Before Gardens: The Golden Age
Then sprang up first the golden age, which of itself maintained
The truth and right of everything, unforced and unconstrained.
There was no fear of punishment, there was no threatening law
In brazen tables nailed up to keep the folk in awe.
There was no man would crouch or creep to Judge, with cap in hand:
They lived safe without a Judge in every realm and land.
The lofty pine tree was not hewn from mountains where it stood,
In seeking strange and foreign lands, to rove upon the flood.
Men knew no other countries yet where themselves did keep;
There was no town enclosed yet, with walls and ditches deep. 
No horn or trumpet was in use, no sword or helmet worn:
The world was such that soldiers’ help might easily be forborn.
The fertile earth as yet was free, untouched of spade or plough,
And yet it yielded of itself of every thing enough.
And men themselves, contented well with plain and simple food,
That on the earth of nature’s gift, without their travail stood,
Did live by raspis, hips and haws, by cornels, plums and cherries,
By sloes and apples, nuts and pears, and loathsome bramble berries,
And by the acorns dropped on ground from Jove’s broad tree in field.
The springtime lasted all the year, and Zephyr with his mild
And gentle blast did cherish things that grew of own accord,
The ground untilled, all kinds of fruit did plenteously afford.
No muck nor tillage was disposed on lean and barren land,
To make the crops of better head, and ranker for to stand.
Then streams ran milk, then streams ran wine, and yellow honey flowed
From each green tree whereon the rays of fiery Phoebus glowed.

Ovid (trans. Arthur Golding)


Just a poem today, one I really love from the April 2013 issue of Poetry.

For once, her was just my father.
We drove to the Computing Center
in a Monte Carlo Landau
not technically ours.  Lexington,
1977.  That fall.  The color
had settled, too, undone
orange-brown and dull yellow,
crimson.  And it was something,
yet not, the pile of leaves
just a pile of leaves.  Sorry to think
what thinking has done to landscape:
He loved punched cards,
program decks and subroutines,
assembly languages
and key punch machines.
Even my father looked small
next to a mainframe.
The sound of order;
the space between us.
We almost laughed, but not for years –
we almost laughed.  But not.  For years,
the space between us,
the sound of order
next to a mainframe.
Even my father looked small.
And keypunch machines,
assembly languages,
program decks and subroutines.
He loved punched cards,
what thinking has done to landscape –
just a pile of leaves.  Sorry to think,
yet not, the pile of leaves
crimson.  And it was.  Something
orange-brown and dull yellow
had settled, too, undone
1977, that fall, the color
not technically ours, Lexington
in a Monte Carlo Landau. 
We drove to the Computing Center,
For once he was just, my father.
Randall Mann, from Poetry (April, 2013)

Something about April always makes me think of sestinas, don’t ask me why.  I love that this poem, which is neither a formal sestina nor a pantoum, but a cross between them perhaps, moves from the large (the relationship between fathers and sons) to the small (father standing next to the mainframe, punch cards) and then back again.  Both sestinas and pantoums rely on words or phrases repeated in strict, orderly fashion; they process words, you might say, the way a computer processes the data fed in.  Our relationships might work much the same way.

I also love the way that the phrase “the sound of order” echoes Wallace Stevens’ “The Idea of Order at Key West.”

I’m about 10,000 words behind where I should be to reach my Camp NaNoWriMo goal for this month.  Wish me luck, fellow campers.

The Ghazal is an ancient form of Arabic poetry written in rhyming couplets with a refrain.  Ghazals ordinarily deal love and separation, and are written from the perspective of the lover, not the loved.   The poets Rumi and Hafez often utilized the form, and it has come to be associated with Sufi mysticism. 

The Sufi form of Islam incorporates mysticism, much as Kabbalah is a mystic form of Judaism.  Practitioners of Sufi Islam are also known as Dervishes, although not all Dervishes practice the spinning dance that Westerners are familiar with.  Spinning (or “whirling”, if you insist) Dervishes are of the Mevlevi Order of Turkey.  The dance is part of a ritual called the Sema, in which the dancers attempt to reach religious ecstasy. 

Much of Rumi’s work has been translated into English, and English writers have also explored the form.  I find English ghazals, when written in the strictest form, sound like Petrarchan sonnets or possibly sestinas.

The American poet Robert Bly is fond of Arabic poetic forms and adopted the ghazal, albeit loosely, in his collection, The Night Abraham Called to the Stars.  The poem that follows is one of my favorites, and read aloud, puts me in mind of those spinning Dervishes.

The Night Abraham Called to the Stars

Do you remember the night Abraham first called
To the stars?  He cried to Saturn: “You are my Lord!”
How happy he was!  When he saw the Dawn Star,
He cried, “You are my Lord!”  How destroyed he was
When he watched them set.  Friends, he is like us:
We take as our Lord the stars that go down.
We are faithful companions to the unfaithful stars.
We are diggers, like badgers; we love to feel
The dirt flying out from behind our hind claws.
And no one can convince us that mud is not
Beautiful.  It is our badger soul that thinks so.
We are ready to spend the rest of our life
Walking with muddy shoes in the wet fields.
We resemble exiles in the kingdom of the serpent.
We stand in the onion fields looking up at the night.
My heart is a calm potato by day, and a weeping,
Abandoned woman by night.  Friend, tell me what to do,
Since I am a man in love with the setting stars.


Robert Bly, The Night Abraham Called to the Stars (Harper Perennial, 2002)