WickedEye's Quotient

8/17/2008 at 19:39

his most wise music

I’ve been reading poetry for as long as I’ve been reading. Blame my mother—who else would read her kids Tagore and Shelley as a bedtime story? But I didn’t really fall in love with poetry until I was 10.

In fifth grade the words, their pictures, their cadence rose up and overwhelmed me. Mrs. Siebold knew how to read poetry, and she read us Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride”. The words start at a trot, then work up to a canter, and by the last verse they come at a pounding gallop. Read correctly, the words of the poem ring in rhythm with the hooves of Revere’s horse.

So, in both singing and dancing, poetry became part of my love for music. And then it
was music. And then it wasn’t, because music was poetry.

And then everything—sun and sine and stars and spin and silk—was poetry.

We read ee cummings in the seventh grade. The Dominican nuns who ran the school were certainly not going to teach us his erotic poetry; we read “Buffalo Bill’s” and “anyone lived in a pretty how town”, and even in these relatively tame works I was fascinated by the twinned passion and parsimony of cumming’s words, the shocking frameshifts of adjectives and nouns, the processes of heart and mind rendered into bodily sensation by this man who parsed his reality into words so precisely that he refused to capitalize any word that wasn’t of supreme importance.

I didn’t know why I loved it so at the time, of course. But I looked for his poetry in the library and realized that for this man, too, everything was poetry:
sun moon stars rain.

All of cumming’s poetry is worth reading, but his special gift was for lovers’ talk. He didn’t just write love poems; he wrote monologues from, conversations between, lovers. Whether erotic or plaintive or fierce, his love poems have the feel of a tender, brushing touch, of words meant to be spoken against skin.

Only a few poets have ever accomplished that, and among them ee cummings is the best.

The poem below is—as you may have guessed—one of his love poems. And in spite of my attempts to explain my delight in his poetry, that latter denomination is the only true praise I can give it.

In the end, any words of mine are inadequate to capture his.


if i have made, my lady, intricate

if i have made, my lady, intricate
imperfect various things chiefly which wrong
your eyes (frailer than most deep dreams are frail)
songs less firm than your body's whitest song
upon my mind - if i have failed to snare
the glance too shy - if through my singing slips
the very skillful strangeness of your smile
the keen primeval silence of your hair

—let the world say "his most wise music stole
nothing from death"—
you will only create
(who are so perfectly alive) my shame:
lady through whose profound and fragile lips
the sweet small clumsy feet of April came

into the ragged meadow of my soul.

-ee cummings

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