Goodspeed On Poetry

Poetry provides a window into the soul.  Even more revealing than looking into a mirror, it is a certain knowledge of ourselves and our world of experience. I am not speaking of that mountain of statistics one builds up over the course of a lifetime, but rather, that process which uses conflict in purpose and human values to arrive at the meaning of a life.

I have to credit my fifth grade teacher back in the mid fifties for nurturing my interest in poetry. During the course of the school year, she took 25 minutes at the end of each day to read to her class. By the end of the school year, she had completed one novel, Les Miserables, and one narrative poem, Evangeline.

The poet Victor Hugo published Les Miserables in 1862. I never could recall the opening line in this novel, but the familiar and unforgettable storyline depicts a corrupt policeman (Javert) in epic pursuit of a man (Jean Valjean) who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed starving relatives, went to prison, and broke parole.

On the other hand, the opening lines of Longfellow’s narrative poem, Evangeline (1847), have haunted me for all of the last sixty years. For me, there has always been something mystic and unforgettable in “This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,”… And not even the somewhat imprecise, sentimental tale of two separated lovers, in its entirety, supersedes the phrase Longfellow used to open his masterpiece.

When I finally discovered “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” authored by Dylan Thomas in 1952, it became my favorite. For all time. The poem, written in the extremely difficult villanelle form, was Thomas’ tribute to his dying father. And it seems like a powerful tool for introspect. Even Hollywood has found value in using parts of the poem in various movies.

For aficionados of poetic artistry, however, the most powerful poem I have ever read comes from the 18th Century. It is called The Tyger, published by William Blake in 1794. The heavy beat that resonates throughout this poem literally jumps off the page―whether reading aloud or silent―while making a philosophical journey into the aspects of evil.

Of all the distresses one suffers over a lifetime, nothing was as depressing as watching a misguided populace elect one of the most vile and contemptible human beings on planet Earth to the most powerful office in the world. The support this individual received from haters, racists, and “end justifies the means” hypocrites (otherwise known as Evangelists), was predictable. These people are outliers…human waste entirely unworthy of a second thought. But palpable distress follows the fact that good people―family, friends and neighbors ―were the ones who provided the Pied Piper of filth with his margin of victory.

If Hollywood can use Dylan Thomas’ work in various movies, and make a like-entitled movie out of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, then I see no harm in adapting Blake’s poem into something more suiting to our glorious leader. The poem suits Donald Trump perfectly if the beginning and end are slightly modified. The result follows, with Blake’s magnificent piece of work directly behind.

          The Liar

Liar! Liar! Burning bright,

In the swamplands of the night:

What immortal ear or eye,

Could understand your will to lie?

 

In what distant deeps or skies. 

Burnt the fire of thine eyes? 

On what wings dare he aspire? 

What the hand, dare seize the fire? 

 

And what shoulder, & what art, 

Could twist the sinews of thy heart? 

And when thy heart began to beat, 

What dread hand? & what dread feet? 

 

What the hammer? what the chain, 

In what furnace was thy brain? 

What the anvil? what dread grasp, 

Dare its deadly terrors clasp! 

 

When the stars threw down their spears 

And water’d heaven with their tears: 

Did he smile his work to see? 

Did he who made the Lamb make thee? 

 

Liar! Liar! Burning bright,

In the swamplands of the night:

What immortal ear or eye,

Could understand your will to lie?

The Tyger 

BY WILLIAM BLAKE

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

 

In what distant deeps or skies.

Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand, dare seize the fire?

 

And what shoulder, & what art,

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? & what dread feet?

 

What the hammer? what the chain,

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? what dread grasp,

Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

 

When the stars threw down their spears

And water’d heaven with their tears:

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

 

Tyger Tyger burning bright,

In the forests of the night:

What immortal hand or eye,

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Truman Goodspeed, April 2018

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