Today, I simply want to share a stanza from a poem by German poet Friedrich Schiller, Die Götter Griechenlands – The Gods of Greece.
This poem, written in 1788 and later set to music in the form of an almost painfully beautiful song by Franz Schubert, is originally 25 verses long, although Schubert chose only one of these for his lied. Having just spent some time in Liverpool, a city that is currently in the midst of its 2018 Biennial of Contemporary Art – a festival, set this year to the theme of Schubert’s particular chosen stanza, Schöne Welt, wo bist du? – Beautiful world, where are you? – I felt compelled to share these touching, emotional and very relevant words.
The Biennial writes of this poem, “Today the poem continues to suggest a world gripped by deep uncertainty; a world of social, political and environmental turmoil. It can be seen as a lament but also as an invitation to reconsider our past, advancing a new sense of beauty that might be shared in a more equitable way.” (Visit their website here)
On creating a mesostic poem using a” Mesostomatic” – a mesostic poem generator. Try it out here!
I decided to choose one of my favourite passages of writing from Jack Kerouac’s infamous novel, ‘On The Road’, as my source text for this mesostic. Here is the original passage of writing:
“…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
I paired this passage of writing with ‘Kerouac’ as the spine word; I originally wanted two spine words – ‘Jack Kerouac’ – but this could not be achieved as there is no ‘J’, nor two ‘K’ words, in the text. After playing around for a long time with different formulations, adjusting the sparseness of the text etc., this is the result!
I found it quite difficult to produce a poem from this generator that I was happy with; I think this was largely due to the many repeated words in the source text, such as ‘mad’, ‘ones’, ‘burn’. Many of the poems I received on the first few attempts were so repetitive, lacked variety and were just not very interesting! Because of this, I decided to go with this very sparse and simple mesostic which I have come to love!
From this poem, I get a sense of being alone, perhaps in an exclusive or lonely way. The first and last words, ‘only’ and ‘Centrelight’, are somehow connected as both words indicate a uniqueness ; a ‘Centrelight’ is one single object, by itself, and ‘only’ gives a feeling of one, of something limited, alone. Perhaps the poem itself also reflects this idea of loneliness; many of the lines are just one single word, it is a very sparse, simple and limited poem, excluding many words from the original text and enhancing the feeling of being alone.
The first line of the mesostic is extremely interesting to interpret; ‘only the mad talk, mad’ could mean that only mad people talk in a mad way, and no one else can talk as ‘mad’ as the ‘mad’ people ‘talk’. Note also the word ‘the’ attached to ‘mad’ – ‘the mad’ are a set of people, not just anyone but ‘THE mad’ people. Because of the use of punctuation in this line, it could also point to the meaning that it is ‘mad’ that ‘only the mad talk’, as in, it is crazy that ‘only the mad’ people ‘talk’ and people who aren’t really ‘mad’ don’t really ‘talk’ – you have to be one of ‘the mad’ to ‘talk’. Perhaps ‘mad’ also means angry, like ‘only the’ angry’ people ‘talk’ – this interpretation reminds me of how people generally tend to speak up and complain when they are angry, or write bad reviews because they are angry about their bad experience and the rest of the time, when people are content, it is easy to stay quiet and not ‘talk’. One last possible meaning for this line could be that ‘mad’ refers to lunacy, and the poem is really telling us in its first line, that this is just silly, ‘mad’, non-sense writing and not to bother trying to make meaning out of it!
Punctuation may indicate that the words ‘be’ and ‘burn’ come together; this could symbolise that to ‘be’ is to ‘burn’, like to live is to ‘burn’ and if you are alive then you are burning, really living each moment, and if you are really ‘mad’ and really ‘talking’ then you are being and burning. Could there also be a dark religious undertone here? We live and then we die, we ‘be’ alive, living ‘mad’ and talking ‘mad’ and because of this – because we didn’t live a normal, chaste life but rather a ‘mad’ one – we ‘burn’ in hell when we die.
The burning ‘yellow’ and ‘blue’ flames could suggest that to really live and to be an extraordinary person, as Kerouac aspired to be, we must ‘burn’ not only ‘yellow’, like normal people’, but we must ‘burn blue’ hot like the ‘mad’ people.
With the words, ‘pop And goes the Centrelight’, perhaps here is an idea that the ‘Centrelight’ goes out and we arrive in darkness at the end of the poem. This darkness, lack of ‘Centrelight’, further supports the idea of loneliness, being alone, in the dark, alone in your own thoughts and dreams. In this way, perhaps this poem does relate to Kerouac and his original text; maybe Kerouac really did feel alone and that he couldn’t find his people, ‘the mad ones’ who ‘burn, burn, burn’.
‘Centrelight’ could also refer to a stage light; maybe at the end of the poem, this stage light goes out because we have come to the end, and all of this ‘mad talk’ has just been acting, from a script of a theatre piece, and not real life. When the ‘Centrelight’ goes out, we are plunged into the darkness of reality, with no more ‘mad talk’, or burning ‘yellow’ and ‘blue’.
The ‘yellow blue pop’ also makes the poem highly sensory – we can see these colours and hear the ‘pop’ sound. Perhaps this is a further indication that this is a play on the stage, full of colours and sounds that we are watching and hearing before it comes to an end. Maybe we are watching the play of life!
I find this poem hugely dramatic; each single word and each line builds the tension… as we wait for some kind of culmination.. and with a pop, the words explode ‘like spiders across the stars’.
changed by white curtains –
Smell of cleanliness –
Sunshine of late afternoon –
On the glass tray
a glass pitcher, the tumbler
turned down, by which
a key is lying – And the
immaculate white bed
The first question I ask myself on reading this poem is: where are we? The peaceful, small island of Nantucket immediately conjures images of summer by the sea, solitude, a place of refuge from the normal hustle and bustle of the city or everyday life. Is this a positive image? Nantucket could symbolise a joyful holiday spot, but equally, this could be a place of loneliness, cut off from the rest of the world. After reading through the poem I also imagine someone to be inside a room, looking out through the window. Who is this person? It could be William Carlos Williams, or perhaps the reader of the poem, or maybe just an undefined person, observing this moment in this room and the view that is visible through its window.
This imagist poem, evident in its conciseness and its clear visual descriptions of the objects named in the poem, reminds me of a still life painting. The image of lavender and yellowFlowers that are framed by the window could in itself be a painting and this somehow reminds me of a colourful Cezanne. I very much feel a sense of peace in the moment around which this poem is centred; the observer in the room is looking out through the window, the Sunshine of late afternoon beams into the room, nothing moves and the immaculate bed awaits.
William Carlos Williams plays with our senses throughout this poem; the colours of the Flowers are a spectacle for our sight, we can almost smell the smell of cleanliness ourselves, feel the warmth of the Sunshine, hear the silence and even taste the drink inside the glass pitcher. The image that William Carlos Williams offers us in this poem evolves as he makes use of our senses.
My interpretation of this poem is that it does not emote positive feelings. If one were to read this as a meta-poem, and assume that the observer standing in this room is William Carlos Williams, we might ascertain that he feels in some way entrapped in this room which is devoid of life; the white curtains offer a paradox next to the vivacity of the colourful Flowers outside, the tumbler turned down emphasises that it is unused and perhaps even evokes the image of death, and the immaculate bed also seems to lack any sort of life or joy. The key, which liesOn the glass tray, further supports the idea of being trapped in this room. Does Williams feel locked in? Locked into this room as he is locked into his job as a physician when his passion really lies in writing poetry? The key is lying, in the sense of the imagist poem, clearly points to the obvious image of the key resting On the glass tray, but the key is lying could also mean metaphorically the key is lying; keys typically represent freedom, the freedom to choose to go outside or to stay in and the freedom to privacy. But perhaps this key is lying because Williams does not have this choice – he is locked into his life. Perhaps this room is, in fact, a hospital room, as emphasised by the white curtains, smell of cleanliness And the immaculate bed
Outside, Williams sees colour and Sunshine, life and warmth. But in this cold, lifeless room, he feels only a sense of entrapment. The closest thing to the freedom of the outside world that this room can give him is the reflection of it that appears in the glass tray, glass pitcher and tumbler.
The lack of any punctuation whatsoever at the end of this poem perhaps signals some kind of hope for Williams; he is leaving the possibility there for further imagery, a ‘to be continued’ kind of ending.
It’s been a little while since I have written a post in this series, so I thought it was about time that I updated my current Freya Chooses…list. This is a blog post series that I write from time to time, when the mood strikes, which is dedicated to the various things/places/media/people who have given my life some special value over the last month, given me happiness in whatever small and yet important way or that have improved my life so much that I would recommend them to my readers to try out too. I personally love taking inspiration from the things that my friends recommend to me or tell me they have been enjoying, so I hope this blog post gives you some ideas too!
This month I discovered the world of online courses through Coursera. With participating universities from all over the world, there are online courses available in a huge variety of different subjects, including philosophy, music, creative writing, business management, science, data science etc. etc. There are so many to choose from, aaaaaaand it’s all totally free! From browsing through the website, I found that most courses were about 10 weeks long, with a time commitment of about 5-8 hours per week. I decided to enroll in a course called Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, hosted by the University of Philadelphia, and I am absolutely loving it! Each week we study new and different poems, reading them ourselves, listening to recording clips of the poets reciting them, watching video discussions about the poems between teachers and students and taking part in live webcasts, which I find particularly interesting because you get to interact live and meet (virtually) people from all over the world, all interested in the same things as you! You may have noticed that my last blog post was a close reading on a poem by Emily Dickinson – read it here – and this was actually my first writing assignment as part of my course. If there is something that you are interested in but never had the time or the chance to study, I really recommend checking Coursera out and seeing what they have to offer.
All my friends know that I LOVE my planner. For whatever reason, I have not been able to transition to Google Calendars or any form of online planner… it just doesn’t work for me. There’s something about the physical act of writing things down, deciding where to place them, organising my weeks, months and years that helps to clear my head and put order into my brain. In my planner I don’t just write down my commitments; I make to do lists, I take note of personal daily and weekly goals, I organise upcoming trips and things to remember and I plan exactly when I am going to get nasty jobs done. Once it’s in my planner, it’s out of my mind and I can let it go and relax. This month I got a new, beautiful, golden yellow Moleskine and I think it is absolutely perfect. I recommend it because it’s big enough to write everything comfortably, but small enough to carry everywhere with you. And because it is so gorgeous to look at, it doesn’t fill you with dread when you see it. My Moleskine has definitely given my life value so I really had to include it in this post!
There have been so many podcasts that I have been enjoying this month – I will be doing a blog post soon about my favourite ones so keep an eye out for that if podcasts are something that you are interested in. But Shit Town is definitely the one that has most stuck with me. Produced by the same people as Serial and This American Life, Shit Town is basically a story about a town and its inhabitants in rural Alabama. As we listen, the podcasts twists and turns, and the original story set out at the beginning, which focuses on a mysterious murder and possible police cover-up, ends up uncovering a different, much deeper story of one man in particular and his identity within this town. It’s totally gripping and haunting, but at its core are issues that are extremely relevant today and people who are truly fascinating.
In connection with my interest in podcasts, walking has become a real feature in my life! I walk absolutely everywhere, everyday, and I can get totally lost in the story that I am listening to as I walk around in different parts of the city. I wanted to include this hobby in this Freya Chooses…episode because with the approaching autumn season, walks are incredibly beautiful just now. I know that everyone is busy and tired and we all have places that we just want to get to as fast as possible, but perhaps try to find one journey that you can make in your week where you can substitute a walk in and I am sure you will feel the benefits almost instantly.
One Extra Addition…
Just had to slip (no pun intended) this extra item in here because… I love my slippers!! They bring me happiness and comfort and are especially nice to put on after a long walk.
The first thing that struck me about this poem was its subject: Love. But what does Lovemean in this instance? Is this poem a dedication, a love poem for a lover or friend? The poem certainly does not resemble a sonnet, and throughout it she never adresses anyone else directly; there is no indication of there being another person, a ‘you’, or something else besides the one singular Love. Her use and repetitions of itself, Oneand Ilead me to think that this poem was not about anybody else, and perhaps was a more introverted reflection on herself.
My interpretation is that Loveis a metaphor that she uses for the poem itself; she writes the poem alone, she alone feels it blaze. When she uses the word Sun, the Sunbeing all powerful and the giver of life to all worldly things, we can take this to mean that Loveor the poem is, for her, the most powerful, the most important. The Sunis high up in the sky as, for Emily, poetry is the highest art form, and she emphasises this all-powerful importance, as well as it’s uniqueness, with capitalisations on Love, Sunand One.
The use of the word reckonsis very interesting; a possible meaning could be that she is implying judgement, as in the day of reckoning or day of judgement. Lovecan only judge itself, as this poem can only judge itself, alone– nobody else can judge Loveor this poem from the outside, it is unique and you have to be it, itself, to judge it, to reckon it. Another meaning of reckonscould be to confront, as in to be reckoned with, to confront Love, the poem, itself – in writing this poem Emily is confronting her own poem.
In Emily’s language she may also be indicating herself as the poet; her use of alone, itself, I, One could all be alluding to her reclusiveness. She spent all her time alone, by herself, so only she will reckonwith this poem, she is alonein writing it and feeling it’s powerful blaze. As we know, she never wanted her poems published or publicly read, so, again, she alonewill read this poem – only she will reckonwith it.
Emily puts herself in the present, in the poem, with her exclamation,“As large as I”. Perhaps, again, as she was completely alone, she felt she needed to bring the poem off the page and into the room, to say it out loud and make it present here, now. Putting herself in the poem also introduces this meta-poetic idea; she is the poet, this powerful Sunand Loveis hers and in reading this poem we must remember where it came from. In the line relate the Sun to One who never felt it blaze, is she speaking to her younger self? The young Emily who had not yet truly discovered the Loveand meaning of poetry, and had yet to feel it’s blaze? Or is she trying to convey her feelings about her work as a poet to someone else who cannot understand this passion? Perhaps she is even reaching out to other young and budding poets in the world.
Is blazea positive word? It could refer to a blazing fire, blazing heat which implies something aggressive, powerful and even hurtful or painful. Perhaps she is saying that this poem or this Loveor Sunis not always beautiful and lovely, as emotions that we might associate with a typical Lovepoem, but can sometimes be painful. Blazeis also almost an action word; to blazeis to be alive, so Emily is bringing life to her poem, it is not laying still on the page but is blazing with energy.
Itself is all the like it has could mean that there is nothing else like this poem, each poem and each Loveis individual and unique and only like itself. It is interesting that likehas not been capitalised; I take this to mean that she wants to differentiate between the Loveas the poem, the subject, and likeas in the description of the poem as being unique, alone. Likecould also suggest that nobody else likesthis poem except her, because nobody else will see the poem – only she can like it and appreciate it because only she will read it.
Emily has used dashes throughout this poem. This punctuation reinforces the meta asoect, indicating the poem itself; the subject of the poem is the poem (referred to as Loveor Sun) and the dashes emphsise that this is poetry as opposed to prose. The dashes also open up her ideas to a whole range of meanings, where other punctuations would limit them. As usual, Emily wants us, the readers, to work to find all the possibilities of meaning in her poetry and to keep looking for more, as is represented by the finishing dash, leading us further into the unknown.