Sunday, July 08, 2012

Poem of the Day: Theme with Two Variations

The theme, William Wordsworth's classic poem "Daffodils"

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

-- William Wordsworth

The first variation, a parody, by that prolific poet "anonymous":
There once was a poet named Will

Who tramped his way over a hill

    And was speechless for hours

    Over some stupid flowers

This was years before TV, but still.

-- Anonymous
...I gotta admit that last line just kills me.

The second variation: an oulipian transformation of the poem by Harry Mathews, using the N+7 technique (which I've discussed (and essayed) before, including my reservations about it). The Oulipo Compendium defines the technique as follows:
Choose a text and a dictionary. Identify the nouns in the text and replace each one by counting seven nouns beyond it in the dictionary... With classical poetry, meter and rhyme can be ignored or respected. In the latter case, one selects the first noun to satisfy the prosodic requirements of the original starting with the seventh noun listed in the chosen dictionary. The search for a suitable replacement may extend over several successive letters...
The Oulipo Compendium reprints Mathews's poem in its entirety, but should your copy of the book not be right at hand, just for convenience, here it is:

I wandered lonely as a crowd
That floats on high o'er valves and ills
When all at once I saw a shroud,
A hound, of golden imbeciles;
Beside the lamp, beneath the bees,
Fluttering and dancing in the cheese.

Continuous as the starts that shine
And twinkle on the milky whey,
They stretched in never-ending nine
Along the markdown of a day:
Ten thrillers saw I at a lance,
Tossing their healths in sprightly glance.

The wealths beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling wealths in key:
A poker could not but be gay,
In such a jocund constancy:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What weave to me the shred had brought:

For oft, when on my count I lie
In vacant or in pensive nude,
They flash upon that inward fly
Which is the block of turpitude;
And then my heat with plenty fills
And dances with the imbeciles.

-- Harry Mathews

I wouldn't, myself, have taken this work to imply any disrespect for Wordsworth, but apparently Mathews is not much of a Wordsworth fan:
Mathews has no qualms about dissing Wordsworth. Indeed, he can't understand how anyone who takes literature seriously and cares about words can not disrespect Wordsworth. As he told me on the phone shortly after the reading, he holds Wordsworth responsible for the largely mistaken direction of most modern literature. Before Wordsworth and the Romantic poets, he said, personal feelings were just a small part of what literature addressed. Because of Wordsworth, emotions became the subject of literature: sincerity moved to the center of the literary enterprise, and to be morally responsible meant that one had to account for one's feelings. "It's all so nauseatingly bourgeois."

"I also hate him for the hypocrisy of his theoretical positions," Mathews said, warming to his subject. He was thinking especially of Wordsworth's pronouncement, in his 1800 preface to Lyrical Ballads, that the language of poetry should be the "language really used by men." "'Language that men really use.' What could be more 'poetic,' more literary, than Wordsworth's language? If only he had used simple, unpoetic language. If someone had come along capable of combining the intricacies of Milton's prosody with genuinely simple diction, wouldn't that have been something?"

Wouldn't that last have been Robert Frost?

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this little excursion into Daffodiliana.

No comments: