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Archive for the ‘Poems about Water’ Category

SS Edmund Fitzgerald underway, photo by Winston Brown

Perhaps the oldest form of poetry in most languages, the art of story-telling in rhyme and meter, has staying power like little else in literary history.  Recording historical events, myths, and everyday happenings—comic, tragic, or somewhere in between—the ballad has traditionally been sung and accompanied by (frequently a stringed) musical instrument.  Yet many unforgettable tales in rhyme and meter stand sufficiently alone on paper, begging to be read aloud.

My English literature background is rich with balladry beginning with that bloody saga of Good vs. Evil, Beowulf.  In the 1990s, when we lived in a home with a vaulted wood paneled ceiling we hung the heads of a Javelina pig and a pronghorn antelope—both hunted, bagged, and bequeathed to me by my father.  As I viewed the mounted heads, I experienced a wash of Beowulf Medieval atmosphere; I just had to get out an old textbook and read parts of that gory drama in the ancestral hall.

Whereas some of the characters in the ballad had grown fuzzy or obscure in my head over decades, the mood and setting were indelible.  Mood and atmosphere are created by music, with or without words.

English literature is replete with balladry.  Some beloveds probably known to most aficionados of poetry are Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci and Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman.  Add The Rime of he Ancient Mariner, by Coleridge and haunting works by America’s own Edgar Allan Poe (examples: Annabel Lee and The Raven) and you have a start toward Balladry 101.  The canon is endless.

The tradition of story-telling via ballads set to music was big in the 1960s, with the popularity of folk music and wrung-out war-protests.  This music continued into the 1970s.  But since then, except in isolated parts of the country where (happily) folk music is inherent to the local culture, the ballad seems to have dropped through the floor—as if someone played a foul trick by suddenly opening up a hidden trapdoor on the floor of a stage, and absconding with a lot of life-quality in the process.

Now fakey-flashing lights, screaming, throbbing, gyrating about in indecent attire, and the glorifying of oblivion—all personified by The Coarse and Obnoxious (as well as The Just Plain Weird!) have supplanted the age-old entertainment mode of telling and re-telling the human story, both epic and everyday, in a format that implants one’s heart and mind forever.  As a society, we have lost the power of the ballad—and the loss is tragic beyond definition!

The stage lights went out and the metaphorical trapdoor opened up shortly after the immense popularity of what I believe to be one of the most significant ballads in contemporary times:  The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordon Lightfoot—a multi-gifted composer and troubadour.  With the obvious exception of fictional last minute commentary on the ship, Lightfoot documented the tragedy with careful selection of factual information.

The ballad triggered an inquisitive spirit in me, and in recent years I’ve read everything I could get my hands on concerning the Fitzgerald (pictured above in all its original glory.)  As far as I know, there is still a question:  Did the ship hit an uncharted shoal which jarred the hatches loose, or had they been improperly secured?  God knows.

Shipwrecks are among history’s most horrific events.  I have a penchant for reading about peril on high water, and oddly enough I don’t even like to be tossed about on a small inland lake in a sailboat.

Yes, I do swim and I love water.  Canoes and rowboats are wonderful!  Motors are okay, too.  But flailing in the wind?  No thank you—only in a book.  I have read about many ship disasters, including the Titanic which was massive in scope and devastation compared to the Fitz.  So why is the Edmund Fitzgerald foremost in my head?

Maybe because it happened in my recent lifetime, and less than three hundred miles from home.  Or even more likely, because Gordon Lightfoot wrote and performed an unforgettable song about the Fitz.  It’s all about The Power of the Ballad.

Margaret L. Been — April 23, 2016

Note:  Over decades of serious application to the art of poetry I have written many lyrical, philosophy-of-life pieces.  Ten years ago I decided to try writing a ballad, and I did exactly that.

The ballad is titled:  The Summer of Horses, and it is kind of a metaphorical-epiphany thing.  I was pleased with the effort, and the ballad won 1st Honorable Mention in the 2006 Wisconsin Writers’ Association Annual Jade Ring Contest.

God willing, and the creeks don’t rise, AND providing the days do not suddenly go berserk and hit 70-80° F., I will post The Summer of Horses on this site before National Poetry Month morphs into the Merry Month of May.

But please don’t hold your breath!  🙂

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Winter Breakup.jpg 2  “To think to know the country and not know

    The hillside on the day the sun lets go 

    Ten thousand lizards out of snow!”  Robert Frost, A Hillside Thaw

Although I admit to sometimes dreaming about warm, sunny places during our long Northern winters, I would not chose to trade my home locale with anyone—anywhere, anytime (except for an occasional week or two in New Mexico).

I truly wonder if friends who live in warm places ever experience springtime euphoria—that crazy, headlong, potentially mindless and blithery joy known as SPRING FEVER, when poetry floods one’s soul!  Perhaps that euphoria is common in four season climates around the world.  Certainly in the USA, where April has been designated as NATIONAL POETRY MONTH!

Anticipating April, while loving every remaining moment of tumultuous Wisconsin March, here are some snatches of poems from kindred souls—in addition to the above lines from one of my most beloved kindred spirit poets, Robert Frost.  Also I’ll plug in some of my watercolor renderings.  The marriage of a poem and a painting is called Ekphrasis.

—————————————————————————————————

“The Skies can’t keep their secret!

They tell it to the Hills –

The hills just tell the Orchards –

And they – the Daffodils!”  Emily Dickinson, #191

Traces 2

“I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore . . . .” 

William Butler Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innesfree

Homeward Bound--1

“Now as I was young and easy under the apple bough

About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green . . . .”

Dylan Thomas, Fern Hill

. . . the dawn's early light

“O April, full of breath, have pity on us!

Pale where the winter like a stone has been lifted away, we

        emerge like yellow grass.

Be for a moment quiet, buffet us not, have pity on us,

Till the green come back into the vein, till the giddiness pass.” 

Edna St. Vincent Millay, Northern April

From Seed

These are only a whisper of the many poems and poets whom I read again and again—immersed in the introspections, nuances, innuendoes, and life metaphors gleaned from a sensitivity to the turning of the year.  I believe that sensitivity is shared by most poetic four-season souls!

Margaret L. Been, Spring 2015

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 “Sea Fever” by MLB– watercolor on Yupo paper ↑

Since it is National Poetry Month, I’m including some poems on this home page, as well as in the “Ekphrasis” section.  Especially when the wind howls (as it does most of the time around our home), poems rock in my head—other poets’ verses, that I’ve learned and loved from childhood right up to this day, and sometimes new or older poems that I’ve written.

Lately, John Masefield’s Sea Fever has been rolling in my head.  I don’t really want to be on the high seas with the wheel kicking and the sail shaking.  Although thoroughly at home in a canoe on inland rivers and lakes, I’m a bit of a chicken when it comes to rough big water!  But I LOVE to read about oceans and ships!

Above you will find the painting that flowed from my brush in response to Sea Fever, by John Masefieldfeatured below. ↓

Sea Fever

I must down to the seas again to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a gray mist on the sea’s face and a gray dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

John Masefield

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