Showing posts with label Emily Dickinson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Emily Dickinson. Show all posts

Saturday, May 2, 2009

After picking on Emily Dickinson, what can I offer as superior poetry?

After picking on Emily Dickinson in my blog post "The Declivity Factor™, I feel I should back up my snideness (hehe) by offering some poetry from more recent times which I feel is far more worthy of our respect. I am going to post three poems here that I have set to music recently that have some similarity to the Dickinson poem being mocked in my Declivity post (hey, please know that that post was all in fun- to me, everyone and everything is fair game for good clean fun and I include myself as a target).

The three poems I am going to post here all are somewhat similar to the Dickinson poem in that their theme is about release-- maybe release from the cares of the world, maybe about the release of death. etc. Obviously the Dickinson tells you upfront that the poem is about death- yet my poems are far more subtle in regard to the identity of their theme.

The first poem, set by me in a fairly romantic way for SSA/piano. Published by SBMP. Cat #831
(excellent recording posted at sbmp.com)

Lake Song, by Collete Inez

Every day our name is changed,
Say stones colliding into waves.
Go read our names on the shore,
Say waves colliding into stones.
Birds o'er water call their names
To each other again and again
To say where they are.
Where have you been, my small bird?
I know our names will change one day
To stones in a field of anemones and lavender
Before you reach the farthest wave,
Before our shadows disappear in a starry blur,
Call out your name to say where we are.



The second poem, set as the final movement of a four movement SATB/piano piece commission by The Festival Choir, the whole piece using the title Into this World (the other three movement texts are by Elinor Wylie, Robert Louis Stevenson, and an adaption of Rilke)

Into this World
, by Natalie Goldberg

Let us die gracefully into this world
like a leaf pressed in stone
let us go quietly breathing our last breath
let the sun continue to revolve in its great golden dance
let us leave it be as it is
and not hold on
not even to the moon
tipped as it will be tonight


And finally , Laura Chester's [HUSH], set by me for SATB/cello/piano


HUSH, WAS WHISPERED, guard it. There is
nothing to be done now, listen. Nothing you
can do. First snow descends most silent. Falling
through worlds to be our covering, our rest,
putting us beside the wood stove, where
the copper pot sings for its supper, and the mouths
of the children breathe against the frozen
glass. There is nothing to accomplish, no
test. Just allow that flower to break
its sheath of ice, and warming, bloom in
brightness. No one has to take it.
Nothing to be said. Let it open--
toward the hills, the higher hills. Let it
be the song on which you rise, even as
the snow descends, and absence
animates the landscape, even at
this time of darkness—sing, for
tomorrow will amaze us, as the
constellation rides, and the moonlight
doubles in the heart of the beholder,
balancing the curving slopes of white.


What do all these texts have in common, other than the death or release theme? Well, they certainly don't rely on simple rhymes to create their art, like the Dickinson does. The meter is sophisticated and changes as the needs of the poet's ideas change during the course of the poem. They also each create an immediate world unto themselves, another mark of a great poem. Lake Song immediately creates the water world and the animals that inhabit it and the undertext which is the meaning on the fate/human condition level. Into this World likewise presents a world of us and our actions..."let us die... let us go, let the sun", etc. [HUSH] presents a family drama, seemingly with a subtext of its own, to be guessed at and uncovered by the reader.

Each poet crafts their own world of subtle interior or exterior action or meaning. But things are not spelled out for the reader--the reader has to work at their meanings, especially in HUSH. Additionally, the texts are humongous motherlodes of textual content, phrases rich in interior value and outward physical imagery, such as...

"I know our names will change one day
To stones in a field of anemones and lavender"


notice "our names" ie., our significance, also the (sad) contrast between stones and living anemones and lavender



"let us go quietly breathing our last breath
let the sun continue to revolve in its great golden dance"


notice the microcosmic personal "let us go" and then the macroscosmic "let the sun go"



"sing
, for

tomorrow will amaze us, as the
constellation rides, and the moonlight
doubles in the heart of the beholder,
balancing the curving slopes of white."


This phrase just leaves me breathless. The complexity of the whole here is a logrhythmic multiple of its parts. To me, this phrase is one of the most beautiful poetic images I have ever read.

What composer would ever want to seek out pedestrian rhyming poetry and create kneejerk compositional responses to such material, when richness abounds in free verse poems such as the three poems I have shared here?

Finally, as you see in reading all three of these texts, there is no Declivity Factor™, not a single word that requires looking up. There is brilliant personal insight into the human condition without ever the need for fancy overreaching words.

I'm very thankful to have discover these three poems and these three wonderful authors, who have been very gracious toward me when I requested permission to set their texts to music. I hope you will be curious enough now to discover their work and learn more about them: Colette Inez, a survivor ad great artist; Natalie Goldberg.. a woman whose books on journalling inspire others to find their creative voice; and Laura Chester...a woman open and alive to the world.