Monday, July 28, 2008

Duke Altum's POTM #64: Ask Me Why I Love Poetry...

...and a poem like this provides the best answer. This short offering from the British poet Ted Hughes (great friend and sometime mentor to Seamus Heaney) is a perfect example, to my anyway, of what makes poetry fascinating and powerful and worth reading. Here you have a simple little observation about a flower, and not even a very pretty one at that. And yet, through that mysterious alchemy that only a very small number of gifted people seem to be able to conjure up and harness, Hughes somehow summarizes the entire history of a people (in this case, the fighting Scots - as most everyone knows, the thistle is a national symbol of Scotland) in a few short lines. (Could any verse seem to sum up the tragic history of this country and its constant, futile struggle for independence better than these?: "Their sons appear/Stiff with weapons, fighting back over the same ground.")

He manages to convey menace and violence and bloodshed and turmoil all while describing a miniscule purple flower. So much complexity packed into such simple lines. This is what truly captivates and fascinates me, this power of the poet to say so much with so little. To observe the smallest and most seemingly inconsequential detail and somehow squeeze out of it some kind of clue, or at least insight, to the mystery of our existence here on the third rock from the sun. THAT'S why I love poetry, when it is done well - like this.



Against the rubber tongues of cows and the hoeing hands of men
Thistles spike the summer air
And crackle open under a blue-black pressure.

Every one a revengeful burst
Of resurrection, a grasped fistful
Of splintered weapons and Icelandic frost thrust up

From the underground stain of a decayed Viking.
They are like pale hair and the gutturals of dialects.
Every one manages a plume of blood.

Then they grow grey like men.
Mown down, it is a feud. Their sons appear
Stiff with weapons, fighting back over the same ground.


Mutt Ploughman said...

What a kickass poem this selection is, Duke. This is the very best of your revolutionary "POTM" series. (??) A brilliant choice. There are so many arresting images and turns of phrase here in such a small space it is almost hard to believe someone could have come up with this in one inspired turn of the pen. My favorite image is the notion of 'Icelandic frost' from a 'decayed Viking' coming up through the ground. And the whole concept of the combatative small thistle as a metaphor for the Sons of Scotland.....incredible. It seems to me that this poem is what the whole craft is all about.
I will keep coming back to drink from this well, you can believe that.....

Duke Altum said...

"Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar."
-Percy Bysshe Shelley