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Old 11-17-2018, 03:24 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Bruegel

I went last night to see a show.
A small folk group playing mandolin
and guitar backed up by a string orchestra.
A murky crowd stood and swayed,
each resting their head on the other's shoulder.
I was hoping the music would lift me
from the stool and send me packing
back into the winter cold
to wrap arms around me, with the promise
time is a lie and the next time I'll be
a happy peasant in a Bruegel picture.
Maybe the fat man rolling a barrel
through the party of smiling and drinking,
or a matronly woman with hands on her hips
surveying the morals so none will slip
out the door around the corner and into the night
for a moment beneath the erotic oak,
the quick pace of love spoken in Flemish
hanging in the cold by my ear,
each word trapped in its own icy cloud
convincing me that Bruegel had it right
life is a joy that goes on forever.

***


Bruegel

I went last night to see a show.
A small folk group playing mandolin
and guitar backed up by a string orchestra.
A murky crowd stood and swayed
and rested its head on the other's shoulder.
I was hoping the music would lift my spirit
from the stool and send it packing
back into solitary existence
with only the winter cold
to wrap arms around me, with the promise
time is a lie and the next time I'll be
a happy peasant in a Bruegel picture.
Maybe the fat man rolling a barrel
through the party of smiling and drinking,
or a matronly woman with hands on her hips
surveying the morals so none will slip
out the door around the corner and into the night
for a moment beneath the erotic oak,
the quick pace of love spoken in Flemish
hanging in the cold by my ear,
each word trapped in its own icy cloud
convincing me that Bruegel had it right
life is a joy that goes on forever.

Last edited by John Riley; 11-26-2018 at 07:57 PM. Reason: "I would be sent away, that" cut from line six
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  #2  
Old 11-17-2018, 03:33 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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'But...'

I like this a lot, John, and couldn't resist that as a quick response. Will come back.
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  #3  
Old 11-18-2018, 08:26 AM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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Can a crowd be murky? And who - or what - is the crowd's other? (Should that be "each other's"?)

I'm not sure about "I was hoping I would be sent away" either.

But from there, I agree with Mark - it's great. Although I'm not sure the last line is quite what Bruegel (you say Bruegel, I say Brueghel)* conveys to me. I'll think about that.

Cheers

David

* You're right, it seems! https://www.nieuwsblad.be/cnt/g4h8ah5s (Translation available on request.)
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  #4  
Old 11-18-2018, 01:54 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Thanks, Mark. I'm glad you like it and hope you come back to pick on any nits.

David, I knew the lines about the murky crowd and the other's shoulder may draw some comment. All I can say in its defense is that I was at the back of the crowd, sitting against the wall, and it seemed murky to me. It was too dark to see through and tangled up in the near dark. I'll think about it. Same with "the other's shoulder" if readers can't envision seeing a standing crowd when almost all the women had their heads on their date's shoulder.

Think I'll make those lines into

"I was hoping the music would lift my spirit
from the stool and send it packing"

Thanks,

John
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  #5  
Old 11-21-2018, 03:04 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi John,

I just like this because I really relate to it. I get very emotionally carried away when I see live music*, much more so than theatre. Somewhere small and dark, folk music, rock or bit of country. Jazz. Anything really, I'm a complete sucker for the atmosphere and the crowd reaction and start thinking 'everything will be different when I step outside these doors, this feeling will stay with me'. And that's where the unsaid 'but' in your poem comes in.

No nits really. A couple of things possibly, that come with the usual 'could just be me'.

'or a matronly woman with hands on her hips
surveying the morals so none will slip'

These two lines seem to suddenly slip into a very tripping anapaestic tet. I don't know if this, or the rhyme even, was deliberate but it was slightly jarring.

And secondly, do you need either punctuation or some linking word here at the end?

'convincing me that Bruegel had it right
life is a joy that goes on forever.'

Either

convincing me that Bruegel had it right.
Life is a joy that goes on forever.

or

convincing me that Bruegel had it right —
life is a joy that goes on forever.

or

convincing me that Bruegel had it right
and life is a joy that goes on forever.


* in a very quiet English way, obviously
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  #6  
Old 11-22-2018, 07:43 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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Hi John,

I've come back to this a number of times. I really like the idea of N hoping for transformation (rebirth?) into a character from a Bruegel painting, and that this shows us about the N's perception of his current state. There's a section at the beginning that I found ambiguous and I had difficulty parsing. The close took a little while to unfold for me, but I liked it look once it had.

A murky crowd stood and swayed
and rested its head on the other's shoulder.

You may intend to personify the crowd, but if so, when it rests its head on the other's shoulder, who or what, since it isn't the crowd, is "the other"? If not, maybe something like:

A murky crowd stood and swayed,
each resting their head on the other's shoulder.

Or maybe I'm just being pedantic.

I was hoping the music would lift my spirit
from the stool and send it packing
back into solitary existence
with only the winter cold
to wrap arms around me, with the promise
time is a lie and the next time ...

I had a problem parsing this. Has the N come from "solitary existence / with only the winter cold to wrap arms around me" and he will be sent back there, now additionally with music's promise? Or has the N just come from "solitary existence" only and the music will send him back, "with only the winter cold / to wrap arms around me" and "with the promise / time is a lie and the next time ...". In other words is the winter sending him back with two things or one?

..............and the next time I'll be
a happy peasant in a Bruegel picture.
Maybe the fat man rolling a barrel
through the party of smiling and drinking,


So, he could come back as a happy fat peasant, smiling and drinking. I can see the appeal: At ease with the world, no existential torment.

or a matronly woman with hands on her hips
surveying the morals so none will slip

I like the wordplay/linebreak on "slip". I agree with Mark that this part has definite triplet rhythm, accentuated by -- and accentuating -- the rhyme which seems a little out of place here.

out the door around the corner and into the night
for a moment beneath the erotic oak,
the quick pace of love spoken in Flemish
hanging in the cold by my ear,
each word trapped in its own icy cloud
convincing me that Bruegel had it right
life is a joy that goes on forever.


This took some thinking about. I can see the appeal of the contented fat man. I wasn't clear why being the frosty matron would be appealing. At first I wondered if perhaps its her moral certainty, which might contrast with the N's more nihilistic malaise? But now I think it's not intrinsically appealing to be the matron -- or it's appealing only because of her potential for transformation, because what she hears, the Flemish words of love, will ultimately convince her that life is a joy.

The matron seems to be a parallel to the N. She too is assailed by cold. The overheard words of love will lift her, convince her of a joy she doesn't yet feel, rather like the N hopes the music will do for him. I do like how this works. It isn't quite circular, I think. It seems to me that the N is hoping that the music will lift him so that becomes someone who is actually lifted by music, by joy - convinced (a permanent rather than a transitory elusive state). And perhaps the N also sees himself like the matron in other ways too: see himself as judgemental and/or inflexible, vigilantly preventing any possible joys (like the Flemish lovers) from coming to fruition.

best,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 11-22-2018 at 07:46 AM.
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  #7  
Old 11-23-2018, 01:20 PM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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I very much like the fact that the scene set, in the lines before Bruegel appears, is so Bruegel-like in itself. You might be describing one of his pictures. (You're not, are you?)

I have seen some of the best of them at the Kunsthistorisches in Vienna. To be in their physical presence is stunning. (Seen Auden's one in Brussels as well. Beautiful.)

Cheers

David
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  #8  
Old 11-23-2018, 02:31 PM
Jan Iwaszkiewicz's Avatar
Jan Iwaszkiewicz Jan Iwaszkiewicz is offline
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Lots to like in this one John, love the morals slipping out of the door, you could dine out on that for a month.

Regards,

Jan
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Old 11-23-2018, 02:57 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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I like murky crowd, John. And though it's probably wholly unnecessary, I might be tempted to treat the crowd as singular the way through. rested its head on its shoulder... Again, that might run counter to what you're going for. I just like it. I'm not sure about your closing lines. The erotic oak is magnificent. And I like the following line too, but perhaps not quite the close. If it were mine, I'd put the brakes on about there, see what happens with the last line. But keep the quick pace of love. That's a really nice moment, at precisely the right time. Yeah, close somewhere there. Fwiw, as always. JB

*I think lift my spirit weighs this down. A more clever, matter of fact would work better for me earlier in the poem. (I think that will be my last add-on.)

Last edited by James Brancheau; 11-23-2018 at 03:21 PM.
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Old 11-24-2018, 10:47 AM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Thanks, guys for commenting. I'm sorry I've been slow to respond. Holiday busyness. The points you raise are certainly good ones.

Thanks for returning, Mark. I'm happy it can make you remember lifting off when listening to music. I was a little bored as well as a little entertained. Maybe that interfered with takeoff.

Matt, you've raised good points. I agree the places you indicate are murkier than the rest. I will copy your notes and when I revise will use them.

I've seen the paintings in Vienna, David. I saw some elsewhere I think but don't remember where. That's sad, isn't it?

Thanks, Jan

I'm glad you like "murky crowd," James. I need to do a little clearing up, I think.

Again, thanks to each of you.

John
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