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  #1  
Unread 04-16-2019, 02:15 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Default Nimbus

Nimbus: Version II

Holy Week, 2019

My mind’s oppressed by sleep. Now is the time
to stand in some cathedral – York, or Reims –
and contemplate the way the pillared light
lifts up the eye to where the vaulting leaps
across what could be Heaven. I do not
much mind where this might be. To feel the cool
breath of the stone! To hear that chambered hush!

With ropes and pulleys, Euclid, and a faith
that moves a mountain, men raised these abodes
on
Europe's fields. It may be that the Lord
once came past the clerestory to the Host
as it was eaten, and each quiet mouth
was filled with holiness. I am a man
in search of the divine, and I’ve not seen

its nimbus in this cloistered air, for all
my gazing. But it may be that my eyes
will open at the last, as dawn emerges,

to angels in the vaulting. It may be
some god will touch my soul. And when the day
comes calling, light will quicken the rose window;
the stone will stir to life inside the nave.

Cut: or Chartres, Palma, Lincoln, York, Milan
nave; or, where the transept / breaks space in two, the choir.
above the chapels and the congregants
We all are fragile, that’s a fact. And yet,
In the years / of their completion,
a mountain won’t deny, we built this stone / abode for God in fifty different versions, across
the weight / of sleep upon my eyelids as the dawn / prepares to rise will open them at last –
troubled
I’ll step on sacred ground.
set bare feet ... A man / can’t plan for every outcome.


Nimbus: Version I

My mind’s oppressed by sleep. Now is the time
to stand in some cathedral – maybe Reims,
or Chartres, or Palma, or York, or Milan –
and contemplate the nave; or, where the transept
breaks space in two, the choir. The pillared light
lifts up the eye to where the vaulting leaps
above the chapels and the congregants
across what could be Heaven. I do not
much mind which church it is. To feel the cool
breath of the stone! To hear that chambered hush!

We all are fragile creatures. Yet with our
two hands, we’ve built this residence for God,
in fifty different versions, in the towns
and villages of Europe. In the years
of their completion, it may be the Lord
came down past the clerestory to the Host
as it was eaten, and each quiet mouth
was filled with holiness. I am a man
in search of the divine, and I’ve not seen

its nimbus in this cloistered air, for all
my gazing. But it may be that the weight
of sleep upon my eyelids as the dawn
prepares to rise will open them, and in
the vaulting will be angels. It may be
the Lord Himself will touch my spirit, as
I set bare feet on sacred ground. You can’t
determine every outcome. When the day
comes calling, then the bare stone stirs to life
inside the nave. The light hits the rose window.

Last edited by John Isbell; 04-20-2019 at 08:22 AM.
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  #2  
Unread 04-16-2019, 08:45 AM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
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Hello, John,

though I am generally not a fan of epigraphs, I think you should add one here. Something like: "On 4/15/2019, the day Notre Dame burned."

Is there some particular reason why the first and last stanzas have ten lines and the middle only nine?

I love "breath of the stone" and "chambered hush."

A common criticism of your work here is that the enjambments seem to fall haphazardly. In a poem, I want to get a little electric charge at every line-ending. I sometimes don't get it here.

The first two stanzas are pretty good in this regard ("our" is the exception), but the final stanza feels less polished than the rest, mostly because of the enjambments ("in," "as," "can't.")

Best,

Aaron
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  #3  
Unread 04-16-2019, 08:48 AM
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Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
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There are things I like about this, John, and things I don't. Things I like: its relaxed pace, its easy beauty (not too flat), the recurring uncertainty, some of the imagery. There's a lot of material for a strong poem here.

Things I don't like:

– enjambments on weak words (S2L1, S3L4, S3L6), and more generally on arbitrary words (compare where the line breaks fall in S1, which you handle nicely, to S3, where it feels like next to no attention was given to where each line ends)
– I don't understand why this poem opens "My mind's oppressed by sleep." The poem ends with daybreak, so the poem is placed at nighttime, I get that, but the N seems very much awake, not asleep. In what sense does sleep oppress him?
– the last three sentences of S1, the first of which is redundant with the 4-5 lines above it, the rest of which are unearned clichés.
– "In the years / of their completion" -- if I take this seriously, this means that you think that God only came down to these churches for communion in the specific years they were completed, and never again after. I doubt that's what you mean.
– The ending brings to light what seems to me an issue with the basic conceit of the poem. We've got the N "oppressed by sleep" at the start; we end with the church (whichever church) stirring awake at the end. Potentially a nice touch. But is the church itself also "oppressed by sleep"? That would make its rousing resonant. But then why, in S1, do you say that "now is the time / to stand in some cathedral"? Why stand inside it when it's oppressed by sleep? Shouldn't you go when it comes to life? I feel like you haven't fully thought this through.


Stray notes:

Cut all but the first "or" in S1L3. (With or without the "or"s, this line is tetrameter.)

All your en-dashes should be em-dashes.

The last line is hexameter. Frankly, the ending is out of order: the light hits the rose window first, then the bare stone stirs to life. And "The bare stone stirs to life inside the nave", aside from being IP, is a much stronger ending. Find a way to reverse those two images.

Last edited by Aaron Novick; 04-16-2019 at 05:10 PM. Reason: typo
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  #4  
Unread 04-16-2019, 05:00 PM
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Daniel Recktenwald Daniel Recktenwald is offline
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Hey, John.

Thanks so much for posting this poem.

The two Aarons have covered all I would have said, and more. I, too was curious about the 10-9-10 line count. It's such a perfect trinity, otherwise!

Aaron N.'s commentary helped me, as a reader, to get at what struck me as hinky and why. And his sharp focus, the direction he's pointing you in, conjured this image for me: as the Earth turns back to the sun at dawn, it is itself like a blue eye opening-- the darkness is its lid drawing back/up. So many cathedrals, dotting the planet's surface, the line where Dawn/Night meet rushing over them at 1,000 mph, like an advancing wave.

About L.1: I took it as the N is suffering from insomnia. Sleep (and the divine) oppress him by their absence?

Many memories-- and much of my heart-- are all rooting for this poem, as it brought back to me many cathedral visits-- especially Cologne. I'm right on the edge of re-experiencing that great effect you achieved in your "English Ladymass."

(Excuse me-- I have to go stuff his gag back in. [footsteps, door opens] "It's not "god!" There IS no "divine!" It's art! Get away from me-- Give people all the cred-- mmmmm!! mmmggnnnggg!")

I'll follow the thread eagerly. The most valuable thing I have to say: heed Aaron and Aaron.

Warm regards,
Daniel
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  #5  
Unread 04-16-2019, 06:23 PM
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R. S. Gwynn R. S. Gwynn is offline
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An appropriate poem at this time, but it's somewhat overwhelmed by its own sensuality--bells and smells, if you will. After Larkin, does much remain to be said about the physicality of any church, even the most grand of them? Still, Larkin's "so many dead lie round" was a literal statement.
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  #6  
Unread 04-17-2019, 04:06 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Hi Aaron, Aaron, Daniel, Sam,

Revision posted. I think I've addressed most of your concerns. Glad you all liked the general thrust of the poem.
Aaron P: I've got three ten-line stanzas now, and the enjambments you and Aaron N indicated have all been reworked. I added an epigraph. I split the difference and kept the two bits you liked and Aaron N didn't.
Aaron N: the enjambments you rightly indicate are all reworked. I take it that the N has been up all night, sleepless, and at dawn, is contemplating the great cathedrals dawn is greeting. What would a visit mean to him? At that liminal time, maybe he would see the divine that escapes him. Oh and yes, i did mean that maybe the Lord descended into the Host in the High Middle Ages and now no longer does so, at least for this jaded narrator. The dashes are there in my Word document.
Daniel: glad you liked the idea. I've addressed the two Aarons' major concerns. Yes, Cologne is lovely. I spent a year just down the road from there, long ago. Cathedrals do dot the Earth. My N sees the beauty; he's hoping to see a certain glory there as well. As i note above, he's likely been up all night.
Sam: I don't remember the Larkin you refer to. I don't think my poem is particularly bells and smellsy - the cathedrals are stone and light here, the office is limited to a mention of the Host in the High Middle Ages. I'm not sure what a Calvinist would object to. But the bigger point is that I think there is room for two poems about cathedrals.

Thank you all for your visits,
John
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  #7  
Unread 04-17-2019, 06:03 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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https://owlcation.com/humanities/Ana...-Philip-Larkin

(New link)
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  #8  
Unread 04-17-2019, 06:35 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Thanks Mark. The page said the poem couldn't be displayed for copyright reasons, but its title let me look the thing up in my Collected Larkin (a slim volume).
What a very English poem! I think mine is less English than that. Mine lacks Larkin's elegance, as is only to be expected, but is perhaps a whiff less jaded in its point of view. I still maintain there's room for both (and others).

Cheers,
John
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Unread 04-17-2019, 11:31 AM
Erik Olson Erik Olson is offline
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John,

There is a lot here I commend, but a lot that I would suggest omitting also. I hope you will not mind this rough illustration of my gist:
I stand to contemplate the pillared light
lifting the eye where arches soar across,
the cool breath of the stone, the chambered hush.
Forgive this rushed stab at it for illustrative purposes. As it is, I fear the poem is overcharged with saying more than what is strictly necessary at every turn, whether it be to include some detail with the transept or the sixth city name. In a word, rather essentialize than embroider with prosaic prolixity. For what it might be worth.
My mind’s oppressed by sleep. Now is the time
to stand in some cathedral – maybe Reims,
or Chartres, Palma, Lincoln, York, Milan –
and contemplate the nave; or, where the transept
breaks space in two, the choir. The pillared light
lifts up the eye to where the vaulting leaps
above the chapels and the congregants
across what could be Heaven. I do not
much mind where this might be. To feel the cool
breath of the stone! To hear that chambered hush!
In any case, it is the time for that; yes, as Sam said, this is well-timed.
I hope this helps. More later.

Best,

Erik

Last edited by Erik Olson; 04-17-2019 at 01:08 PM.
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  #10  
Unread 04-17-2019, 02:38 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Good afternoon Erik,

And thank you for your close reading. I've taken your suggestion and cut - the cities line you note in S!, and an equivalent line in each of S2 and S3. I want to keep parity between stanzas, and 3 x 9 has a neat numerological symmetry. Maybe time will reduce it to 3 x 7, but I'm not there yet.
Thanks also for picking up on Sam's remark about the piece's timeliness. I agree.

Cheers,
John

Update: I've just cut three more lines, to 3 x 8 lines now.
Update II: three more lines cut. I think I'll stop at 3 x 7. New title also.

Last edited by John Isbell; 04-17-2019 at 03:38 PM.
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