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Unread 11-24-2004, 07:48 AM
Carol Taylor Carol Taylor is offline
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: Houston, TX, USA
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<table background="" width=750 border=0 cellpadding=25>
[center]<table background="" cellpadding=25 border=3 bordercolor=black>
[center]<table bgcolor=white width=520 cellpadding=40 border=3 bordercolor=black>
<tr><td>Visiting the Surgical Ward

I come festooned with flowers, smiles and grapes,
prepared to play my part, to entertain
and act the fool, a cheery jackanapes
with jokes and japes. I know I must sustain
a jester's role and this facade can't fail
despite the rictus of a monkey grin.
Give me a short red coat that bares my tail
and I will caper like a capuchin

but better that than show the dog behind
my eyes, that blackly hunkers down and whines.
It would attack if only it could find
an enemy to bite. Instead it pines;
for neither simian nor hound can tell
if this goodbye will be our last farewell.


<table background="" cellpadding=25 border=3 border>
[center]<table bgcolor=white cellpadding=25 border=0><tr><td>This poet is not afraid to take risks! Several of the ones taken in this poem would have made me gulp and think twice, especially the use of the same vowel sound in six of the octave's eight lines. I was on the fence about that for a while, and then it occurred to me that the poem is about a friend who is willing to risk pratfalls in order to amuse a dying friend. The point is made through so many words and phrases--a kind of repetition that also involves risk--that the reader can't help visualizing this clown, carrying his useless offerings and mouthing his jokes--so incongruous in the hospital setting!--with all those J words.

The biggest risk is practically a visual pratfall. In line 6, he "bares his tail," and then the sestet repeats that imnage--almost--with the "dog behind" that makes a polite turn into "behind my eyes." Bravo! It takes all kinds of assurance, or devotion beyond assurance, to clown around so desperately.

The clowning stops, of course, with the couplet, which is in deadly earnest and takes off the animal masks. I wonder if reversing those two last lines would have added interest, making the couplet less flat-out statement that fearful conjecture: "This goodbye may be our last farewell,/but neither simian nor hound can tell." Or some variant thereof. This is a marvelous poem!




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Unread 11-27-2004, 06:20 AM
oliver murray oliver murray is offline
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Location: belfast, northern ireland.
Posts: 2,348

Yes, I agree, this is a marvellous poem, including the switch from monkey to dog, with the almost lunatic risk in line nine and reminds us of our ambiguous feelings during hospital visits. I very much like Rhina's suggestion re switching the last two lines for a more indeterminate effect.
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Unread 11-27-2004, 02:00 PM
Janet Kenny Janet Kenny is offline
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Location: Queensland, (was Sydney) Australia
Posts: 15,592

I loved this poem when I read it before. I agree with Rhina absolutely. Her suggestion of reversing the last two lines is very astute and I think it is a good one, but I'm not decided on that last point because the blow in the last line is very effective.

[This message has been edited by Janet Kenny (edited November 27, 2004).]
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Unread 11-29-2004, 09:00 PM
Terese Coe Terese Coe is offline
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Location: New York, NY
Posts: 7,472

Yes, excellent idea to reverse the final lines.

I love the colorful masquerade of the octet and then the dramatic switch to pain and misery. Swift and just the kind of poem I would want someone to write about me if I were a post-surgery patient. It could even help the patient survive.

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Unread 11-30-2004, 05:23 AM
Margaret Moore Margaret Moore is offline
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Posts: 2,314

Until I read Rhina's comment, I thought nothing could be improved. This is a welcome change from the usual run of hospital-visiting poems, most of which seem to serve therapeutic rather than aesthetic purposes.
Now my attention has been drawn to the couplet, I agree that Rhina's suggested transposition would lend added strength.
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Unread 11-30-2004, 06:29 AM
Rose Kelleher's Avatar
Rose Kelleher Rose Kelleher is offline
Join Date: Jul 2002
Location: Maryland, USA
Posts: 3,748

Funny, I remember commenting on that "dog behind" line break when this was posted, thinking it was a mistake. Of course it's an intentional pun to parallel the monkey's bared tail. Duh! Thanks for pointing that out.

I'm newly nitless.
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Unread 11-30-2004, 07:21 AM
Carol Taylor Carol Taylor is offline
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Location: Houston, TX, USA
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This poem is my personal favorite of the 18 under discussion. It is heart-wrenching. I see a parent or close relative visiting a child in the surgical ward (in England is the word "surgical" limited to actual surgery?). The patient is someone with a life-threatening condition or a terminal or progressive illness. He need not be a child, of course, but I immediately think child because I associate the clowing around with something you do when someone doesn't quite understand how ill he is. The narrator will do whatever she can to amuse the patient and keep his spirits up, while inside she wants to howl her grief and pain like an animal. She wants to lash out at someone, but can find no one on whom to focus her anger.

I would not change the order of the couplet. It isn't until the final line that we know the patient is probably dying and that the narrator is aware that each visit could be the last time she sees him. Surely what the narrator knows is the climax of the poem, not what dogs or monkeys know.

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Unread 11-30-2004, 09:43 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 7,830

I have to agree with Carol that ending on "farewell" is the stronger option. To save the worst twist for the final line, to me, makes it more powerful. Unlike Carol, I never got the impression that the person in the ward was a child, partly because I think the frantic cheeriness is more likely to be a distraction from what both parties know or fear.

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Unread 11-30-2004, 10:05 AM
Julie Steiner's Avatar
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Posts: 5,675

A frequent comment on TDE is "Your poem has fourteen lines, but it doesn't really want to be a sonnet."

But this poem, which is all about contrasts, exploits the form to strengthen those contrasts. The main set, of course, is the octet's superficial "act", "role", and "facade" vs. the sextet's true and hidden feelings; but those contrasts are strengthened by the octet's color, motion, chattiness, and gaity ("flowers", "smiles", "jokes and japes", "red", "capers") vs. "blackly hunkers down and whines". I'm probably reading too much into this, but the "grapes" in L1 immediately put me in mind of Silenus/Bacchus, which made the sextet's hound all the more funereal, if not directly parallel with Cerberus.

One of the things I like most about this poem is the fact that the contrasts aren't perfect. Despite the narrator's desperate efforts to maintain the flimsy facade of gaity, death still creeps into the octet ("rictus...grin"), and even the hidden grief of the sextet is really not the narrators' deepest feeling: he'd rage, if only there were a concrete "enemy" to rage against.

I prefer the poet's ordering of the couplet to Rhina's proposed switch, because I think the current ending beautifully encapsulates the narrator's feelings of impotence and uncertainty.

Julie Stoner

[This message has been edited by Julie Stoner (edited November 30, 2004).]
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Unread 11-30-2004, 10:29 AM
David Anthony David Anthony is offline
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Very fine sonnet that I missed first time round.
The black dog of depression behind a forced smile--never let the mask slip--I know the feeling well.
I'm another who prefers the original closing order.
Best regards,
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