Friday, February 24, 2012

slow-motion poetry reading

I don't know how I came across this poem a couple of weeks ago--maybe it was on another Kidlitosphere Poetry Friday blog!  In any case, it swept me off my feet.  Here it is, along with a little blow-by-blow of a peak poetry experience.

by Amy Lowell

[To Ezra Pound: with Much Friendship and Admiration and Some Differences of Opinion]

The Poet took his walking-stick
Of fine and polished ebony.
Set in the close-grained wood
Were quaint devices;
Patterns in ambers,
And in the clouded green of jades.
The top was smooth, yellow ivory,
And a tassel of tarnished gold
Hung by a faded cord from a hole
Pierced in the hard wood,
Circled with silver.
For years the Poet had wrought upon this cane.
His wealth had gone to enrich it,
His experiences to pattern it,
His labour to fashion and burnish it.
To him it was perfect,
A work of art and a weapon,
A delight and a defence.
The Poet took his walking-stick
And walked abroad.

Peace be with you, Brother.

The Poet came to a meadow.
Sifted through the grass were daisies,
Open-mouthed, wondering, they gazed at the sun.
The Poet struck them with his cane.
The little heads flew off, and they lay
Dying, open-mouthed and wondering,
On the hard ground.
"They are useless. They are not roses," said the Poet.

Peace be with you, Brother. Go your ways.

The Poet came to a stream.
Purple and blue flags waded in the water;
In among them hopped the speckled frogs;
The wind slid through them, rustling.
The Poet lifted his cane,
And the iris heads fell into the water.
They floated away, torn and drowning.
"Wretched flowers," said the Poet,
"They are not roses."

Peace be with you, Brother. It is your affair.

The Poet came to a garden.
Dahlias ripened against a wall,
Gillyflowers stood up bravely for all their short stature,
And a trumpet-vine covered an arbour
With the red and gold of its blossoms.
Red and gold like the brass notes of trumpets.
The Poet knocked off the stiff heads of the dahlias,
And his cane lopped the gillyflowers at the ground.
Then he severed the trumpet-blossoms from their stems.
Red and gold they lay scattered,
Red and gold, as on a battle field;
Red and gold, prone and dying.
"They were not roses," said the Poet.

Peace be with you, Brother.
But behind you is destruction, and waste places.

The Poet came home at evening,
And in the candle-light
He wiped and polished his cane.
The orange candle flame leaped in the yellow ambers,
And made the jades undulate like green pools.
It played along the bright ebony,
And glowed in the top of cream-coloured ivory.
But these things were dead,
Only the candle-light made them seem to move.
"It is a pity there were no roses," said the Poet.

Peace be with you, Brother. You have chosen your part.

Now, I know next to nothing of Ezra Pound or Amy herself, nor their relationship of "Friendship, Admiration and Some Differences of Opinion," but for once I am not off Googling to see what I can find out, because this poem tells it all and more, and I don't want to spoil it with Facts.  I am very happy with this critique/fable/song of wisdom just as it is.

The title leads me one way, and the dedication informs and inflects the title.  "Oh," I think, "did Ezra suffer vision problems that made his poet's work difficult, and did Amy console and encourage him although the world was pitiably distorted?"  But then the story starts and all that astigmatism talk fades as I widen my mind to picture that cane, to imagine "quaint devices;/Patterns in ambers,/And in the clouded green of jades" as richly as they are described.  And off he goes, the Poet, with his cane of delight and defence.

But now the story is paused.  The Poet is not just friend but "Brother," and there is some reason to wish him peace.  What is to come of "a work of art and a weapon"?
And now he sets off again, and we follow him on his fool's way through the loveliness of the "lesser" blossoms, and we are guided to know he is a fool by the kindly, the measured, the nearly neutral  observations of the chorus.  And finally, at the end, I can think again about astigmatism, what it means to look and not see, to close your eyes wide open, swinging before you a stick of dead beauty which is judgment.
Just bloody brilliant, this poem. 
Shoot, you could even read it in Kindergarten.  Can't you see it as a picture book?
Enjoy some more bloody brilliance at Check It Out with Jone.  Peace be with you, Sister, Brother.  Go your ways (and may they be wise).


  1. It really is bloody brilliant. And yeah, I could see it as a picture book I'm going to try it with my fourth graders. Wow!

  2. Hi, Heidi. Thanks for sharing this powerful poem. It's a revealing portrait of Pound, but "open" enough to describe any person who sits in judgment of others. I'm am curious about their relationship!

  3. Wow, I'm going to have to chew on this for a while. Thanks, Heidi.

  4. Hello Heidi, reading through the poem is beautiful. Reading through your thoughts and insights about it - even more so. Instead of quoting from the poem, I shall quote from your lines:

    "what it means to look and not see, to close your eyes wide open, swinging before you a stick of dead beauty which is judgment"

    - my heart bleeds for this Poet.

  5. Yes, I'm certain I'll be mulling this one over for a long time. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. I love Amy Lowell! Her poems are bursting with color. And, I think the poem would make for a great discussion for 4th grade and up. Roses are nice, as long as the scent hasn't been bred out of them, but give me a blue flag iris any day!

  7. I am tucking this into my notebook for some rereads makes me sigh, this one.

  8. Ah, and what a payoff at the end: "you have chosen your part." Haven't we all? Thanks for sharing.

  9. Heidi,
    having just had cataract surgery that corrected my astigmatism, I relate to this poem! What a metaphor for being unable to see into the world's heart and appreciate the beauty. Cloudy vision does obscure and prevents one from enjoying things as they really are. I love your interpretation of the poem!


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