Monday, May 02, 2005

Poem of the Week 5/2/2005: Flowers


Some men never think of it.
You did. You'd come along
And say you'd nearly bought me flowers
But something had gone wrong.

The shop was closed. Or you had doubts -
The sort that minds like ours
Dream up incessantly. You thought
I might not want your flowers.

It made me smile and hug you then.
Now I can only smile.
But, look, the flowers you nearly brought
Have lasted all this while.

Wendy Cope 1992

Salutations, Greetings, and a Good Evening to all! I wanted to choose a bit of a lighter poem for this week, as finals are bearing down on me, as I am sure they are on many of you. There are two parts of this poem that I am particularly drawn to, of which the latter is probably more interesting to non lit dorks. But as I am a lit dork I get to go on about the first thing I like! I like that this poem is not only free verse, but that it makes no to-do about its rhetorical devices. The rhyme is simple and straightforward (along/wrong, ours/flowers, smile/while), and appears every other line rather than being a constricting form. It is a casual rhyme, almost incidental. The poem's general tone reflects this easy rhyme; the speaker is telling us an intimate, simple story, so the rhyme relaxes and decides not to be pretentious. Cope includes a decent amount of enjambment (i.e. end stops - when a sentence/
phrase ends where a line ends), but it too is more a nod to syntatic forms rather than a dictating force within the text. It aids the conversational tone by neither droning on nor stopping us suddenly with a flash of insight. Normal people talk with sentences of varying lengths, pauses, and connections, so the poem is consistent with this thought. Furthermore, it softens the poem's tone, somehow makes it gentler, more personal. This is a very private experience this speaker talks of (by the way, we can't presume Cope is the speaker, nor that the speaker is even a woman), so the rhetorical devices sort of tiptoe around within the poem. I didn't even notice the rhyme until at least a third or fourth reading.

At any rate, the tone is really what draws me to this poem. It is neither sentimental nor cloying, neither sad nor angry. We get a clear view of one part of these people; they are worriers, they are scared, but not in the afraid kind of way. Explanation: I had a few hours to kill in an airport leaving for Spring Break, so I was perusing the book shop, just generally picking over the airport clutter, thinking maybe I would find something. I came across a book by one of my favorite authors, Toni Morrison. She'd written simple stories for series of pictures she found from the social movements of the 1960s. The one that struck me most was a story of a young african american man about to boycott his job (I think it was that; it was in any case some risk he was taking). I distinctly remember the picture: it was of this eighteen year old boy sitting on a train, looking out the window as the landscape flicked by. His face was thoughtful. The line here read, "I am scared but not afraid." I thought about this for a long time, both on the plane and since. I think what she means to say is that "scared" is an emotion, a feeling, something real, yes, but it is not the same kind of affliction as is "afraid." "Scared" implies a more vulnerable spot, one in which deep seeded fears come out and can be overcome. At the same time, though, scared has a note of courage in it, while afraid is simply a condition, a way of life. I feel scared a lot, and I think that a lot of people do, but the trick is not being afraid. That's where the poem won me over. These are real people, sensitive, with fears and complicated explanations and emotions for even a small action.

Then, too, the narrator is still balanced and insightful - the lover is gone, yes, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. It is not a terrible betrayal, a monumental loss. Cope includes his absence as a fact, but not a dramatic one. She gives us a little physical space to reflect as the line ends (line 10), and then smoothly changes the subject to her real point; emotional deeds last longer than physical gestures. What matters is not the paltry proclamations of love we are supposed to recieve in a relationship, but just that the descision matters enough to think about, to worry about, to express. It questions the relevance of the physical world; actually, "questions" may be too forceful a word for this poem. It wonders about the tangible perhaps, but does not assert itself in the face of greater questions. Sometimes I wonder if we forget that the things worth writing poems about aren't always deep philosphical, theological, sociological, politcal, global things. Sometimes an action is worth a thousand words, or even just a non-action.

So there you go! I walked into this PotW thinking it was going to be short and sweet, and look how that turned out. I feel good writing this, better than I have in a while, actually. The culmination of the last couple days. If the nature of this reading does verge (and indeed cross into) the personal, that is simply because poetry is necessarily a personal experience. I hope that you all are able to connect with at least one of the poems I have sent out, or that you will be able to connect with one I will send out, because that just makes everything better (at least that's what I think). And how wonderful is it that twelve little lines managed to create so much more? Oh man, that's one of the things that really gets me going about poetry. In case you didn't notice. At any rate, Tara just mentioned that she likes a word, and I want to include it here not because it's directly relevant to this close read, but because it is very nice, and this poem was very nice, and you all are very nice. Kumquat. Have a good night!


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