Thursday, December 22, 2005

Lyric Flights and Pretentious Nonsense

I’ve always found it hard to write abstract philosophical or metaphysical poetry and make it convincing, let alone breathtaking. Often it’s hard to stop it falling on the wrong side of the line that separates a flight of lyricism from pretentious nonsense. Other poets don’t seem to have the difficulty. Wallace Stevens, for example:

She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

(from The Idea of Order at Key West, Selected Poems, Faber 1965)

or Don Paterson, who neatly shifts from abstract meditation into something far more earthy, so making the abstract bit work well:

In the meantime there is just this, which will do:
the qualified bliss of your once-more deferred
enlightenment, the plagal and imperfect cadences,
all those blessed suspensions of faith, as you lie
in the strong and small arms of your good and kind sister
with nothing much better or worse to look forward to
than your coffee, the paper, the dog on the bed.

(from The Alexandrian Library, part iii – Landing Light, Faber 2003)

I’ve been writing another sestina, the Metaphysical Sestina I posted the first stanza of a couple of months ago. It’s been hard going, and it’s full of passages like this (to be honest, this is probably the best bit):

…The plastic halo
he casts off, like a Frisbee, sends its soul
shooting back, a boomerang the earth
lifts and turns until the metaphysics
sings the path it takes. It’s not a trade
of plastic for angelic. More that heaven

floats the ground of being. More that heaven
forms the hole in all there is.

I want to be ambitious and challenge myself to write stuff I may not be capable of writing. As long as I end up writing it in spite of myself. But this one might defeat me.

No comments: