Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Merton’

Rhythm and Rhyme

on November 12, 2012 in Misc 12 Comments »

I got sidetracked this evening.  I was planning to write for y’all an Ode to 007 in honor of Skyfall’s release and the 50th anniversary of James Bond movies.  But I wasn’t sure about the rhyme scheme.  Should it be in limericks? Or like the Dr. Seuss-style poem I wrote here?  How about patterning it after a Beatle’s song that was playing in my head?

For an idea I pulled out an old anthology of poems that I hadn’t looked at in ages.  That’s when my concentration did a 180 and before you could stop me I was moving back and forth through the pages and reading lines I used to know by heart, and wistfully wishing I could put words down on paper with such power and force and raw beauty.

I don’t know about you, but when I was in high school and college I assumed that, besides writing novels, I would of course also write poetry.  Not flowery, sentimental crapola, but some good work with words that might outlast me.  That never happened, and no surprise.  If you don’t have the inborn talent for poetry, forgetaboutit.

The closest I got to this ambition is when I made my character Quentin in The Compass Master an elderly retired professor of English and Irish poetry.  He’s the one who quotes T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats and Theodore Roethke.  And Layla also quotes Yeats at one point:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

I’ve heard those lines quoted in many a dark movie or TV show.  The rest of the poem, “The Second Coming,” is equally grim, and boy, does it stick with you.

BTW, the opening line of Yeat’s “Sailing to Byzantium” gave Cormac McCarthy the title for his book which was in turn made into movie, “That is no country for old men.”  And Clint Eastwood reads Yeats to a paralyzed Hillary Swank in Million Dollar Baby.

You want haunting words about the destruction of war? I’ve always loved this stanza from Thomas Merton’s “The Bombarded City”:

And there no life is possible
Because a weeping childvoice, thin
Unbodied as the sky,
Rings like an echo in the empty window:
And thence its sound
Flies out to feel, with fingers sharp as scalpels,
The little bones inside the politician’s ear.

In great poems, the words are set down with a rhythm that’s so right their very movement captures your emotions.  One non-fiction writer who has that talent is Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air, Into the Wild).  I noticed the strong rhythm of his writing way back when, and just recently I came across an interview with him in which he talks about how he really works on the rhythm of his sentences.  It shows.

Tonight I also rediscovered the poem I read at my father’s burial service, Stephen Spender’s “I Think Continually of Those.”  It brought tears to my eyes.

But I should end this too-long post with something lighter.  Here’s an Ogden Nash ditty.

There’s something about a martini
A tingle remarkably pleasant
A yellow, a mellow martini
I wish that I had one at present.

There is something about a martini
Ere the dining and dancing begin
And to tell you the truth
It’s not the vermouth
I think that perhaps it’s the gin.

Has any poet or poem ever really moved you as a writer?  Inspired you?  Given you ideas for stories?