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  #1  
Unread 05-29-2022, 01:58 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Default Nocturne for Portugal

Version III: Nocturne for Portugal
Lisbon

All Portugal is sleeping. Half past three:
it is so early that the sun is yet
inside the wolf that swallows it. We are
five floors above the quiet streets – from here,
I look as from a crow’s nest. There is land

on every side. In the thick black of night,
the stars are making iron, and the sun
sweeps all the planets on their merry round
as if we were Chaldeans. On the hill,
the castle lifts its parapets, and down

where mortal life goes on, some soul has turned
light onto our geometry: a door,
a red-tiled rooftop. High above the town,
there’s a lit window in a darkened wall –
might that be a companion? Could it be

some quick mind writing Portuguese, as all
the city sleeps? Is that the midnight oil
of solitary labor, or a soul
that struggles with the angels at this hour –
sleepless, in pain, or dying? I can’t tell.

Along the ragged coast, the fishermen
who work before the dawn now head to sea.
In field and orchard, the day laborers
wake as a hand is passed across the stars.
The town’s pulse quickens. Now, the rushing waves

have caught the painted fishing boats: out here
where threshing-floors meet cisterns, you may find
day early breaks the vast machine of night.
That lamp yet burns below the roof. The castle
yet looms as if it watched us from that height.




Version II: Nocturne for Portugal
Lisbon

All Portugal is sleeping. Half past three:
it is so early that the sun is yet
inside the wolf that swallows it. We are
five floors above the quiet streets – from here,
I look as from a crow’s nest. There is land

on every side. In the thick black of night,
the stars are making iron, and the sun
sweeps all the planets on their merry round
as if we were Chaldeans. On the hill,
the castle lifts its parapets, and down

where mortal life goes on, some soul has turned
light onto our geometry: a door,
a red-tiled rooftop. High above the town,
there’s a lit window in a darkened wall –
might I have a companion? Could it be

some still mind writing Portuguese, as all
the city sleeps? Is that the midnight oil
of solitary labor, or a soul
that struggles with the angels at this hour –
sleepless, in pain, or dying? All along

this ragged coast, the fishermen who wake
before the dawn will haul their boats to sea,
nets neatly folded. And the laborers
in field and orchard will awaken, and
the city’s pulse will quicken as a hand

is passed across the stars. The rushing waves
now catch the painted fishing boats: out here
where threshing-floors meet cisterns, you may find
the day starts early. Every soul that sleeps
must one day waken. Dawn must break. The whole

machine of night will end and from their dreams,
the sleepers will arise. That light yet burns
below the roof, near where the castle looms
as if it stood in air. Four thirty: all
my labor ends. The city slumbers on.




Version I: Nocturne for Portugal
Lisbon


All Portugal is sleeping. Half past three:
it is so early that the sun is yet
inside the wolf that swallows it. I am
sat at the window. We are five floors up
above the quiet streets, and from this perch

I look as from a crow’s nest. There is land
on every side, though ocean is at hand
a few miles down the Tejo. In the rich
and inspissated black of night, the stars
are making iron now, and Jupiter

leads all the planets on their merry round
as if we were Chaldeans. On the hill,
the castle lifts its parapets, and down
where mortal life goes on, some soul has turned
light onto our geometry: a door,

a red-tiled rooftop. High within the town,
there’s a lit window in a darkened wall –
might I have a companion? Could it be
some bright mind writing Portuguese, as all
the city sleeps? Is that the midnight oil

of solitary labor, or a soul
that struggles with the angels at this hour –
sleepless, in pain, or dying? All I know
is that small light: there’s not a sound. And here,
another window lit. It’s almost four.

Along the coast, the fishermen will wake
before the dawn to haul their boats to sea,
nets neatly folded. And the laborers
in field and orchard will awaken, and
the city’s pulse will quicken as a hand

is passed across the stars. Already noise
says trucks have started moving here: below,
an aural blanket hums up from the street
to say dawn’s just three hours away. The waves
have caught the painted fishing boats. One time,

the French had entered Portugal and down
along the Algarve coast, the villagers
freed their small town. Then, they sailed to Brazil
across the trackless ocean with the news
their village was not conquered. And the king

received them, in his land where day was night.
They took their nets, I’d think. And on the deep
Atlantic, which does not recall the keel
of fishing boat or caravel, they tacked
forever westward. Thus, the Portuguese

look west from their peninsula, though dawn
comes from the East. Here where cork leaves the trees
and threshing-floors meet cisterns, you may find
the day starts early. Every soul that sleeps
must one day waken. Dawn must break. The whole

machine of night will end and from their dreams,
the sleepers will arise. The light yet burns
in that high window where the castle looms
as if it stood in air. Four thirty: all
my labor ends. The city slumbers on.


Edits: S3L1 above > within

Last edited by John Isbell; 07-01-2022 at 12:42 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 05-29-2022, 04:32 PM
Allen Tice's Avatar
Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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Quote:
In the rich
and inspissated black of night, the stars
are making iron now, and Jupiter

leads all the planets on their merry round
as if we were Chaldeans.
Three things about this sentence. “Inspissated” is a $99 word that does nothing, nothing at all, to please me. Must I think of urine? Are we to stagger backward in awe of “Vocabulary Joe” who knows such a gosh-awful word that means — what does it mean — aha, thickened by drying? that is “low humidity”. Arrgh. Really!

“The stars are making iron now” — oooh that is a phrase I grasp more instantly than I want to say, and while I love it like a big chocolate frozen yogurt dessert and might use it on tiptoe, I know that it could seem pretentious to many and it would garner wuthering scorn from the caldera that is the Bronx. Nonetheless, it is wonderful, wonderful as a Bach variation played by E. Power Biggs up close and in my face. Gee, I’m jealous. I offer to buy it from you like the Marquis de l'Hôpital bought math from a Bernoulli. Or maybe I will just “steal” it — Not Really, I do Not Steal. I praise. They’ll figure that out. An homage of the best sort. Makes my teeth itch. Oooh, I love it. Gawd almaty.

Jupiter leading all the planets is great poetry and very very bad astonomy. I like it also. Jupiter is brightly up in the sky, and John Isbell sees it. It also sees John Isbell, doncha think—be careful.

Then we find “some bright mind”. Thud. Implied self praise. Inspissated at least. Revise that.
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  #3  
Unread 05-29-2022, 06:16 PM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is offline
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John, the line I’d like to steal is this: “Is that the midnight oil / of solitary labor, or a soul / that struggles with the angels at this hour …” Beautiful. And I love the sense of sharing the night with a secret companion; it’s familiar to me. I did wonder, though, whether it was necessary to say that night must end and sleepers must awaken.

A question: the poet sees a light in a high window and a light “down where mortal lives go on”—two lights?

Have to agree about “inspissated.” I’m lazier than Allen and wouldn’t have gone to the trouble even of looking it up. If I haven’t seen a word until now, what are the odds I’ll ever see it again?

Another question: what is this poem doing in the deep end? It certainly isn’t shallow, but it reads like good iambic pentameter to me.

Carl
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Unread 05-29-2022, 06:20 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Allen,

I take it you don't like the word inspissated. OTOH, it looks like you may have looked it up, in which case I've added to your vocabulary. If so, you are most welcome! I still quite like the word there - it's a thick black night, with a single window lit - and will I think keep it for now.

It looks however, as far as i can tell, as if you like the stars making iron. Glad to hear it! You are of course welcome to make use of this image any time you like, it's a simple statement of one thing stars do, naturally, and more power to them. It's not proprietary.

The sun leads the planets on their merry round, but I think, as you suggest, that there's room in a nocturne for Portugal to have Jupiter as the largest of the planets leading the rest. I'll have a think about that one, since I don't generally like bad science in art.

I guess bright mind is implied self praise. i hadn't seen it that way. Bright also suggests the light's on, which of course was the case.

So, on inspissated, I am agnostic, but I like it. Thanks for making me think about that, and about the planet Jupiter. I'm glad you like the iron-making stars, if indeed you do. Good nudges.

Cheers,
John
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Unread 05-29-2022, 06:30 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Carl,

We cross-posted! So, I at least feel the Deep End should not just sit there and do nothing like tonsils or an appendix. It was time to put it to work, so I thought I'd do so. I don't think the forum requires metrical complexity, just a poem that's been worked over until it's reasonably polished and an author and critics prepared for serious criticism. Good question that I'm happy to address.

Glad you like that line with oil and angels! I hope people can find lines they like in here, as you both have. As to the ending, it's where the night of course ends up: I quite like the way the poem tracks itself, over the hour or so of its composition, but maybe I can track that with a different ending.

Yes, I think my lights are confusing. So: the light was in a high window on somewhat higher ground than me - but a long way below the stars and planets, and below the castle on the hill. I'm going to look for a way to clear that up. Thanks!

Sorry people don't seem to like inspissated. I'm pretty sure I took it from Milton, FWIW, so that's where you'd see it if so.

And yes, this is IP as you note.

Update: I've changed above to within the town in S3, it may be clearer.

Update II: it looks like my inspissated is from Dr. Johnson, not Milton, FWIW - "In the description of night in Macbeth, the beetle and the bat detract from the general idea of darkness - inspissated gloom."

Cheers,
John

Last edited by John Isbell; 05-29-2022 at 06:53 PM. Reason: update
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Unread 05-29-2022, 11:01 PM
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Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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I say what I mean and mean what I say, though there is an evasion to deflect the innocent prince of the Bronx. “The whole / machine of night” phrase that follows an allusive suggestion of a major reawakening is another bon mot that is so “cool” it feels “warm”. That allusive suggestion is a nice intro, which, if it is more than poetry, is truly cheering.

However, the poem needs some shortening; it meanders. Ten to twenty percent can go.

\\
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Unread 05-29-2022, 11:25 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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John, I'll try to come back to this. There is much to like and I am currently, among other enthusiasms--a man my age having enthusiasms isn't respectable--dealing with a my fascination with Pessoa. Naturally, my ears perked up when a poem is about his city.

However, I have to say that although this is well-done it goes on and on until it reminded me of the first five-ten pages of a Balzac novel, particularly the first in a set. I mean, what size shoes was the narrator wearing? Are his bowels regular? I'm being a smart-ass but only to make a point. Allen says 20-30 percent could go. I say 60-70. But maybe the drifting is part of the structure. How would I react to Proust if he appeared today? But, unless you have something such as that in mind, you need to pull out the pruning shears.
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Unread 05-29-2022, 11:41 PM
Michael Cantor Michael Cantor is offline
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Bad news, John - I'm pretty much in accord with Allen, particularly as regards inspissated - it stands up in the middle of a mostly mundane poem and cries Look at me - aren't I well read. Ditch it!

Beyond that, the poem reads like a hasty first draft. By the time I got through I am sat at the window in S1, and ocean is at hand in S2 I was convinced of that. Based on your comments, my guess is that you worked on it Sunday morning, your time, did a first draft more or less commensurate with the time span in the poem (you were awake with jet lag), played with it a bit, and posted about 6AM today your time. If I'm wrong (I'm never wrong, of course, but sometimes I pretend I am for the sake of world harmony), and this is one you've had kicking around forever, so be it - but it still sounds like a first draft that needs a lot more work.

And I also agree with Allen about the length. For starters, cut stanzas 8, 9 and 10 - they don't belong in this poem, and they sound particularly hurried.

Last edited by Michael Cantor; 05-29-2022 at 11:51 PM.
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Unread 05-30-2022, 02:00 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Allen, John, Michael,

And thank you for stopping by. Sorry about the delay in responding - we've been out.

Allen: I breathe when I sleep and I sleep when I breathe. Glad you continue to like bits of this. You are in good company in suggesting the poem is overlong - I'll work at that.
John: I say there's nothing wrong with enthusiasms, and one for Fernando Pessoa seems perfectly reasonable. I have another poem in this series in which Pessoa features, in fact. Anyhow. Yes, you, Allen, and Michael all feel this is was too long, though I think you expressed it most poetically. Balzac does ramble, Proust even more so, and while that's my style in poetry - to meander - there's no need for two pages when one will do. I like Michael's proposed cut and will certainly work along those lines.
Michael: Dr. Johnson also once advised a young author, "Read through what you've written and whenever you come to a passage you think is particularly fine, strike it out." Now I like the word inspissated, and Johnson used it precisely of darkness, but that doesn't mean it needs to be in my poem. I'll think about those syllables. BTW I *am* well-read. I don't think I've felt the need to prove it in some decades.
I wrote this poem in fact in October 2021, and it's been edited several times since then. I think one reason I take the pruning shears to my poems so readily in workshopping is my reluctance to do so on my own - I tinker at the edges, since I like to meander to begin with. Anyhow, yes, I would not post a poem to TDE that I'd written the day before, this is several months old by now. As you say, it may still sound like a first draft to readers, and I could usefully focus on that.
I agree about my Brazil stanzas, though I regret it: I like opening out onto both Portuguese seafaring and its vanished empire, and certainly I like the outward sweep onto Portugal with its threshing-floors and cisterns. So I might begin with 8-9 and see about 10. That would be a substantial cut and quite welcome, i dare say.

Thank you all, you nudged me very usefully here, I think.

Cheers,
John

Last edited by John Isbell; 05-30-2022 at 02:00 AM. Reason: bold
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Unread 05-30-2022, 02:30 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi folks,

Edit posted. It's now a page long, or about four stanzas shorter. I also removed inspissated from the mix, though the Chaldeans are still there.

Thank you all for your help.

Cheers,
John
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