|Laurie Lee, photographed by Bill Brandt
Sentimentality is regarded, properly, as lethal when it comes to poetry. What you want in poetry (maybe I should say what I want) is not overt sentiment but the observable world; that is, not grief but "for all the history of grief, / an empty doorway and a maple leaf." (Archibald MacLeish.) Not abstractions, but the world of birds, bugs, rivers, pearl buttons, ginger snaps, the muscles of the arm, a suspension bridge, a peony, oars in a rusty oarlock.
But wanting a poem to be heartfelt - that's what I've been puzzling over for the last year or two: how to make room for sentiment without becoming sentimental. It's hard to stay balanced. What needs to be done is to talk about something by talking about something else - it's basic, it's what metaphorical thinking is all about, it's what a magician does with sleight of hand - misdirect the audience's attention.
For this week's Poetry Friday, the day after Veteran's Day, I'm offering up a poem by Laurie Lee, an English poet whose memoir (Cider with Rosie) I read because a close friend insisted I should (he was right - I loved it.) This poem is just what I'm talking about when I say "indirection." It's a poem about apples, and it is about apples, thank God - but also about much more. I gave this poem to my mother when my dad died - it said more than I felt able to say about her grief, though maybe a combination of both (direct, indirect) is how you best handle "the season's dole." Mom married my dad just before he shipped out for the Philippines during WWII. I think of this poem when Veterans' Day comes around each year.
The last of our apples have fallen to the ground now - it's November, how did November happen? - and I've been putting the rotten ones into the compost. Windfall apples are on my mind. So is my mom. So are boys eating apples, growing into young men who go to war. November thoughts.
Behold the apples’ rounded worlds:
juice-green of July rain,
the black polestar of flowers, the rind
mapped with its crimson stain.
The russet, crab and cottage red
burn to the sun’s hot brass,
then drop like sweat from every branch
and bubble in the grass.
They lie as wanton as they fall,
and where they fall and break,
the stallion clamps his crunching jaws,
the starling stabs his beak.
In each plump gourd the cidery bite
of boys’ teeth tears the skin;
the waltzing wasp consumes his share,
the bent worm enters in.
I, with as easy hunger, take
entire my season’s dole;
welcome the ripe, the sweet, the sour,
the hollow and the whole.
|"Wanton" apples....ready for that stallion Lee mentions....
Laurie Lee continued his memoir with two other volumes, taking him from childhood to manhood - and since one of them deals with his war experiences (As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning: A Moment of War) his poem seems especially appropriate for the Veterans Day we just experienced yesterday (see also my last post, which addressed Veteran's Day more directly - well, there was some indirection there, too - it talks about Robespierre and chocolate rats.) I'm hoping that some veterans come home from the current wars still able to see the sweet and the whole, not just the sour and the hollow.
UPDATE: I'm keeping this post up for a second week, so for today, November 19, the Poetry Friday round-up is over at Random Noodling. Go there, follow the links to other poems, other blogs. And definitely read the poem Diane has posted there by Kevin Young. It's wonderful
Poetry Friday for 11/12 is being hosted by SCRUB-A-DUB-TUB - go there, take a bath....no, I mean go there take a look at what people are posting.