Who is on the plum tree?
In this week’s In The Sandbox, Dr. Ampat Koshy features the wonderful poetry of Algernon Charles Swinburne for our Plum Tree Books regular feature. Ampat elucidates the importance of rhythm in our rhyme. Great post! Thank you Dr. Koshy for your most instructive post.
In my first sandbox I had spoken of visual imagery. But the real origins of poetry, methinks, are rooted very much in music, rhyme, rhythm, metre, song and sound. While the world goes after the image, I am primarily an oral and auditory poet, meaning that I read poems out aloud to myself in my head and only if they read well do I like them and go on to other things about them. This post is therefore on the power of the auditory in poetry. In my book, I had used the example of “Cynara “ by Earnest Dowson for euphony and Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” for rhyme scheme, but today I would like to use the example of the poet I love most in his mastery of using sounds, namely Algernon Swinburne.
My choice is based on wanting to revive a poem that is being quoted by me out of season, but so beautiful in its mastery of sound that I can’t, just can’t, resist the temptation. I want you all to take time with this post, read it aloud and enjoy it thoroughly. In this context I would also like to encourage you all to read sound poetry, and as for modern day FB precedents, I was enchanted a month or more back by an attempt by Harish Bhatia to write a poem based on a raag and to a much lesser extent by Pushpa Moorjani trying to write a sound poem for the recently conducted April Nanowripo. I will not quote them here but if I get enough comments as to your wanting to read them I could ask them to give me the permission to use them the next time around, maybe.
Sound poetry is of course very different from what I am talking of, but my aim here is to really expand the horizons of those who write poetry with new and/or interesting things they can try out, and my two options today are stanzas that are syllabic and rhythmic and rhyme based or sound based. Please feel bold to experiment as poets and try your hand at these two types of poems.
For simple examples of sound poetry do look up this beautiful article which will then become a lesson within a lesson, after you finish with mine:
A Christmas Carol. (not Dickens’ famous one)
THREE DAMSELS in the queen’s chamber,
The queen’s mouth was most fair;
She spake a word of God’s mother
As the combs went in her hair.
Mary that is of might,
Bring us to thy Son’s sight.
They held the gold combs out from her,
A span’s length off her head;
She sang this song of God’s mother
And of her bearing-bed.
Mary most full of grace,
Bring us to thy Son’s face.
When she sat at Joseph’s hand,
She looked against her side;
And either way from the short silk band
Her girdle was all wried.
Mary that all good may,
Bring us to thy Son’s way.
Mary had three women for her bed,
The twain were maidens clean;
The first of them had white and red,
The third had riven green.
Mary that is so sweet,
Bring us to thy Son’s feet.
She had three women for her hair,
Two were gloved soft and shod;
The third had feet and fingers bare,
She was the likest God.
Mary that wieldeth land,
Bring us to thy Son’s hand.
She had three women for her ease,
The twain were good women:
The first two were the two Maries,
The third was Magdalen.
Mary that perfect is,
Bring us to thy Son’s kiss.
Joseph had three workmen in his stall,
To serve him well upon;
The first of them were Peter and Paul,
The third of them was John.
Mary, God’s handmaiden,
Bring us to thy Son’s ken.
“If your child be none other man’s,
But if it be very mine,
The bedstead shall be gold two spans,
The bedfoot silver fine.”
Mary that made God mirth,
Bring us to thy Son’s birth.
“If the child be some other man’s,
And if it be none of mine,
The manger shall be straw two spans,
Betwixen kine and kine.”
Mary that made sin cease,
Bring us to thy Son’s peace.
Christ was born upon this wise,
It fell on such a night,
Neither with sounds of psalteries,
Nor with fire for light.
Mary that is God’s spouse,
Bring us to thy Son’s house.
The star came out upon the east
With a great sound and sweet:
Kings gave gold to make him feast
And myrrh for him to eat.
Mary, of thy sweet mood,
Bring us to thy Son’s good.
He had two handmaids at his head,
One handmaid at his feet;
The twain of them were fair and red,
The third one was right sweet.
Mary that is most wise,
Bring us to thy Son’s eyes. Amen.
Algernon Charles Swinburne
Even if you are not of a religious bent of mind, are anti-Christian or not a sound enthusiast, Swinburne’s compelling mix of sound and image cannot but enthrall you. Swinburne himself was no believer, by the way, but it did not stop him from using the rich possibilities of myth to write such a lovely poem . My agnostic’s prayer is that all of you try hard to develop such an ear in writing your own poems too. Waiting for the beautiful showers of music that will then emanate from you all, I leave the sandbox for the time being, ending by saying the stanzas here are of six lines each, with a syllabic pattern of 7,6,7,6,5,6 (for my Indian and non- metrical friends to try out), and a rhyme scheme of a,b,a,b,c,c. Have fun trying it out and you’ll be amazed at how good the results may turn out to be.