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Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Failed, failed, failed!

Last week I accepted a challenge from Rachel to learn a poem by Monday (yesterday). Until quite recently I was in the habit of learning poems quite regularly, but have been out of the habit for a while, so I chose for my self The Idea of Order at Key West by Wallace Stevens - and failed, I am sorry to say. Monday evening I thought I had earned a B+, but this morning I stumbled on the final verse and earlier missed the line "She measured to the hour its solitude", so a D- is the best I can claim, I think. As for Rachel's suggestion that I might record and post myself reciting it: No chance, none whatsoever. My voice is too awful for that. I have no desire to put good folk off Wallace Stevens. Anyway, here it is:

The Idea of Order at Key West

She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.
The sea was not a mask. No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard,
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
It may be that in all her phrases stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind;
But it was she and not the sea we heard.

For she was the maker of the song she sang.
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew
It was the spirit that we sought and knew
That we should ask this often as she sang.
If it was only the dark voice of the sea
That rose, or even colored by many waves;
If it was only the outer voice of sky
And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled,
However clear, it would have been deep air,
The heaving speech of air, a summer sound
Repeated in a summer without end
And sound alone. But it was more than that,
More even than her voice, and ours, among
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres
Of sky and sea.

It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
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.

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As the night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

26 comments:

Leatherdykeuk said...

What a beautiful poem to choose. I doubt you'll ever forget it again now!

ken armstrong said...

That was a lot of poem to learn Dave. For what it's worth, I recommend you finish the 'learning', you've probably done 95% of the work already and it would be a lovely one to be able to 'say'.

Sorlil said...

oh you failure you! imagine not being able to remember all measly 56 lines, lol!

Rachel Fox said...

Heavens above Dave, this is a monster of a poem to learn! For a start so much of it is so similar (but different...all those sings and songs and seas and selfs) and it is also significantly longer than the ones Sorlil and I chose.You could fit 'Inversnaid' into the first verse of yours.
So no failure whatsoever. I shall consider you henceforth a man of the highest ambitions! And Ken's right - you may as well learn it now...even if it takes till xmas. Deadlines are so twentieth century.
x

Cecile/DreamCreateRepeat said...

What a beautiful (and long, complex) poem. I am quite taken with it and will read it again (and again) no doubt.

I love the sea and I love to walk along it, although I have never sung while walking.

My favorite line is about the fluttering sleeves...

Derrick said...

You certainly are a glutton for punishment, Dave! I would choose a nice short one with lots of rhyming!

lakeviewer said...

I'm thinking why would Dave choose this poem? Why not? It is about a singer, a bar, at Key West. Who wouldn't want to remember that? Key West is a flat strip of land, water on all sides, almost. A bar, a song, a song that puts into deep into thoughts and need for "order words of the sea..and of our origins,"

There is everything in this poem that we may want at night, by the sea, with a drink in our hand, and music in our souls.

Thanks for the trip, Dave.

John Hayes said...

It is a wonderful poem, tho not the easiest you could have picked to memorize, I think. For what it's worth (in my opinion, based on recordings I've heard), Wallace Stevens wasn't a particularly great reader of his own work-- he read in a bit of a monotone.

Dave King said...

LeatherdykeukIt has long been one of my favourite poems, so I was already familiar with it, which is probably a slight cheat.

kenI do intend to brush it up a bit. Given time, I can come out with the recalcitrant lines, but I don't count that as knowing it.

Sorlil Exactly!

Rachel I just chose it because I like it a lot, and things are learnt more easily when you like them. Ans as I said to Leatherdykeuk, being familiar with it helps. All the same, I jolly hope it doesn't take 'till Christmas. I'll book my place in the nursing home if it does.

Cecil/DreamCreateRepair I agree, it is a beautiful poem, with a lot of mystery attached to it: who was Ramon Fernandez, for example? Wallace would never say. There was a literary critic of that name - but again, he wouldn't say one way or the other.

Derrick Mmmm maybe I will next time.

Lakeviewer What a tempting picture you do paint!

Dave King said...

JohnI think you are probably right about Stevens's reading, but he didn't have a voice like mine. Even in the primary school I was relegated to the cat's chorus for singing and poetics.

Just Jules said...

I think maybe you wanted to be hard on yourself silly guy - this is a bit of an undertaking isn't it? I would have shot for a 4 liner!

btw - come over to my humble little place and answer the question "I am..." today - or go one step further and enter the contest (see the details at the post) bring your friends with you ;)

Dave King said...

Just JulesNope, it's what a guy will do for love! Shall be over.

Shadow said...

i can see the beauty in the poem most obviously, yet... it's long. very long. to think you have memorised others of this lenght, that's commendable!

Laure Ferlita said...

Failure? No, you just haven't had time to properly succeed!

Thanks for the visit to my blog and the kind comments! Off to explore . . . .

Ronda Laveen said...

It is a stunning work. It was tricky reading let alone memorized speaking. I am impressed with your attempt!

Dave King said...

Shadow As I said above, I was familiar with the poem and it is a poem I very much respond to: both of those helped the memorising process.

Laure Welcome and many thanks for stopping by.

Ronda I agree about it being a stunning work. Apart from its length, I'm not sure that it's particularly difficult to memorise. Thanks for the comment.

Andy Sewina said...

Phew, I find it difficult to remember and recite my own poems these days and they're mostly a lot shorter than this one.

Karen said...

I applaud the effort, Dave! I've always found that picturing the poem helps me remember it, although I'll have to admit, that this one is a bit long for my ambitions.

It's a beautiful poem. Finish it for yourself.

Poetic Artist said...

Dave,
That is a long poem to remember. You should not be so hard on your self.. I give you a A for even trying. LOL.
Yet it is a beautiful poem.
Katelen

Lisa said...

hells bells Dave, that is a hell of a lot of poem to remember- I would be inclined to give you a B for just trying my friend- as always we are our harshest judge x

Cloudia said...

thank you, Dave!
Aloha

A Cuban In London said...

Whether you learnt it by heart or not, that's irrelevant. The poem is a beauty and yes, you should read it :-).

Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Fantastic Forrest said...

Baby steps, Dave. The poem is great, and you shouldn't put down your voice.

I think you need to start by reading a poem for us and posting the clip on youtube. :-)

You can worry about memorization in the future. It's the sharing that counts.


Here's one of my favorite ones. I can't watch it without getting moist eyes.

Adrian LaRoque said...

Nice poem!

Bee said...

That was a very difficult task to set yourself! Perhaps you could have tried some Shel Silverstein (or even Robert Frost) instead.

I am amazed by how quickly my daughters can learn poetry. (They both do Speech and Drama at their schools.) I don't know if that is an individual gift, or just indicative of a less cluttered brain.

Duluk said...

Stevens was good. I've always found him inspiring in a way because he managed to be a significant poet while at the same time working as a lawyer.

And I like that you stepped up to the challenge of learning a big poem. Why not? :) (Of course I've always been bad about memorizing poems...I remember lines but not whole poems)