Thursday, September 14, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Other Voices

Our "assignment" this week was to be someone else. I wasn't that clear on the instructions, actually. Was it to write a poem in which the "I" of the poem was someone else - such as a would-be suicide, a stripper, an abused wife? (I heard all those poems at the Writers' Festival last weekend).

Or was it to write a poem in the style of another poet? I just remembered this morning an idea I once had for a poem influenced by Mary Oliver - but I haven't written that one yet.

Anyway, as usual, I haven't written a new poem for the prompt but am pulling something out of my files. This is a poem in which I am speaking as Abraham, in the Biblical story, which rather bothers me. It was intended to be part of a series on "Hearing Voices" but the series rather fizzled out.

Hearing Voices. 1.


You ask for explanation – I have none
except to say my Lord commanded me.
I saddled up my ass, took fire and knife,
two serving men, a load of firewood,
and bid my son accompany me. Three days
we journeyed, to the place of which my Lord
had spoken. There I looked up and saw the hill.
I left my men to guard the ass, and laid
the wood on Isaac’s shoulder; I myself
carried the fire and knife. But Isaac spoke:
“Father” he said, “though here are wood and fire,
we have no animal to sacrifice”
“God will provide” I told my son, and he
was silent, for he trusted me, as I
entrusted all to God. We built a pyre.
I bound my son, and laid him there, and stretched
my hand out, though I felt a tightness grip
my heart. A father never loved a son
as I loved Isaac. That’s a claim you’’ll hear
often enough. Believe me, when I say
it’s true, for Isaac was the son I longed for,
knowing my wife to be too old to bear
a child. God promised otherwise. He gave
my son to me; should I then refuse
to give him back? But when he saw the knife
held high above, the look upon his face
was almost - well, I’ll think of it no more
for it was then we heard the bleating sound
and turned, and saw a fine young ram, caught fast,
its horns entangled in the brambles there.
It turned out fine, you say? Perhaps. But when
the wood was blazing, and the roasting flesh
perfumed the air, the heat before me seemed
as distant as the memory of sun
in mountain shade, where frost chills long past noon.
Now all revere me, for I trusted God.
And yet, if I had slain my son, for such
an act I was about to do, what then?
Would they revere me still, or would they say
it was a demon, not the Lord, I heard?

At the time I wrote the above poem, I had been reading Robert Browning, who inspired me to attempt a dramatic monologue. My style differs from Browning's in that his poem was in rhyming couplets, whereas mine was blank verse - unrhymed iambic pentameter. However in a sense, I was trying to "be" Browning, as well as trying to "be" Abraham, so whatever the meaning of the prompt this week, the poem more or less fits.

Here is Browning's poem - on careful reading, it tells quite a chilling story.

My Last Duchess


That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
"Frà Pandolf" by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myselfthey turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say "Her mantle laps
Over my Lady's wrist too much," or "Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat": such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart -- how shall I say? -- too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace -- all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men, -- good! but thanked
Somehow -- I know not how -- as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech -- (which I have not) -- to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark" -- and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
--E'en then would be some stooping, and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

- Robert Browning (1812-1889)

More Poetry Thursday here


srp said...

Here from Michele.

Great poem. I think Abraham had such faith in God, he knew that if he followed God's instructions He would either provide the sacrifice in place of Isaac or restore Isaac from Death. Of course I don't think God ever intended Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, simply being willing to demonstrated Abrahams faith.

srp said...

BTW, somewhere in the back of my mind I seem to remember that Robert Browning committed suicide... I could be wrong though.

Alex said...

I especially like the part about the look on Isaac's face. That would be an interesting character to explore, I think.

brian said...

Very interesting concept for the poem you wrote. It is very disturing.

Thanks for visiting Dewy and she welcomes you back any time.

GreenishLady said...

I liked that a lot - especially the humanity of "...think of it no more", the wanting to put it behind him, the picture of that look. Very powerful - and the way you follow the thinking through to the "what if?" was great

jim said...

Robert Browning died of bronchitis at the age of 77.

Really terrific persona poem--I think Biblical stories are ripe for this kind of treatment (so much detail to fail in, so very powerful tensions and emotions, etc.), and I'm impressed with the formal control of the meter.

Princess said...

Thats so awesome! Wow....

Have a great weekend.

Michele sent me :D


paris parfait said...

Excellent poem, if a little distressing. But really well done! I like Browning's poetry - he had a fascinating life, which I think is reflected in his work.

Tammy said...

I loved this Catherine! Well written :)

I recently touched base with another ALS patient in New Zealand :)

chiefbiscuit said...

So accomplished - impressive control in that poem of yours and I enjoyed reading Browning's poem too -read it through twice just to get it - and you're right it is a little chilling - the menace that runs through it is quite apparant.

Thumper said...

Wow...that's an awesome piece, and it works on more than one level. Kudos!

Here via Michele today...will be back!

Dana said...

So, to comment on your comment on my site about your writing group saying the poem is the last five lines only: Naw. I think they are wrong about that.