Monday, January 24, 2005

Poem of the Week 1/24/2005: Caedmon


All others talked as if
talk were a dance.
Clodhopper I, with clumsy feet
would break the gliding ring.
Early I learned to
hunch myself
close by the door:
then when the talk began
I'd wipe my
mouth and wend
unnoticed back to the barn
to be with the warm beasts,
dumb among body sounds
of the simple ones.
I'd see by a twist
of lit rush the motes
of gold moving
from shadow to shadow
slow in the wake
of deep untroubled sighs.
The cows
munched or stirred or were still. I
was at home and lonely,
both in good measure. Until
the sudden angel affrighted me -- light effacing
my feeble beam,
a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying:
but the cows as before
were calm, and nothing was burning,
nothing but I, as that hand of fire
touched my lips and scorched my tongue
and pulled my voice
into the ring of the dance.

Denise Levertov

hello Everybody! Okay, to start, I have to say that this is one of my favorite poems. As for some background - Caedmon was the first English pastoral poet. My Norton Anthology of Poetry tells me that "Caedmon, an illiterate herdsman...miraculously recieved the gift of religious song.... At feasts where the farmhands took turns singing and playing the harp, Caedmon would withdraw to his bed in the stable whenever the harp was passed his way. One night a man appeared to him in a dream and commanded, 'Caedmon, sing me something.' When Caedmon protested that he didn't know how to sing, the man insisted and told him to sing about the Creation. At this, Caedmon immediately began to sing verses in praise of God the Creator, which he had never heard before [sic]." So that's his story of poetic inspiration.

It's amazing how many stories of poetic beginning I have run into since coming to college; it's not entirely surprising, considering how many poets will write about the birth of poetry, and the development of self within that inspiration. Today in Brit Lit we read Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh, a kunstlerroman, or novel of artistic development. Wordsworth's The Prelude addresses this idea of artistic development, as does Caedmon, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and a slew of other works. It's interesting to look at beginnings, and causality, I guess. It is interesting to me; the idea of interdependency of variables (lifted from Gaddis' The Landscape of History) is crucial in literature - it's one of my favorite things about it, actually: the fact that everything relates to almost anything else, and that a close reading of the text will provide so many different interpretations. And that those contrasting views aren't right or wrong. They simply (or complexly, as it were) are, all at the same time. I am rambling, but it's just because I am excited and invigorated - I just had Brit Lit - my best class by far. So overall I chose this poem (a) because I really like it and (b) because it celebrates poetic expression, beginnings, inspiration, thought and beauty.


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