Poetry Challenge 5: Post Thy Poems!

So let’s get this started! I won’t be first to post my poem today as it’s not quite ready. My sister Abbey had her first baby, at home, yesterday. (Welcome Micah Roberts!) So naturally I’m a little distracted. However I’m sure someone else is ready to break the ice this fortnight. If not, we’ll just be a little later.

Our challenge was to write verse in the Anglo-Saxon style. Post away!

29 Comments »

  1. Congrats on the nephew! 🙂

    Okay, I’m not sure how Anglo-Saxon this is, but I had fun with the alliteration.

    —————–

    The Word of the Lord like a ladder dropped
    inside the soul of the stealthy man:
    “To Ninevah! Now veer, now hie!”

    But Jonah faltered from the height,
    and bought his board on a boat elsebound,
    in sorrow fleeing, finding storm:
    a storm that swirled like a sin-spun soul,
    whirling water, welting waves.
    Fury flinging froth and foam
    tore until he turned and sank
    with willing slide inside the deep
    within whose calm the called fish came-
    slow swimming giant, Jonah’s fate.

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    • Now you’ve done it, Leah. Now I’m afraid to send out mine. It’s loose and un-rule-like. Yours is compact, well-made, original & accurate (“sin-spun soul” – yes!)

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    • What always strikes me about your poems, Leah – and this is no exception – is how you weave together such a satisfying ending. This poem has the real feeling, I think. Toward the end it felt like Beowulf or something.

      Isn’t it funny we both used “hie”? A word, I think, that I’ve never used in my life before.

      It’s true that when the sea’s surface is torn by a storm, the deep can still be calm like that. It was excellently observed and served the poem well. The pacing follows, and the poem rewards the reader with a feeling that is arrived at, not simply given.

      If you write in this style again, you could give yourself a little more leeway to dictate which are the major stressed syllables. It’s true that in ‘Ninevah’ there are two stressed syllables but if you had wanted to fit another word or two in that line, the ‘vah’ – the second, weaker, stress in Ninevah – could have been treated as a secondary stress. Then you wouldn’t have been forced to use ‘veer’ which feels a bit contrived and weak.

      Same thing with ‘until.’ The ’til’ part is a fairly weak stress. It works as one of the four, barely, but it could easily have become a ripple in the waving seascape of the line, and not the crest of a wave.

      This form can feel confining, as we all found out, but the breakthrough is when you realize that you can use the form to instruct the reader on where to put emphasis, which is a benefit that doesn’t really attend on metrical verse.

      Favorite parts: the image of the word of the Lord dropping like a ladder into the soul – that’s a new one for me and I like it. Jonah identified as “the stealthy man.” That’s excellent – I had to think about it and remember him sneaking away to Joppa and I said, yes! exactly! Good kenning, there.

      “Whirling water, welting waves,” – evocative and energetic

      “Within whose calm the called fish came” – one of those perfect lines that’s a delight to recite.

      The alliteration of “giant” and “Jonah” – truly poetic.

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      • Thanks as always for the helpful commentary. I’m glad the poem worked. I actually almost gave up on it a few times, but I kept going because I didn’t like to think of the challenge happening without me, lol. I do agree about “veer”.

        Yes, I thought it was funny that we both used “hie”. I can’t remember ever using it before, either. My choosing it here was due to some vague instinct that it was authentically Old English and so couldn’t hurt in attempting a poem in this style.

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    • Reading this again, I can tell how much careful effort went into it. I do like the word pictures and sounds. Very fresh, surprising. Brings me into the story. I wish i could say things that no one else has said, like “elsebound”–such a simple and natural new combination. An old story made new. Nice!

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    • Hi Leah,

      I really like this poem. Your entire description of the storm is beautiful: “a storm that swirled like a sin-spun soul, / whirling water, welting waves.” Just lovely, and it feels quite Anglo-Saxon! “Within whose calm the called fish came” (though it doesn’t strictly follow the rules) is delightful to say.

      Your lines are quite short and sometimes they feel more like three stresses because the fourth is secondary. For example, “inside” in line 2, and “until” in line 10. I think it’s okay, but I would make the following suggestion for line 4 (“But Jonah faltered from the height”): since from is both an unimportant word and a secondary stress, you could strengthen this line a lot by adding a stronger alliterative stress.

      Thank you for sharing this poem! Your topic inspired me to choose a Biblical story for mine.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. OK, here goes: I tried, got discouraged, almost quit–then decided to tell the beginning of a ghost story I’m reading. Having chucked the two-beat/ pause / two-beat rule when inconvenient, I probably overdid the alliteration and forced a few awkward kennings into the mix. But it was fun, finally. I’ve never tried anything like this. Forget about making comments, unless you just like making comments. I recommend the book though. It’s a unique world, both of style (a type of poetic prose, very rhythmic, hypnotic) and of content. And there aren’t any ghosts, really.

    FRAGMENT (Opening scene of a novel* reimagined)

    Curled by the window seat, safely belted in,
    she saw the tip of her plane, propellers plowing the sky,
    cloud dust drifting behind. Bright as the stars out there,
    she, young Mrs.Furnival, finally was returning to Richard
    In this smooth and mechanic-studied aircraft when

    Cruising along in the night,
    The sleek machine suddenly stalled, slid like a child on a ramp,
    all passengers plunging down, down to disaster and death.

    Lester–surprising name for a girl, but yes it was hers–Lester
    Furnival didn’t die completely, crushed in the crumpled plane.
    Neither did she know she was alive, altogether alone tonight
    In the streets of the City, silently walking with Evelyn Mercer.
    Or was she with Evelyn here? Had Evelyn departed in the plane
    With her? both bringing back memories, messages of love
    From from the trip they took, trying to get away from it all,
    So very far, fitfully wondering where, what world
    Were she and her schoolgirl friend, fated too, facing now?

    Yes, just as the two had traveled together, together they also fell
    from the star-missing sky into rain, right before smokey disaster;
    and now walked the streets, crossed bridges of the empty City
    Which they knew clearly just last week, when walking there
    Alive in the other way, wishing as Richard does also,
    Also worrying over what, wondering why, and how
    was life going to be for him now–without her.

    There was a secret hurrying towards him, but harbored within:
    She was not here, not quite. nothing but semblance,
    A body unbuilt, passing unseen in the places of her past.
    But how could he know?
    Nowhere now was Evelyn even,
    dissolved like a thought of Lester’s, Lester alone and fraught
    in a nothing-real night, noting and fearing her isolate state,
    Lester alone went looking for left-behind loves,
    Richard first, mostly married as she was, to him, to his name,
    though also married to that old companion,
    the completely satisfied self,
    and to some unfulfilled dreams, distantly chosen early on.

    Richard–intense in his mourning of Lester–hollow in heart he was
    And horribly cold, combing alone the dark of the City
    For some real relief, when he thought, he was sure, he caught
    an image identical to her solid self, standing in the lane,
    impervious to passing cars. Could it be? Was it she?
    Or some silent necessary dream? Richard the dreamer,
    Ridiculing himself for letting Lester leave, how could he
    Believe what he knew he saw . …

    * * *

    (*from “All Hallows’Eve” by Charles Williams, freely adapted)-t

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    • I enjoyed this! You should do a whole novel; I’d read it. 🙂 I got caught up in the story, and it makes me want to read the book. (Interestingly, this is the second time today Charles Williams has been recommended to my notice.) I didn’t find the alliteration over done– it carries the lines along agreeably and hence the narrative as well.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I struggled with the form, too. I kept wanting to hear rhymes instead of alliterations, and I kept wanting to slip into iambic tetrameter instead of genuinely hearing the old rhythms.

      A solid piece of work as usual, Albert, and an excellent subject, but I think you would have gotten more out of it if you had surrendered to the form. I looked for evidence that your innovations increased the power of the poem, but it feels spun-out and diluted, like modern free verse. For instance, you say “propellers plowing the sky” but you could have called the aircraft a sky-plow (kenning!) You struggle to keep your lines from overflowing, but at the same time you are wasting words – for instance, “safely” in “safely belted in” is redundant. The benefit of obedience to a form or tradition is that in rising to the requirements we find ourselves fruiting into new forms of life, within ourselves. We all know that it’s acceptable to break rules for artistic reasons, but that only helps if we’ve first traversed the boundaries of the rule we want to break, and found it to enclose an expressive territory insufficient for our needs.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. How the runner hies to the sun.
    Wherever he lifted his head, laughing, and cried to it,
    another was neighing, nay-saying, and sniffing,
    the down-grader, the slope-slider, the singer of tuneless tunes.
    The bully is faded. Far behind
    he fell, miles ago. Master of roads,
    the runner roars. Red is the light.

    Cry to the sun, O Runner. Cradle him, dust-miller,
    arms lifted, lever the low blown glass
    the glowing globe, the glaring death
    of doubt. Done are the days, vaporous,
    in which the salt of skin baking
    grew gritty; grilled were the lips
    of those days, done. Days of deadly
    heaving, where chests charred within
    could hardly lift a load of air.

    Fleet the feet, fine the form,
    follow the sun, soar to home.

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    • What a very encouraging and lifting poem. I think I will come back and re-read this next time I ever feel down.

      I thought at first this business with the pauses and stresses and alliterating was a recipe for stilted and clumsy writing, and the challenge would be to write anything that way that sounded well! But having worked with it a little and especially reading this, I see it is a combination that works (at least potentially!), sings a song of it’s own. I’m glad we tried it.

      Incidentally, I’m impressed that both you and Albert were able to make use of longer lines and still keep to only four stresses. When I tried that I felt like I was losing the distinction of stressed and unstressed, it all seemed like a matter of degree.

      Hmm, I was about to quote my favorite lines and phrases from this, and then realized I’d be quoting at least half the poem, so will just say again that I really liked it. 🙂

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      • “a matter of degree” – yes, it is a matter of degree. You can choose to subject a minor stress to the domination of some other major stress, and thus come out with a longer line. This isn’t meant to be tetrameter, although there are four main stresses.

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    • I never ran for glory, but some friends did, and was greatly impressed. From participating in other outdoor sports, I know exactly what “vaporous days” are, and “gritty salt” and “grilled lips” (what great image!) and “deadly heaving” – – two meanings work together here, actually three, amazing feat! although I can tell from the rest of the line, and the one after that, that “lifting” is first, if there is such a thing as first in poetic references. I found that all three meanings hit me at once, when before I finished the stanza. And they all describe perfectly what is is like to be totally, frighteningly, almost sickly out of breath. Way to go! (exploding cheers here, and applause from the older folks way up in the stands or watching reruns of the race)

      Now. You are going to curl up or growl when you hear this: I think the poem has three separate but closely related (and equal in importance) meanings.

      But I’m keeping it to myself, so as not to upset you. Maybe tomorrow, when you calm down.

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      • “. . . even [not when] before I finished. . .”

        P. S. And I’m not preoccupied with the number 3 – even though I have immersed myself in “All Hallows Eve” (the ending of which is tied up in that number, and it’s both scary and enlightening)

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    • What a strong poem! I think you really use the form to its fullest here.

      The line “in which the salt of skin baking” is well done, I think, because though “in which” (one of your four stresses) is not one of the strongest or most vivid words in the line, you frontloaded it to create a nice sense of catching one’s breath and moving into the most important part, which is intense and not at all diluted.

      In the following line, what about removing “were?”

      I read line three as having five stresses, and since you follow the stress pattern so consistently elsewhere, I think you ought to adjust that.

      I’m on the fence about the final couplet. It’s very poetic, but I’m inclined to think the sudden shift to sharp rhythm from the flexible waves of the Anglo-Saxon form is too disruptive.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You won’t believe this! I wrote two longish comments about my “reading” of your running poem, and each time when I was just about finished and pleased with myself, the post disappeared from my tablet screen. I think that must be a sign. I’ve got to top reading “into” or reaching beyond!

    So for now, as far as im concerned,the poem is about what it says it’s about. And if anyone thinks any different, who am I to say yea. And I certainly don’t want to get caught “neighing, nay-saying, and sniffing”

    (I’m going to be quoting phrases from this one for some time. Exceptional writing!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • It happened again tonight. Another lengthy comment gone, and I have no idea why! Something there is that doesn’t love a wall of words?

      Basically I wondered about these three things: (1) the negative types in the first stanza seem foreign to the context of an actual race. And (2)the change in time sequence and tenses does too (unless the “vaporous days” that are over refer to practice sessions) . (3) The emphasis on the sun, along with the final phrase “soar to home, ” makes me want to consider extended or symbolic meanings.. (4) The red light at the end of stanza #1 is a puzzle – inconsistent with the setting if this is a footrace.

      I enjoy reading “into” as well just reading the poem, and that’s a good sign. Good poem. Lots to think about. “Unpack,” If I may use the latest in term.

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      • I’m back! I can’t help it. I have a compulsion to explain my take on Alana’s poems before she can get back to them. Also, I’ve been meaning to return to comment on this one more specifically, because I really did like it, but that comment, although sincere, is somewhat vacuous (I think that’s the word I’m looking for) without any attempt to say why.

        Anyway, as far as meanings go, I think there is only one. This is a poetic elaboration of the scriptural metaphor of the spiritual life as a race. Chasing after the light of the divine, pictured here as the sun, is the essence of the journey. There are obstacles– one’s own initial limited capacity for spiritual effort (the chest charred within that could hardly lift a load of air), doubt (in the poem, a toxically mesmerizing glass globe that our runner later throws and shatters– I liked that), and the nasty, nay-saying voices of second guessin others. He leaves all that behind.

        And as he perseveres, he changes. He is stronger, running comes easily. I thought at first this was “all” there was to the poem, but this morning as I was meditating on it more two phrases came together and caught my attention– “Red is light.” and “soar to home”. I think, then, this is an evening sky, a red setting sun, and that our runner, soaring to home, is near the end of the race. It’s poignant, that way.

        In addition to the encouraging picture, skillfully painted, as I read this I heard some very lovely qualities in the voice of the speaker. It is as if it is being spoken by an unseen observer from the other side– an angel, saint, or departed loved one, perhaps, who joyfully speaks what she sees with love, delight, and assurance. It gave me goosebumps!

        All this to say, I “liked” it. 😉

        Also, “dust-miller”– very good, I thought, and I loved this part I’m quoting below. It sounds good and lifts the heart:

        “The bully is faded. Far behind
        he fell, miles ago. Master of roads,
        the runner roars.”

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        • I’ve been thinking how to say what I want to say here, and I found a comment in Tolkien’s foreward to “The Fellowship of the Ring.” He says, “I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed determination of the author.

          So that’s really my answer here. I had no thought in mind but the exultation of the runner on having pushed through the inner barriers into warm ease of movement. It is not an allegory or metaphor of anything else, but it might be applicable to something else.

          Now that I’ve found this distinction, I think I’ll be using it quite a bit.

          Thanks for expressing your enjoyment of my poem.

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      • Forgot to say that I’m still trying to picture this:

        ” lever the low blown glass
        the glowing globe, the glaring death
        of doubt.”

        I believe it’s the sun, but I can’t see him “levering” it – – unless this is an elaboration on the image of a person running west at sunset with uplifted arms. Probably that’s it (but very complex!)

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        • Now I see: the red light is not a stop-and-go light at an intersection (as I first imagined it). No, it’s the sun in late afternoon or early evening. The observer/speaker is exhorting the runner, who is about to cross the finish line (his arms arm raised high in a standard gesture the first runner across often uses to express his joy in victory) to actually freeze time in that moment–by holding up the sun, now seen as a large ball of glass that symbolizes both lack of self-confidence and the doubts caused by all the persons/forces in life that tell him he won’t be successful.

          An intricate series of metaphors within metaphors (and if Leah is right, and I believe she is) within an overall metaphor. Impressive!

          Now I’m starting to think about the choice of “globe”–a word commonly used in reference to earth,–and the fact that it is glass.

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  5. I loved, loved this challenge. I’ve been enchanted with Anglo-Saxon verse for years, but never tried my hand at it. While trying to come up with a topic, I read through the other poems posted here and stole inspiration from Leah: I took a scene from the Bible. This was delightful because while I’ve often wanted to write hymns or other religious poetry, I’ve never felt like I had anything to say that hadn’t already been said much better. I didn’t have anything to add to the spiritual scene of poetry. That all changed with this poem.

    Transfiguration

    Climbing the cliffs, they came to pray,
    Jesus and James, John and Peter.
    Elijah and Moses met them at hilltop
    appearing sudden. Their prayer was interrupted
    by gleaming glory given to Jesus.
    Fear-struck disciples froze in awe:
    their Teacher changed with terror-beauty shining.
    Strength he streamed, sun-strong white.
    Radiant robes wrapped his body
    that beautiful body soon broken for us.
    Soon to be smitten, scourged with God-hate,
    crowned with thorns, covered in blood.
    Iron to pierce his palms, his feet,
    arms aching agony-heavy,
    strained with world-weight, struggling for life-breath.
    Gone his God, gone his radiance
    veiled in darkness death-eaten Christ.
    In the blindness of death he’ll be buried in rocks.
    Among bones of the earth the everlasting Word
    lies in silence. Speak, O rocks!
    Cry in misery! Mourn the king-death.
    World gone awry, wracked with sorrow.

    But the sun still rises unstoppable day
    unkillable King cannot lie dark-dead.
    Risen, ascended, ringed with glory
    waiting and watching, returning soon
    to share his glory— that shining visage
    give to his darlings. The disciples saw
    a foretaste of this there on the mountain:
    He mirrored Moses, who, mountain-descending,
    glowed with the grace of God Most High,
    who bore in his arms a burden of stone-speech
    God’s will written word-given redemption
    for inconstant Israel, idol-worshippers.
    Then Peter and John and James, now present,
    heard Father’s voice-flash fall like lightning
    Leap like thunder Elijah’s echo,
    striking the sacrifice: “Son of mine,
    Beloved of mine, Listen to him.”

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    • Alena, I had tears in my eyes with this. Very nicely done. It will be welcome in the book.

      These lines in particular are really, really fine.

      Gone his God, gone his radiance
      veiled in darkness death-eaten Christ.
      In the blindness of death he’ll be buried in rocks.
      Among bones of the earth the everlasting Word
      lies in silence. Speak, O rocks!
      Cry in misery! Mourn the king-death.
      World gone awry, wracked with sorrow.

      The alliterative pairing of “awry” and “wrack” is especially fortunate. Very Anglo-saxon, and very expressive.

      You’ve inspired me to recast my own free-verse telling of The Marriage at Cana into Anglo-Saxon verse. Perhaps we can one day do a verse Gospel together.

      Here are a few lines to correct if you want to stick to a very strict anglo-saxon verse: (and I realize that none of us did, in the poems above)

      In the first line, I believe you’d need another CL sound rather than “came.”

      Same with “by gleaming glory given to Jesus.” (“given” doesn’t use GL)

      Strength he streamed, sun-strong white. (“sun” doesn’t use STR)

      Soon to be smitten, scourged with God-hate, (we have three different uses of “s” here: S, SM, and SC)

      And a few other instances of that.

      I noticed that you were careful to always use the same vowel sound, but my understanding is that any vowel sound can alliterate with any other vowel sound. That said, I really liked the matching vowel sounds! Perhaps because they sound more like the rhymes I’m used to.

      All in all, very strong. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My heart is full. Thank you.

        I too had the thought of retelling many Bible scenes in Anglo-Saxon verse. Don’t they seem to pair perfectly together? I’m excited to see your reworked Marriage at Cana.

        Writing this helped me branch out of my usual way of writing, which is to start at the beginning and then write all the way through to the end. Instead, I wrote a line here or a few lines there, as the alliteration came to me, and then once I had bits and pieces all over I drew it together into this. I really liked writing that way and I think it works much better for my big-picture brain than start-to-finish writing.

        I knew about the “s” sounds needing to match (“st” and “sm” and “s” not alliterating), but I didn’t read anything that requires other double-consonants to match. Though I do admit it gives it more power. I’ll play with it a little. I think some of the words might not have good alternatives, or I might be better off revising after giving myself some distance from the poem. The vowel alliterations just happened that way!

        Liked by 1 person

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