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  #1  
Unread 12-02-2000, 08:40 PM
Alan Sullivan Alan Sullivan is offline
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Here is a late poem by the long-lived New Englander Robert Francis, who died in 1987, aged 86. Little known now, Francis was a superlative lyricist, though overshadowed by Frost and other contemporaries. I shall probably have more to say about him if this poem elecits any interest.

Midsummer

Twelve white cattle on the crest,
Milk-white against the chicory skies,
Six gazing south, six gazing west
With the blue distance in their eyes.
Twelve white cattle standing still.
Why should they move? There are no flies
To tease them on this wind-washed hill.
Twelve white cattle utterly at rest.
Why should they graze? They are past grazing.
They have cropped the grass, they have had their fill.
Now they stand gazing, they stand gazing.
Only the tall redtop about their knees
And the white clouds above the hill
Move in the softly moving breeze.
The cattle move not, they are still.


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  #2  
Unread 12-03-2000, 05:06 AM
Michael Juster Michael Juster is offline
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Just gorgeous. reminds me of classic Chinese shih verse.
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  #3  
Unread 12-03-2000, 07:46 AM
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RCL RCL is offline
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Yes, and the neat final pun fixes the image forever.
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  #4  
Unread 12-03-2000, 12:18 PM
Richard Wakefield Richard Wakefield is offline
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I like the move-moving-move repetition in the last few lines, among other things. There are a couple of lines in there that stretch the tetrameter a bit, although I think in ways that fit the languid scene. I'm not wild about the unlikely symmetry of six cattle facing east and six west; such a precise arrangement is worth noting, but it doesn't seem to have much to do with the rest of the poem. In Francis' book "Frost: A Time to Talk," he talks about sort of outgrowing Frost's influence: "My own poems could continue to sprout like weeds or wildflowers with no hint of hothouse air." This one seems to me to have only the vaguest whiff of hothouse air.
Richard
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Unread 12-03-2000, 04:35 PM
Alan Sullivan Alan Sullivan is offline
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I haven't seen that book, Richard, but I do have "The Satirical Rogue on Poetry" and "The Trouble with Francis," as well as most of the verse. "Midsummer" employs repetition in a manner quite typical for its author, who made better use of the device than anyone I can think of in modern American poetry. The relaxed line is also characteristic. In a recent essay I observed that "the present-day Formalist Revival could learn valuable lessons from him, if his poems were more widely read. He was a superlative metrist, and he had a light, easy way with rhythm that contemporary formalists might emulate. He also had the gift of concision, useful in our present era of attention deficit and instant gratification."

Here's another lovely Francis poem, written circa 1970.

His Running My Running

Mid-autumn late autumn
At dayfall in leaf-fall
A runner comes running.

How easy his striding
How light his footfall
His bare legs gleaming.

Alone he emerges
Emerges and passes
Alone, sufficient.

When autumn was early
Two runners came running
Striding together

Shoulder to shoulder
Pacing each other
A perfect pairing.

Out of leaves falling
Over leaves fallen
A runner comes running

Aware of no watcher
His loneness my loneness
His running my running.


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  #6  
Unread 12-03-2000, 04:40 PM
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Kate Benedict Kate Benedict is offline
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The cow poem is flawless. It is a hymn to simple beingness, a benediction. Bovinity divinity.

I don't know his work yet. If these two poems are characteristic, Francis is a poet of quiet cadences who has the rare gift of revealing the eternity in a moment. He teaches us that there is no need for a poet to wrest something from moments, by larding on elaborate imagery, for example, or struggling for intensity. Close observation is what's called for, and maybe even faith -- faith that the truth doesn't need embroidering, it needs to be seen plain, and stated.

And you're right that these poems using formal strategies in a very natural way; nothing fubsy here.



[This message has been edited by Kate Benedict (edited December 04, 2000).]
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  #7  
Unread 12-05-2000, 09:01 AM
Richard Wakefield Richard Wakefield is offline
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Alan, "His Running My Running" is mighty fine. It's a textbook example of meaning finding its form, but of course such felicity probably can't be taught in any text. This one is very different from the other Francis poems I've seen, and it certainly distances him from Frost, to whom he was so often unfavorably compared. He is fairly well represented in the new Library of America volume of 20th century poetry, by the way, and I had happened to be reading him when you posted the earlier poem. Good choices for discussion.
Richard
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Unread 12-05-2000, 12:31 PM
Alan Sullivan Alan Sullivan is offline
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Kate, as I've mentioned on another thread, the Collected Francis, and a subsequent short volume called Late Fire, Late Snow, have remained in print, so far as I know, thanks to the University of Massachusetts Press. While the work is uneven, there are a number of superb poems—at least thirty that compare well with anything by Frost or Dickinson, and scores more that are lovely and arresting

Richard, I neglected to mention, apropos your earlier comment on the cows, that I would assume Francis had actually seen a herd in that odd posture, facing in two directions (south and west, not east and west, hence not symmetrical). Francis was a keen observer, and was probably attracted by the oddity, since cattle usually face the same direction when standing in a wind.

Alan
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  #9  
Unread 12-05-2000, 01:30 PM
Richard Wakefield Richard Wakefield is offline
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Alan, yes, 'twas I who imposed the symmetry, although there's still a modicum of precision in the image... I'm drawn back to the image, not necessarily to criticize it, because it is rather prominent. You're right that cattle are said to tend to align themselves with their fellows (although in my experience they don't do it all that often, but maybe I've been around retrograde cattle), and so I find myself wondering what we're to make of their arrangement. I mean, he's the one who brought it up! But I don't need to find some definite, effable answer in order to like the poem very much.
Richard
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  #10  
Unread 12-06-2000, 07:58 PM
Caleb Murdock Caleb Murdock is offline
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Quote:
Midsummer

Twelve white cattle on the crest,
Milk-white against the chicory skies,
Six gazing south, six gazing west
With the blue distance in their eyes.
Twelve white cattle standing still.
Why should they move? There are no flies
To tease them on this wind-washed hill.
Twelve white cattle utterly at rest.
Why should they graze? They are past grazing.
They have cropped the grass, they have had their fill.
Now they stand gazing, they stand gazing.
Only the tall redtop about their knees
And the white clouds above the hill
Move in the softly moving breeze.
The cattle move not, they are still.

[/b]
I didn't take a really close look at this poem until just today. I think that Hope came close to a great poem, but didn't quite make it. He indulged in too much repetition, and he didn't tie the poem into a profound thought or observation that would have completed it. I myself don't have the talent to finish it; nonetheless, I changed four lines (the lines are denoted by asterisks):

Twelve white cattle on the crest, (a)
Milk-white against the chicory skies, (b)
Six gazing south, six gazing west (a)
With the blue distance in their eyes. (b) (gorgeous line!)
Twelve white cattle standing still. (c)
Why should they move? There are no flies (b)
To tease them on this wind-washed hill. (c)
Twelve white cattle utterly at rest. (a)
They gaze because they are past grazing; * (d)
They have cropped the grass and had their fill. * (c)
Now they stand gazing, possibly dreaming. * (d)
Only the tall redtop about their knees (e)
And the white clouds above the hill (c)
Move in the softly moving breeze. (e)
* [Last line cut]

My changes are small and few, and one of them breaks a rhyme, but I think the poem is slightly improved. By removing the last line, I reduced the repetition and turned the poem into a sonnet. I'll work on coming up with the profound thought that I mentioned.

"They gaze because ..." is possibly the worst part of my "improvement". What do you all think?

By the way, I don't understand the rhyme scheme.

[This message has been edited by Caleb Murdock (edited December 07, 2000).]
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