For Scarriet’s many friends from the U.K. and Down-under, Dancing with the Stars is a popular American TV show in which a dancing star partners with a celebrity who cannot dance, and the couples compete in front of judges.
HERE WE GO!
..Joan Houlihan …………..and …………….Percy Bysshe Shelley
Dancers, take your places.
Both poems we are looking at by Houlihan and Shelley are songs.
In Shelley’s poem, the music supplies helpful adornment, pleasing the investigator of Shelley’s idea– as the music harmonizes with Shelley’s idea.
The purpose of poetic speech is NOT to make language “opaque,” or to make the reader aware of language’s “materiality,” or to “problematize language” by making it less “transparent.” These are the words of Helen Vendler, who sought to agree with Charles Bernstein as she expressed this opinion at the October 1984 Alabama Poetry Conference, hosted by Hank Lazer.
Vendler’s analogy fails.
Language is NOT glass; transparency is the character of glass, and coloring it alters mood as well as vision, until too much darkening ends the function of the glass as glass.
Language, let us repeat, is NOT transparent like glass; even the simplest language is NOT simple, and Bernstein with his Cambridge Analytic philosophy background would be the first to understand this. Language is NOT transparent; it is made transparent through the poet’s harmonizing skill. Seeking opacity, as Vendler recommends to the poet, burdens the muse unnecessarily.
Rhyme, meter, metaphor, and assonance are not strategies in the direction of opacity, but are harmonizing elements in the direction of transparency.
Pater’s “hard, gem-like flame” has bewitched many an aesthete—but poetry has more to do with air and light than stone or concentrated flame. The skill of the poet adds transparency to language, it does not take it away; “difficult,” muddy, opaque language brings out materiality in a way that might please a Valery, but thickness of tongue and poor handling of theme inevitably create an opacity that finally hinders poetry’s higher design.
As we compare the Houlihan and Shelley, note how Shelley’s theme is transparent and rich with harmonic accompaniment.
Compare this to Houlihan’s poem: her theme lacks transparency; Houlihan’s theme is obscure, it lacks focus; thus her song-like attempts at opacity lack harmony.
As we see in the Shelley, harmony should be the end of language’s materiality, the materiality should never be an end in itself–unless we are writing pure nonsense poetry.
We can see in Houlihan’s poem the less than happy result of reaching after materiality or opacity as a capricious end in itself.
In her poem, “I Sing To You, Offering Human Sound,” words like “here,” “finger,” “hair,” and “weather” do present the reader with a powerful potential for harmony; the mere resemblance does please to a certain degree, but the poem’s theme, as rich and mysterious and heart-felt as it is, is neither robustly presented, nor clear; it wanders too much, and thus the opacity is finally wasted, for the web of the poem’s language is unable to contribute to the harmony of the poem as a whole.
Shelley’s “An Exhortation” is problematic, as well, and feels like a ‘throw-away’ by a young poet in some respects, but Shelley’s genius for harmony and transparency shines upon the reader in no small degree, despite his theme’s highly metaphoric and fanciful nature.
…………………..by Percy Shelley
Chameleons feed on light and air:
Poets’ food is love and fame:
If in this wide world of care
Poets could but find the same
With as little toil as they,
Would they ever change their hue
As the light chameleons do,
Suiting it to every ray
Twenty times a day?
Poets are on this cold earth,
As chameleons might be,
Hidden from their early birth
In a cave beneath the sea;
Where light is, chameleons change:
Where love is not, poets do:
Fame is love disguised: if few
Find either, never think it strange
That poets range.
Yet dare not stain with wealth or power
A poet’s free and heavenly mind:
If bright chameleons should devour
Any food but beams and wind,
They would grow as earthly soon
As their brother lizards are.
Children of a sunnier star,
Spirits from beyond the moon,
O, refuse the boon!
I Sing to You, Offering Human Sound
…………………………..by Joan Houlihan
Come here. Let me finger your hair.
I like the way you imitate weather:
a white breath here and there
the rush and sting of pinkened air
a coven of crows talking briefly of home
and then the pelted tree.
By these shall I know ye,
bless yer little round mug.
Oh, my semi-precious, so much slow time
so much crawling and browsing
so much fascination with harmful insects
and corrosive sublimate.
As if you have as many eyes
as many eyes as the common fly,
and every one stuck open wide
to the wonderful, wonderful world.
So, I get up at 4 am, finally, to put on some tea—
a soothing explanation for steam.
Children grow into themselves, then away.
We musn’t worry when they’re gone—
or worse, not-quite-gone-yet.
The roots of things connect
where we can’t see.
When I was born, Mother began counting
to herself. Something in the middle
must have gone missing.
Fortunately, I have all my faculties.
In fact, I still remember to turn
every small thing until it gleams:
like your favorite airplane pin
there, riding on its own cotton wad.
Now come here so I can see
through your eyes to the sky within.
You are my only animal—
my animal of air.