tracy said...

I just read your profile page and I too think a prayer for owen meany is a wonderful book, although it was several years ago when I read it. Cool blog.