Happy Poetry Month, everybody! I only just realized today, April 18, that that is indeed what it is. I suppose that a historian writing about a poet should keep up on these things. But it’s because I’m a historian, You See, and not a poet, that I nearly missed it. That also must explain why I gave Women’s History Month (March) such loving attention here at Carping Tongues.
But let’s celebrate Poetry Month with a poem. I don’t know much about poetry, but I recently found that poems are meant to be read aloud. Last November I taught a class on Anne Bradstreet and I wanted to read some of her poetry to the class. One poem was to a child who had died, and I had to practice it aloud several times to make sure I wasn’t going to get all choky over it in class, since dying-children poetry wrings my heart every time.
As I read it aloud, over and over, I discovered its craft. Two verses, each seven lines, with a rhyme structure of ABABCCC, DEDECCC. The choice to make the last three lines of each stanza rhyming – and to have the same rhyme for the last three lines of both verses – gave a repetition that, to me anyhow, spoke of grief. It made me think of rocking in a rocking chair, back and forth endlessly, while the heart is aching. You come down hard on that “ate” – fate, terminate, state, eradicate, date, fate. “Fate” is the first and the last words in this series. That can’t be chance, especially since the subject of the final stanza is WHY, GOD.
You try it: read this aloud. This poem is about the loss of Anne’s one-year-old granddaughter. Take it slow, and see where the emphasis seems to fall as you speak it.
Farewell dear babe, my heart's too much content,
Farewell sweet babe, the pleasure of mine eye,
Farewell fair flower that for a space was lent,
Then ta'en away unto eternity.
Blest babe, why should I once bewail thy fate,
Or sigh thy days so soon were terminate,
Sith thou art settled in an everlasting state.
By nature trees do rot when they are grown,
And plums and apples thoroughly ripe do fall,
And corn and grass are in their season mown,
And time brings down what is both strong and tall.
But plants new set to be eradicate,
And buds new blown to have so short a date,
Is by His hand alone that guides nature and fate.
As I read the second stanza I found myself emphasizing the words of decay, pausing on rot, ripe, mown, and down. She takes the entire stanza to set up the question – WHY, GOD -- and then answers it in a quick phrase. What was in her heart? Did the last line bring her any comfort, or was she speaking out of her anger or bewilderment?
Celebrate Poetry Month -- read a poem OUT LOUD.