A Dysfunctional Thursday Love Poem, by Me

Jo swimming

Since some of you have been asking for more poems by me, I thought that this weird little piece, published the same time as “Years Later” would provide a more lighthearted change of pace for our Thursday Love Poem feature. If you are not familiar with the Thursday Love Poem, it is based on Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Thursday.”

And if I loved you Wednesday,
Well, what is that to you?
I do not love you Thursday–
So much is true.

And why you come complaining
Is more than I can see.
I loved you Wednesday,–yes–but what
Is that to me?

So as we’ve said before, the Thursday Love poem is not a Hallmark romance verse, nor is it even a soulful and heart-wrenching Neruda piece. Heck, as the poem above illustrates, one might argue that it’s not about love at all, and if it is, well it’s definitely not something to read to your sweetheart by candlelight.

But today’s, while probably unhealthy in nature, is a darn site more loving than our flagship poem by Millay. It’s inspired by a long-past relationship that seemed to follow certain emotional cycles. Unlike other situations I’ve been in, this one seems to have two characters who truly do adore each other, despite the mess and the repeated mistakes. The speaker seems not to be upset to finally return to that old “rock” by the side of the stream. He knows the good days will be back.

There is a sequel to this poem, same characters, but different real-life partner. That one is a little less hopeful, darker, but still persistently positive in the end (not that the relationship followed suit). Perhaps it will make an appearance on the blog eventually.  For whatever reason I was dealing with failed and broken relationships, long after the fact, by putting them into surreal metaphoric situations and working them out on paper. Here is just one more example.

Recurrents

There we are by the shore again—well, me
by the shore, you out there, bobbing in the waves
once more, eyes bugged out, lips ice-blue,

arms flailing. Desperate to keep your head
above the white caps, you’ve somehow managed
to grasp a fallen branch. “Are you okay?”

The classic stupid question, but what am I to say?
I never know. “I’m sorry,” you sputter-shout
as you spit a school of minnows from your teeth.

“I’m always drowning when we’re here together.”
Yet just last week we enjoyed a day here, dangling
foaming feet, skipping little stones, but now

is not the time to argue. I throw the rope,
always looped to my belt in anticipation
of times like this, but you miss it every toss.

All the while your enormous eyes convey a bevy
of emotions; fear of the current, rage at the waves
and sympathy for my own failings. My rope is too short.

In a frenzy now I fumble through my pockets, and toss
their contents to you—a marble, a feather, a rubber
chicken, hoping you’ll know how to use them. “Don’t worry

about me,” you gurgle. And I am touched; I know
how you hate it when your moods affect me. Too late
I dive and plunge into the icy flow, as you lose

your slippery grip and begin to drift
around the bend, waving kind assurances
as your head sinks beneath the surface. You’re always

thoughtful like that. Resigned, I crawl back
up the bank, and find my favorite rock. I check my watch—
it could be hours yet, before you’re washed ashore.

©2015 by David J. Bauman
Originally Published in the Tic Toc Anthology,
2014 by Kind of a Hurricane Press
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A Thursday Love Poem, Edgar Allan Poe Meets Stevie Nicks

1848 Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe at 39, a...

1848 Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe at 39, a year before his death (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although she is a classy, gorgeous woman, I am not sure that she would be Poe’s type. Stevie Nicks might well be too strong and independent for the old-fashioned American Romantic, though I think he might have loved her in the recent season of American Horror Story Coven, where she played “herself in a universe where Stevie Nicks is an actual witch.”

But today Stevie and Eddy join forces to bring us this week’s Thursday Love Poem, a feature based on the quirky poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay called “Thursday.” In that flagship post I said that a Thursday Poem has “got to be a bit unconventional. No Hallmark cards of course. . . Here I want to share something different, off center, unexpected, something that resonates, though it doesn’t fit the traditional love poem mold.”

Poe’s “Annabel Lee” somehow manages to fit that definition, despite its traditional ballad-like form, and themes of love and death. How so? Well, depending on how one reads this poem it’s really downright creepy, and satisfyingly beautiful at the same time.

The photo we have of Poe here was taken in the year before his death which is the same year in which it is believed that he wrote “Annabel Lee.” Our friend, the poet, well he had a thing for both death and beauty. In fact, the two went hand in hand for him. It’s been speculated and debated time and again if poems like “Anabel Lee” were in fact based in reality. I can only say that the emotions of the poem seem real. Whether based on the tuberculous death of his young bride Virginia or not, the material for inspiration was certainly abundant in Poe’s life.

In his essay “Philosophy of Composition” in reference to his themes and methods in the writing of his poem “The Raven,” Poe asserted, “Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.” If you have the patience to read the essay for yourself, and if you are inclined to believe that he was being honest, and not merely making up the method after the fact, you might understand, or at least forgive him for, his insistence that the death of a beautiful woman was the “most poetic topic in the world.”

I asked myself — “Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?” Death — was the obvious reply. “And when,” I said, “is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?” From what I have already explained at some length, the answer, here also, is obvious — “When it most closely allies itself to Beauty: the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world — and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are those of a bereaved lover.”

And why not the death of a beautiful man? Or the death of a child, or a parent, or a beautiful idea? A beautiful and well-loved dog, or planet? Well, setting aside discussions of misogyny and sexism for the moment, I don’t want to be too hard on him, knowing that he, like most of us, was at least in part a product of his own experience, and projecting that experience onto the larger world is not uncommon. In fact, perhaps this is how we find universal meaning in the particulars. In any case, Poe had lost women in his life, mothers and lovers, figuratively and literally, in courtship and in death. It’s an interesting topic to research (as usual there are great sources in those links).

I confess “Annabel Lee” is probably my favorite of the “Dead Bride” poems, with its archaic fairy tale-feel, young romantic love, celestial jealousies, tragedy and sense of the macabre. I remember in middle school wondering how literally we could take the lines at the end about lying down with his love in her sepulcher by the sea. Is it any wonder that Poe becomes popular with the emotional goth and emo kids?

I think that he would be pleased though that much of why I find the poem so beautiful springs from the poem’s form. There is an excellent analysis of Poe’s technique in this work on KHarger.com. The rhyme, meter, repetition all build the framework for this particular version of his favorite theme, and Harger explicates it exceedingly well. I encourage you to read it.

Poe, a champion of the “Art for art’s sake” creed, believed that poetry should be song-like in its aesthetics, and as such I suspect he would be tickled to hear how Stevie Nicks put his poem to music in her 2011 album In Your Dreams. He might be miffed about the dropping of one entire stanza, the poetic and specific term seraphim being dropped for the more general word “angels,” and the omission of the word chilling in the line “Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.” But overall I think he would be in the audience, beaming with pride and applauding if he could see and hear Stevie in concert.

In keeping with my tendencies to be a night owl, and since I have not yet gone to bed, and since I started this post well before the witching hour, it is still, in spirit at least, Thursday Poem territory.

Often in a post like this I copy the the full text below the video, but to keep the formatting the way Poe intended it, and to point you toward a wonderful resource, click here for the full text of “Annabel Lee” at The Poetry Foundation.

Stevie Nicks – Annabel Lee from Mister VJ on Vimeo.

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A Thursday Love Poem, “The Four Moon Planet,” by Billy Collins

Cover of "The Notebooks of Robert Frost"

Cover of The Notebooks of Robert Frost

I don’t know what Robert Frost was thinking when he jotted those words in his notes, “I have envied the four moon planet.” Or maybe he never wrote them at all. Maybe Billy Collins just made the whole thing up. I’ll have to read The Notebooks of Robert Frost to find out for sure. But it’s a lovely poem that Billy created from Frost’s idea.

And since aliens and outer space are sometimes subjects of scary movies and costumes (I’ve dressed as an alien for Halloween, haven’t you?), then maybe it’s not too much of a stretch to make “The Four Moon Planet” by Billy Collins our October 31st Thursday Love Poem. You know, it being Halloween and all, and we bloggers feeling this market-driven need to relate everything to everything else.

Come to think of it, isn’t that what poets do? I recall Billy saying as much in another poem. “The Trouble with Poetry,” I believe it was.

Aside: And while I’m thinking of it, if you managed to miss the former Poet Laureate reading, quipping, and doing poetry tricks with Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report Tuesday night, treat yourself by clicking here.

But what’s a Thursday Love Poem, you ask? Well, let me quote myself from last Thursday, when we enjoyed the first ever Thursday Love Poem. Last week we were dumped unceremoniously by Edna St. Vincent Millay via the Thursday Love Poem feature’s flagship poem, appropriately called “Thursday.”

. . . And what should a Thursday Love Poem be here on The Dad Poet? Well, let’s face it, it’s got to be a bit unconventional. No Hallmark cards of course, and none of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Not that your sweetheart doesn’t deserve a nice greeting card, and not they the Bard’s love poems are not a delight (come to think of it a few might actually fit in here) . . . But we have already read Robert Burns’, “my luv is like a red red rose.” Here I want to share something different, off-center, unexpected, something that resonates, but may not be what you expect from a love poem.

. . . I do not wish to act as if true love and romance in a poem is “dishonest,” as some writers claim. But for a poem to be a Thursday Love Poem it will have to look at that tenderness squinting sideways, maybe standing on its head, in order to give us a unique view, one other than what the masses have come to expect of a love poem.

In other words a Thursday Love Poem isn’t your grandmother’s love poem, baby.

And so for this Thursday Love Poem we go galactic, but subtly with the master of wit and winsomeness, Billy Collins. Perhaps I’ll make a brief comment or two below the poem’s text.

 

The Four-Moon Planet

I have envied the four-moon planet.
-The Notebooks of Robert Frost

Maybe he was thinking of the song
“What a Little Moonlight Can do”
and became curious about
what a lot of moonlight might be capable of.

But wouldn’t this be too much of a good thing?
and what if you couldn’t tell them apart
and they always rose together
like pale quadruplets entering a living room?

Yes, there would be enough light
to read a book or write a letter at midnight,
and if you drank enough tequila
you might see eight of them roving brightly above.

But think of the two lovers on a beach,
his arm around her bare shoulder,
thrilled at how close they were feeling tonight
while he gazed at one moon and she another.

From Ballistics
Copyright © 2008 by Billy Collins
Random House

Alright then. You have heard me defend Collins, as if he needs defending, from those who criticize his “simplicity,” using the word “accessible” as if it were a bad thing, as if erecting an electric, barbed-wire fence around an art museum were a good idea. You have heard me say a hundred times that accessibility does not equal simplicity. Neither does complexity, ambiguity, or depth of thought require linguistic word puzzles meant to lose the reader and prove how very clever and intelligent the poet is. Collins is certainly accessible, but he’s anything but simplistic.

And this poem is a prime example. It may also serve as an illustration of why I love poetry so much.  Prose might have simply told us, “In matters of love we are so unknowably different from each other that we are doomed to have wildly divergent views of what our relationship actually is.” Or, “We never see each other for who we are, and nobody could ever truly know the other’s thoughts.”

This is probably all true; it might even be a revelation, but how beautifully Collins sets us up, not to tell us this, but to let us discover it ourselves in the final line, “while he gazed at one moon and she another.” He says it without ever saying it. And the result is that tiny gasp, maybe not the freezing, headless sensation Emily Dickinson described, but a tug in the gut that makes me feel something true. And it comes about from a carefully laid trap that I am glad to have fallen into, the way I am glad when Agatha Christie brilliantly shows me why I should have known all along what Miss Marple understood about the murderer. This is why I can’t get enough good poems in my life, getting slapped in the gut, liking it, and asking for more.

Poem on.

A Thursday Love Poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay

This blog seems to get a lot of hits from people googling for “love poems.” Internet searches for love poems in general peak every February because of St. Valentine’s Day, but the Dad Poet gets at least a few searches for them every day.

So I have decided to add a new feature, the Thursday Love Poem. I don’t want you to expect this every Thursday. I mean I’m not committing myself here. This is just for fun, and like Edna St. Vincent Millay I don’t want to be tied down.

To be honest, I hope you don’t take such jokes too seriously. Millay was married to her husband for 26 years, until the day of his death, and she followed just over a year later. Whatever you think of any “arrangements” she and her husband may have had, it appears they loved and were committed to each other.

Millay still gets a lot of flack for some of the poems in A Few Figs From Thistles. I believe she was well aware of the dangers of burning candles at both ends, and building houses in the sand. But in her beautiful, seemingly glib little pieces were gems of truth about how we all really are at the heart. They were telling commentary too about the spirit of the women’s movement at the time. I think the point was that if men can act this way, why not women?

Whether a poet is writing about historical fact or not is never the point. It’s whether the emotions are honest even if the facts are fabricated or exaggerated. But many who wish to make every poem a poet’s confession in morality court will miss the point. I could go on, but I am writing a response to an article by a jealous moralist who doesn’t know what she’s gotten herself into, and I will share that here when I am done.

Meanwhile I’ve promised a Thursday Love Poem, and what should a Thursday Love Poem be here on The Dad Poet? Well, let’s face it, it’s got to be a bit unconventional. No Hallmark cards of course, and none of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Not that your sweetheart doesn’t deserve a nice greeting card, and not they the Bard’s love poems are not a delight (actually one or two could fit in here). It’s not that Blake’s verses didn’t walk “in beauty as the night.” But we have already read Robert Burns’, “my luv is like a red red rose.” Here I want to share something different, off center, unexpected, something that resonates, though it doesn’t fit the traditional love poem mold.

On the other side of love’s penny, I do not wish to act as if true love and romance in a poem is “dishonest,” as some writers claim. But for a poem to be a Thursday Love Poem it will have to look at that tenderness squinting sideways, maybe standing on its head, in order to give us a unique view, one other than what the masses have come to expect of a love poem.

In other words a Thursday Love Poem isn’t your grandmother’s love poem, baby.

As an example I present to you now the flagship poem of this new Thursday feature, the biting little satire on the fickleness of the human heart, by Edna St. Vincent Millay. It’s entitled appropriately (She wrote this just for the Thursday Love Poem feature and has been waiting a very long time for me to post this) “Thursday.”

           THURSDAY

AND if I loved you Wednesday,
Well, what is that to you?
I do not love you Thursday–
So much is true.

And why you come complaining
Is more than I can see.
I loved you Wednesday,–yes–but what
Is that to me?

Love Poems You Wish You Had Written #4: with Walt Whitman

Steel engraving of Walt Whitman. Published in ...

Steel engraving of Walt Whitman. Published in 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass

That’s right, Walt Whitman. He may not be as well-known for his love poems as others, and his critics might say he was too busy loving himself, but to that I counter that he loved himself no less than others, and no more. I just started going back to studying the “Calamus” section of Leaves of Grass, and I may write more on that later. Much has been written, and whether or not it matters to you whether the poet was gay or straight, I submit to you that Uncle Walt simply loved everybody. A more scholarly reader might disagree and remind me that the speaker of the poem is not always the poet. True enough, but for me, it feels like Walt means it when he says, “I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself.”

But for now, I wish to share with you a poem that I recorded on my YouTube channel two years and three days ago. The man I read it for now lives under my roof, by the way, so it’s lovely to look back on that time when I was worrying about his return home before a snow storm, and looking forward to his next visit. This is from the Calamus poems, and is called “When I Heard at the Close of Day.”

Looking back now it’s probably one of the least pretentious recordings I’ve made. There I was sitting in my pajamas in my tiny apartment, on my Acer laptop cam, just reading a poem for the sheer love of it. The comments on the video were very encouraging, and many filmed readings followed.

Sharing this poem again now seems appropriate after my last post, in which my friend Ygor was the reader. Ygor told me that this reading inspired him to do his own Walt Whitman reading, and I will share that in a future post. I cannot think of a greater compliment that anyone could give me. Friends like Ygor, and Brian and the many other artists, just a few of which I mentioned last time, have been a constant inspiration to me. I am lucky to know each of you. Thank you, friends!

44. When I heard at the Close of the Day

WHEN I heard at the close of the day how my name had been receivd with plaudits in the capitol, still it was not a happy night for me that followd;
And else, when I carousd, or when my plans were accomplishd, still I was not happy;
But the day when I rose at dawn from the bed of perfect health, refreshd, singing, inhaling the ripe breath of autumn,
When I saw the full moon in the west grow pale and disappear in the morning light,
When I wanderd alone over the beach, and undressing, bathed, laughing with the cool waters, and saw the sun rise,
And when I thought how my dear friend, my lover, was on his way coming, O then I was happy;
O then each breath tasted sweeter—and all that day my food nourishd me more—and the beautiful day passd well,
And the next came with equal joy—and with the next, at evening, came my friend;
And that night, while all was still, I heard the waters roll slowly continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands, as directed to me, whispering, to congratulate me,
For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the same cover in the cool night,
In the stillness, in the autumn moonbeams, his face was inclined toward me,
And his arm lay lightly around my breast—and that night I was happy.