Thursday, May 08, 2014


Today we have been looking at a classic text, Understanding Poetry by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. This book came out first in 1938, has gone through several editions, we have the one from 1975, The most recent edition seems to be the 1978 Fourth edition (much revised) and still in print for a list price of $165.95, Awesome, no? It really is an excellent book, and would repay any amount of study handsomely. But the price strikes me as a case of whatever the traffic will bear.

I was reminded then of William Butler Yeats, the grandaddy of those of us who write poetry in English. Imagine being born the year the American Civil War ended and dying just in time to miss World War II! Here is his world-class poem:

The Wild Swans at Coole

William Butler Yeats  (1865-1935)

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

from Understanding Poetry, 4th Edition, 1975, pages 351-352

A six-stanza pome in six-line stanzas! With very nice rhyming (usually ABABCC) and thythmic patterns, yet not oppressive or sing-song in its regulatity. I have only seen swans in twos or threes on Crooked River in Michigan. But I have seen other large congregations of birds. It does make your heart leap when they take to the air!

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