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Old 03-15-2003, 06:23 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Homeric Simile

Landsmen pressed by war to serve at sea
sicken of the reeling deck and raw
salt winds that roll the waters endlessly.
On sky devoid of bird, with jib and yaw,
the masthead weaves a dizzy, ovaling track,
as prow-tall seas, upreaching, pitch and claw
the groaning ship across the ocean's back.

Then do they long for Ithaka: for breeze
perfumed by cedar groves, for surfaces
of stillness underfoot, where houses keep
an upright angle to the sky, and seas
enclosed in haven lie, at last, asleep.

—So do I long for you, and though I see
a gulf between us, bitter, broad and deep,
I hope, at last, to anchor in your quiet lee.

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Old 03-15-2003, 11:30 AM
Rhina P. Espaillat Rhina P. Espaillat is offline
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What strikes me at once is the use of sound in this poem--the "war/waters" that echo the b rhymes with assonance, and the alliteration, especially in the opening 7 lines. All that is so effective that I wonder about two things: the use of an identity, albeit widely separated, "sea/see," and the phrase "for surfaces of stillness underfoot," which not only says something outright that the imagery suggests better, but also introduces the one unrhymed closing word, "surfaces." That "upright angle to the sky" contrasts so well with the "dizzy, ovaling track" in the earlier lines that no statement could do it better.

The long-deferred point of the poem is lovely and feels inevitable. How does the Erato crew feel about that hexameter final line?
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Old 03-15-2003, 12:21 PM
Michael Cantor Michael Cantor is online now
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Location: Plum Island, MA
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Hi, Rhina -

As noted before on the Sphere and elsewhere, I always like a final alexandrine wherever it is natural and makes sense - it lends an air of closing to the sonnet, or to a passage. Interestingly, I sometimes think of the hexameter as "anchoring" the poem, so that in this case the longer line is particularly appropriate. Also like the way the rhyme circles back in the last line.

Beyond that, I admire the entire poem. Wonderful language, it tells its story and flows well, and the language is reminiscent enough of the Greek classics that it serves to reinforce the tone of the poem.

No nits beyond the purely technical point regarding the unrhymed line - which also, I think, gives me a clue as to the author. Do we get to guess later? That could be fun.


[This message has been edited by Michael Cantor (edited March 15, 2003).]
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Old 03-15-2003, 12:42 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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I love the alexandrine for preceisely the reasons Michael Cantor mentions, and the fact that this, like another we'll be discussing, is fifteen lines. I too was brought up short by "surfaces," and "see/sea." But I found it a very hypnotic poem, although I wouldn't dispute that my reaction is tempered by my knowledge of the author and his life. Sure, anyone can guess at identities anytime. Neither the judge nor the readers will hear anything from your host, however.
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Old 03-15-2003, 12:43 PM
Bruce McBirney Bruce McBirney is offline
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Contrasting with the turbulence of the first part of the poem, the quiet resolution reached by adding a leisurely 15th line of hexameter seems perfect. The extra foot (an echo of line 12) is "at last". How fitting!
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Old 03-15-2003, 01:23 PM
Joseph Bottum Joseph Bottum is offline
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I wonder if the echo of "void" in "On sky devoid of bird" is really sufficient reward to use what is essentially a verbless description. I think I'd rather see a past participle, indicating action, here: the sky wiped clear, swept free, squeegeed. Well, no, Ulysses probably didn't have any squeegees.

On "jib" I thought first of the sail and had to go back to the word when I reached "yaw," which slowed the poem down at the wrong place, but that may be an individual reaction. Can I vote in favor of "sea/see"? Normally not, of course, but here it actually complements the maritime/personal simile.

The 20th-century Grecians' anti-Latinism, which gives us "Ithaka" instead of "Ithaca," still puts my back up, but I suppose we're stuck with it nowadays. (Damn the 20th century, he said--then coughed, and called it fate, and kept on drinking).

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Old 03-15-2003, 02:47 PM
David Anthony David Anthony is offline
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I like the poem but dislike the alexandrine.
I can't see "quiet" adds anything not implied by "lee" and think the poem would be better anchored by quiet, understated IP in the closing.
But I often miss things others see.
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Old 03-15-2003, 02:51 PM
Jim Hayes Jim Hayes is offline
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Location: Kilkenny, Kilkenny, Ireland
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This is an absolutely glorious sonnet, however I would, if not take issue, at least demur, with both Tim's and Rhina's
assessment of 'surfaces' as not rhyming;

the iambic rhythm of "Ithica; for breeze"
to my ear rhymes very well with
"groves,for surfaces"

where the stresses perhaps are not necessarily equal, but the rhymes are; CA for BREEZE/SUR fa SEES

Having the privilege of prior aquaintance with this I would also be rather certain that such stresses and pronunciation are the author's intention.


[This message has been edited by Jim Hayes (edited March 15, 2003).]
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Old 03-15-2003, 06:56 PM
Deborah Warren Deborah Warren is offline
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I adore this sonnet. The unrhymed line I (of course) didn't even notice. As for the final alexandrine, I often find them jarring--calling attention to the meter at just the wrong spot. But here the line provides a slow stasis in accord with the sense, and I'm more willing to accept it.
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Old 03-15-2003, 09:56 PM
Terese Coe Terese Coe is offline
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Location: New York, NY
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Sound, rhythms, pacing: all magnificent, masterly.

"Devoid of bird" is too odd for this. The action verbs and assonances of L1-7 pause and then soar into the musical linchpin of L8. The final line is not persuasive, especially after the penultimate, and seems wrong somehow, at least a little.

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