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Poetry Magnum Opus

Landfall


Benjamin

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The swell hid friends as I swam: unaware

Of tidal drift or serpent undertow.

And lost: turned to the sun, struck out once more;

Tried to ignore the endless dark below.

Through tiredness, sensed shingle, roll and hiss

With: "Will he, won't he?" Whispers of the mind.

That I'd be lost on cruel rocks, whose slime

From ageless tides, would keep me in my place.

Till, buoyed purely by air in tortured lungs;

I felt the welcome texture of warm sand.

And gravity, give weight once more to limbs

Anxious to leave the grasping surf behind.

Smelt seaweed drying in the morning sun;

And heard kind words from folk I'd never known.

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David W. Parsley

First things first: it is absolutely great to see you come in to the forum again, Geoff. It feels like a visit from a friend of long standing ducking into the doorway, sitting down to proffer a fine bottle of sonnet to commemorate the occasion. Forgive me if I detain you overlong by sipping rather than gulping the verse, perhaps waxing a little chatty.

 

It's unquestionably narrative, a trend that has grown in, not just sonnets, but all forms of lyric poetry since early in the nineteenth century. The pace is suitable to the form, fitting comfortably in the classic stanza progression and architecture. I will say more on these topics later, but I want to first ruminate about the whole theme of swimming in unknown waters separated from all that is familiar, the sense of challenge and peril presented by depth and darkness the protagonist must traverse through individual exertion and tenuous reckoning. Such narrative is rich with the possibility of metaphor. It is reminiscent of similar though even grander trials from epic literature sources such as Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, and especially Beowulf. More recent authors have explored the possibility of this genre, as well, and I'll mention the fascinating personal quest of Reepicheep undertaken to unknown outcome near the conclusion of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. Whatever the magnitude of the present crisis, it is one of personal epic that can be part of the larger epic of each person's existence.

 

Yet this poem is both less and more than the episodes from these grand adventures. It takes an existential tack that is very modern. I am thinking of early twentieth century episodes such as the despairing state of the Phoenician in Eliot's The Waste Land, Conrad's Secret Sharer, Toni Morrison's Beloved, Buck Mulligan's triumphant yet usurping mastery of the waves in the opening chapter of Joyce's Ulysses, and Kate Chopin's The Awakening with its devastating conclusion that shows the protagonist awash with an immolating self awareness that impels her to the ultimate act of alienation.

 

It is not my intention to exaggerate, or even extol, the poem's merits by these comparisons, but rather to place the theme in familiar contexts and thereby elucidate its peculiarities as a contemporary treatment. Here we find the alienation present in Joyce and Chopin above, but in "Landfall" it is no betrayal or act of defiance. The swimmer has become separated from friends by accident and has no understanding of the waters into which he has voyaged. The profound irony is that when his heroic labors are concluded, he is welcomed back to the strand of safety by complete strangers who do not know the roots which originally grounded him. It is a fine ambiguity whether their empathetic welcome is simply that of the casual bystander glad to see anyone of the race emerging from a trial, or if theirs is a more profoundly shared understanding of the journey and what it has cost, what it now means. And though it is a different land to which the aspirant has arrived, it is still the same sandy earth that receives his footsteps, a familiar tug and gravity.

 

Okay, that's enough for now. Let's take up the prosody stuff at a later date - the movement of internal stanza structure and volta, rhyme enjambment and foot substitution, that nice concluding couplet.

 

By the way, there is a fascinating chapter on a related theme in Thomas C. Foster's, How to Read Literature Like a Professor. According to Prof. Foster, you just got baptized. But, uhm, try to be careful out there: he also gives a long list of writers who met their end by drowning...

 

Thank You,

- Dave

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slime from ageless tides

 

It doesn't get much better. :)

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Hello Dave: Many thanks for your warm greeting, knowledgeable comments and extensive feedback, all of which are much appreciated. Forgive my somewhat shorter response but for some reason this site does not allow me to copy and paste. I've been preoccupied of late. Segregating and editing things written over a long period of time. Focusing on forms of words to enhance what I chose and (will ) choose to write ( time permitting :-). For some see poets as aloof, miserable, insular, self-obsessed; or worse, like lawyers, who speak a language only lawyers understand. Yes: "Landfall" could relate to the wanderings of an Odysseus: the plight of a refugee, a leisure-time mishap, or even a struggle through personal darkness. Who'd be a poet eh! It's rarely easy to wax lyrical, sound topical and philosophical; be informative, entertaining and above all broadly accessible, when our language changes constantly with fashion. Your closing sentence made me smile, for I recalled an amusing epitaph from boyhood: "Here lies the body of Ezra Pound, lost at sea and was never found." Kindest regards. Geoff.

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Hi Geoff, Maybe because it was just Memorial Day Weekend but I read this as sonnet in a war setting. The ship sunk in battle the lone sailor washes up on foreign shore. It just seemed to fit.

 

I love your mastery of near rhyme. I wish I could master that. Nice to see you posting here.

 

~~ Tink

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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Thanks Tink and Badge. Summer is a-coming in and it's good to be alive to sing "cuckoo". :smile:

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