Auld Lang Syne

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Odes; why we write them

The ode is a lyric poem, classically structured in three major parts (as in the Pindaric Ode): 1. the strophe 2. the antistrophe, and 3. the epode.  

The parts of the poem correspond to movement of a chorus to one side of the stage (strophe), then to the other (antistrophe), and a pause midstage to deliver the epilogue (epode). 

The epode is of a different meter than the strophe and antistrophe. For example: iambic tetrameter, iambic tetrameter, trochaic dimeter. This change of meter is a great way to make a final point without being over the top in terms of diction. 

Pindar, as a poet, was determined to preserve and interpret great deeds (athletic and heroic) as divine values. He did this by writing odes to celebrate such victories or values. We write odes for these reasons, even now.

Let's look at the (traditional) Ode and its 3 parts:

1. Strophe typically begins the poem, consisting of two or more lines in a dominant meter, repeated as a unit.

2. Antistrophe, second stanza, is metrically harmonious with the strophe.

3. Epode is a one or two line stanza, in a different meter than the previous two stanzas.

A good contemporary ode doesn't announce itself by ay of overdone meter. In fact some contemporary ode writers eschew meter altogether. Sharon Olds' latest book, Odes, doesn't use any of the traditional poetic devices (rules) for odes. The heralding gesture of these odes is the praising (or scoffing at) of the topics she has chosen for her poems. As Olds shows, the contemporary ode is open for interpretation as to the person, place, or thing it is celebrating or praising. Here is a partial list from her table of contents:

Ode to Stretch Marks
Ode to Dirt
Ode to a Composting Toilet
Ode to Buttermilk 
Ode of the Corner I Was Stood In

One might say that Olds is breaking the form even in her choice of topics. Perhaps she is. There is nothing wrong with breaking form. Clearly Olds' choices are unconventional. I think, however, that she is leading the charge for those who want to fly in the face of tradition and strike out in new directions. It seems to me that poets writing today, especially those who write away from form, will find the praise and honoring of the ode to be a great vehicle for their work. For those who wish to stay with the traditional approach of Pindar's, brava! But this is 2018. We can ode as we are comfortable. 

It may be worth doing a few formal odes, just for the satisfaction and for getting to really KNOW the form. Then, off you go into your own space with odes, reinventing as you go but with the foundation well-built first.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Because I am not feeling kissable today

Yesterday I had some surgery on my face. A little thing called basal cell cancer on my nose and a trip to the surgeon has left me feeling awkwardly un-kissable. I love love love kissing, so this is a great hardship.

My husband is a great kisser. I am always happy to kiss him or to be kissed by him. When we were first together, kissing was one of the best parts of learning about each other, about learning how we fit together in terms of personality and approach to relationship. There is simply no way to hide inside a kiss. The kiss is a barometer of relationship. Marcel Danesi, in his The History of the Kiss!, says that "unlike sex, there is nothing to prove in kissing." I might not wholly agree with that. I think the kiss IS a proof of many things, including tenderness, loyalty, forcefulness, aggression, and more.

When I was in 8th grade I discovered kissing, the non kiss-your-grandmother-goodbye kind of kissing. I was taught to kiss by the bother of a friend. He pushed me gently against the coats in the coatroom at a dance and put his lips so gently on mine that I got dizzy. His lips were warm and soft and he put his hands on my face. The kissing he did with me remains one of my best boy-girl memories. It was so impressive that I celebrate it every year on his October 3rd birthday. All of my adult kissing has been measured against his kissing. Sometimes however kissing style or approach can be a deal breaker. I once was kissed by a boy whose braces cut my lips. He smelled of sour food too. I was so repulsed I never spoke to him again. Sometimes the kiss is a signal of the end of a relationship (the kiss-off).

I am currently reading a book edited by Brian Turner, The Kiss, which is a series of essays about all kinds of kissing, contributed by a melange of wonderful authors. Reading the book is, for me, like going to a fine restaurant and ordering a sampler. Each author/contributor shares unabashedly and honestly, adding both spice and substance to the conversation. Reading this book has made me consider how fortunate I am to have been well kissed in my lifetime. It makes me know all over again how wonderful it is to be kissed now, even as I must admit I am no longer a young kisser trying to find a mate. I am fortunate to know and expect lovely wonderful kissing on a daily basis by my sweet husband. I do know that kissing has been a make or break situation for me my whole kissing life.

In thinking about kissing today,  I took to the internet for a bit of fun looks at the "science" and non-scientific conjecture about kissing. I found a site called You Tango where there is a fun look at how various signs of the zodiac are assessed as to their kissing styles.  I share this here — just for the fun of it.

Note: the website writer put these in order from what are supposedly the best kissers to the worst. I do not agree with the line-up. Kissing is so personal as to style and effectiveness that I doubt anyone could rank them. Kissing is to be enjoyed. Great kissing is to be celebrated.

According to the web site, each zodiac sign has its unique way of kissing, from soft pecks to an open, deep French kiss. Some zodiac signs are passionate while others approach intimacy in a methodical or mechanical way, some with hands involved and some without. I offer these as they were offered by the web site writer. You be the judge.

1. Scorpio    They use their tongues. Literally, penetrating your mouth with their tongue. This can be wonderful or dangerous (if you were to bite down, it would be quite unpleasant!)

2. Virgo    The Virgo's kissing style is a sweet kiss on the hand when you're driving or watching a movie. When they get serious, the sweetness remains. 

3. Leo    Leos are passionate kissers who will brush your hair away and look into your eyes first. Otherwise, they'll wrap their arm around your neck and pull you in to give you a simple kiss on your cheekbone. They are both passionate and tender.

4. Taurus    Taureans are driven by the need to use senses, to feel their partner’s plump lips (if they are plump), smell their enticing scent, touch their soft skin and take you in. They love to kiss the neck to feel the skin and get a deep whiff of scent.

5. Gemini   Gemini is (supposedly) in fifth of the top five best kissers. Gemini, being a cerebral sign, will go for the forehead. It's a great way to feel connected. Getting a chance to gaze into expressive eyes after the kiss is a bonus for the Gemini.

6. Aries   An Aries is a physical person, making kissing a full body experience which might start pressing both of your lips, add in a little tongue, and finish with a bite. They enjoy a partner who is a little aggressive too.

7. Sagittarius   Fun and game kissing here. Sagittarius likes to use lips to trace the skin, beyond your mouth.

8. Cancer   Cancers are not wild kissers. They’re tender-hearted kissers who build tension slowly. If the They might work themselves up to holding you against something during the kiss.

9. Pices   Pisces kissers are always gentle. Unafraid to sink into their emotions, they get lost in them. At first, their go-to move might be a single lip kiss that leaves you feeling connected and wanting for more.

10. Libras   Libra kisses are soft and light. They’re shy kisses. They like to go for the butterfly kisses where your eyelashes touch together. They leave you feeling a bit lightheaded.

11. Capricorns   Capricorns are a little more classy in their kissing, but they are go-getters. They might nibble and bite you like an Aries, but more softly. They'll try not to kiss you where it might be uncomfortable for you as long as you let them know.

12. Aquarians   They show their mental connection by kissing you on the eyelid. This is more common in spouses or with parents and their children. Still, it shows a strong mental connection.

What do YOU think about kisses? Have a memory of a wonderful kiss or memory of a kiss that turned you off? Please share. I'm in the mood for writing some poems about kisses and kissers. Send me some material.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Because it's Poetry Month

Because it's poetry Month and because I am a bit nervous over some surgery scheduled for tomorrow, I am reposting a previous blog post. It is I hope worthy of your renewed attention.

The Poem, unpacked, with some translation from medieval Scots English to English.
The Thrissil and the Rois (Thistle and Rose), composed by my ancestor, William Dunbar of Scotland, is comprised of stanzas in rhyme royale form. It is a bit of a struggle to get the poem to levels of deep understanding in its original language. However, as you read along, the elements of thought and expression begin to emerge. 

To clarify, rhyme royale stanzas consist of seven lines, usually of iambic pentameter (typical for narratives of the time). The rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b-b-c-c and is normally made up either as a tercet with two couplets  (a-b-a, b-b, c-c) or as a quatrain with a tercet (a-b-a-b, b-c-c). 
This allowance for variance is particularly helpful in longer narratives.  

Notice that the poem uses aureate vocabulary (using both Latin and French) to glide it forward. Aureation is seen nowadays by some critics as being pretentious, however it is a method not of embellishment for embellishment’s sake but as necessary dressing. The narrative of Dunbar’s herein is presented via a quite common medieval device: dream vision. Since the poem was written to celebrate/commemorate a wedding (James IV of Scotland and Margaret Tudor of England), the embellishment of aureation and the dream vision devices are appropriate. 

aureate ˈôrēətˈôrēˌāt | adjectivedenoting, made of, or having the color of gold• (of languagehighly ornamented or elaborate

Let’s look at the poem itself now, beginning with Dunbar’s description of Spring (also emblematic of the beginning of married life).
Quhen Merche wes with variand windis past,
And Appryll had with hir silver schouris
Tane leif at Nature with ane orient blast,
And lusty May, that muddir is of flouris,
Had maid the birdis to begyn thair houris,
Amang the tendir odouris reid and quhyt,
Quhois armony to heir it wes delyt,

The sleeping poet has a dream in which he is addressed by the personification of May.

Me thocht fresche May befoir my bed upstude
In weid depaynt of mony divers hew,
Sobir, benyng, and full of mansuetude,
In brycht atteir of flouris forgit new,
Hevinly of color, quhyt, reid, broun, and blew,
Balmit in dew and gilt with Phebus bemys
Quhill all the hous illumynit of hir lemys.
"Slugird," scho said, "Awalk annone, for schame,
And in my honour sumthing thow go wryt,
Quhairto quod I, Sall I uprys at morrow,
For in this May few birdis herd I sing?
Thai haif moir caus to weip and plane thair sorrow,
Thy air it is nocht holsum nor benyng,

May reminds him that he had previously promised her to write a poem about the rose. 

With that this lady sobirly did smyll        [smile]
And said, Uprys and do thy observance,
Thow did promyt in Mayis lusty quhyle
For to discryve the ros of most plesance.
Quhen this wes said depairtit scho, this quene,
And enterit in a lusty gairding gent.
And than, me thocht, sa listely besene,
In serk and mantill, full haistely I went,
Into this garth, most dulce and redolent,
Of herb and flour and tendir plantis sueit,
And grene levis doing of dew doun fleit.

In the garden, Nature (seen of course as a woman) sends messengers to the animals, birds and plants of the world, requiring their immediate presence, their homage. [All present were in twinkling of an eye, both beast and bird and flower, before the queen ... as embodied in the last couplet of this part.]
Scho ordand eik that every bird and beist,
Befoir hir hienes suld annone compeir,
And every flour of vertew, most and leist,
And every herb be feild, fer and neir,
All present wer in twynkling of ane e,
Baith beist and bird and flour, befoir the quene.

Nature calls the Lion forward, described as the Lion Rampant standard of Scots Kings. Notice the rich description of this kingly beast and know Dunbar, as poet of the Court, was wont to thusly honor James:
Reid of his cullour as is the ruby glance,
On feild of gold he stude full mychtely,      [on field of gold he strode most mightily.... think of royal banner]
With flour delycis sirculit lustely.
This lady liftit up his cluvis cleir,
And leit him listly lene upone hir kne,
And crownit him with dyademe full deir,
Of radyous stonis most ryall for to se,          [of radiant stones most royal for all to see]
Saying, The king of beistis mak I thee,
And the chief protector in the woddis and schawis.
Onto thi leigis go furth, and keip the lawis.
Exerce justice with mercy and conscience,
And lat no small beist suffir skaith na skornis
Of greit beistis that bene of moir piscence.

The lion is the embodiment of the duty of the King to bring justice to all of his subjects,
the humble and the more powerful.The animals therefore acclaim their new King. 
The Eagle appears to symbolize the King's plan to keep the peace within Scotland and,
perhaps, with England. Nature crowns the Eagle King of the birds, sharpens his feathers
to dart-like points, enjoining him to let no ravens, or other birds of prey, make trouble.

All kynd of beistis into thair degré
At onis cryit lawd, Vive le roy!
And till his feit fell with humilité,
And all thay maid him homege and fewté, 
Syne crownit scho the Egle, king of fowlis,
And as steill dertis scherpit scho his pennis,   [pennis = feathers]
And bawd him be als just to awppis and owlis 
As unto pacokkis, papengals, or crennis, 
And mak a law for wycht fowlis and for wrennis. 
And lat no fowll of ravyne do efferay,
Nor devoir birdis bot his awin pray.

Nature then inspects the plants and judges the spiked thistle to be 'able for war'. The thistle (thrissil) is crowned King of all plants with a gleaming crown of rubies.
The thistle seems to represent the King's determination to defend his Kingdom.
Nature then advises the Thistle to show discretion when judging other plants.

Upone the awfull Thrissill scho beheld
And saw him kepit with a busche of speiris.
Concedring him so able for the weiris,
A radius croun of rubeis scho him gaif.
And said, In feild go furth and fend the laif.
And sen thow art a king, thow be discreit,
Herb without vertew hald nocht of sic pryce
As herb of vertew and of odor sueit,
And lat no nettill vyle and full of vyce          [and let no nettle vile and full of vice]
Hir fallow to the gudly flour delyce,
Nor latt no wyld weid full of churlichenes
Compair hir till the lilleis nobilnes,              [compare her to lillies’ nobleness]

Dunbar is a not-so-subtle admonisher to the King in this next part, wherein he seems to be warning the King to be done with the practice of having mistresses. He does this in the voice of Nature who praises the red-and-white rose over all the other flowers.The rose represents Margaret of England.

Nor hald non udir flour in sic denty
As the fresche Ros of cullour reid and quhyt,
For gife thow dois, hurt is thyne honesty,
Conciddering that no flour is so perfyt,          [considering no flower is so perfect]
So full of vertew, plesans, and delyt,               [so full of virtue, pleasance, and delight]
So full of blisfull angelik bewty,                      [so full of blissful angelic beauty]
Imperiall birth, honour, and dignité.               [imperial birth, honor, and dignity]

It is clear that these lines are meant to praise the lovely Margaret of England, and to serve as a warning to James that he has it all at home, and should not stray. Nature addresses the rose directly, praising her and calling her forward to be crowned.

Than to the Ros scho turnyt hir visage
And said, O lusty dochtir most benyng,
Aboif the lilly illustare of lynnage,
Fro the stok ryell rysing fresche and ying,
But ony spot or macull doing spring,
Cum, blowme of joy, with jemis to be cround,
For our the laif thy bewty is renownd.
A coistly croun with clarefeid stonis brycht,
This cumly quene did on hir heid inclois,  
Quhairfoir me thocht all flouris did rejos,
Crying attonis, Haill be thow richest Ros,
Haill hairbis empryce, haill freschest quene of flouris!
To thee be glory and honour at all houris!

The birds join the acclamation of the new Queen who is compared to a pearl which is totally expected in the poem as 'Margaret' is derived from the Latin term (margarita) for a pearl.
The commoun voce uprais of birdis small
Apone this wys, O blissit be the hour,
That thow wes chosin to be our principall,
Welcome to be our princes of honour,
Our perle, our plesans, and our paramour,
Our peax, our play, our plane felicité:
Chryst thee conserf frome all adversité! 

Now the poem switches from the dream of Dunbar to Dunbar himself.  Birdsong merges with the dawn chorus. Dunbar awakens and looks for the garden he saw in his dream but finds it gone. While half-frighted, he “begins” to write the poem. This is reminiscent of what would later be seen as a magical realism poem, much like Xanadu.

Than all the birdis song with sic a schout,
That I annone awoilk quhair that I lay,
And with a braid I turnyt me about,
To se this court, bot all wer went away.
Than up I lenyt, halflingis in affrey,
And thus I wret, as ye haif hard to forrow,
Of lusty May upone the nynt morrow.
It is the ninth of May.

This poem may be one of Dunbar’s best. It certainly engendered a fairly robust admiration for his work from James IV, who appointed him as Poet to the Court. Dunbar’s ability to connect nature (with a capital N) to the monarchy is without reproach, either then or now. I am reminded of Sir Elton John’s remake song sung at the funeral of Princess Diana, wherein he refers to her as England’s Rose. I’d like to think Sir Elton has read Dunbar’s Thrissil and Rois, but I’m not taking that leap. But I will happily claim a certain visceral intertextuality that comes from the collective unconscious. In the world of magical words and symbols, we can rest assured that there is more “out there” waiting for us if we allow ourselves to be dreamers and writers, and to pay attention to the issues of the day, happy and not so... all is the stuff of poetry.