A great deal has changed since I was at school.
There is no longer an Iron Curtain in Geography, Maths is now unfathomable, History, is as ever, ever changing in it slants and bias, and seemingly there is a notion being taught in school that unless a poem is written in iambic pentameter then it is free form and not metered.
When I were a lad we learned about such things... yes the word of the day... dithyrambs.
I am aware regular readers will now be pointing at the screen and shouting, 'YOU ARE THE GUY WHO TRIED TO CLAIM CURIOSITY AND SATISFIED WERE THREE SYLLABLES AND THEREFORE FITTED A DITHYRAMBIC BEAT." And indeed I did, and indeed they are if one listens to the current P.O.S.H accent; you know, the sort of people who read bucks.
I spent a good six hours yesterday working on the Triptych poem. Running each line through syllable counter, making corrections where needed to get 10 beats on a line, then moving things about to get a meter of two unstressed dithyrambs and two iambs, where possible. This editing was also useful for cutting the fat and strengthening the theme of the poem, which is now a three part work relating to John the Baptist.
Thus you get...
I/fol/low the/CROWD down/TO the/riv/er.
It/is/cold ev/EN for/ morn/ing it's/COLD.
The/Jor/dan shim/MERS through/the/reeds, green/SILK,
lick/ing/the foot/PRINTS at/THE wat/er's/edge
At which point the Bacchanal, breaks for description (in the Greek Style), and to emphasis the specifically Christian/Jesus Cult themes....
He/WAITS for/US, glow/ING,
on/THE far/BANK, hand IN wel/COME to/CROSS.
Then back tot he Bacchanal...
The/New sun/DAZZLES, some/stag/ger bright/blind/ed
in/TO the/wa/ter, the/SPLASH of//feet/dulls
Which in my view is a rather decent stab at Greek oration poetry, to play into the themes of the early church contained within the narrative of the piece.The piece isn't finished, it still needs to be read aloud for one thing, and there are a few sections in which the rhythms could be tightened.
In case you are wondering, why the tone of self justification, and the reference to schooling - apparently this isn't metered poetry, it isn't blank verse - it's something called syllabic (which no doubt there is a cream for) and it's free verse because there is no meter... and the person making this judgement recommends I go and look at some link or other from the poetrysociety. Which is all very well, but I somehow doubt the poetrysociety is going to have information on writing in a declamatory style, as from what I seen of their output they are focused on keeping the word firmly on the page - and preferably the word relating to artscouncil funding.... back to tick boxes.
Oh the missus was right about me being Auden....
Still the whole process is very enjoyable, and a useful learning experience.
So now you know your dithyramb from your elbow, you can don an doleful mask, with amplified mouth piece, platform shoes and stage a performance of this semi-Mandean work - possibly with your neighbours and children acting as the chorus, complete with stylized dance moves, and supportive humming.
Triptych - The Lamb
I follow the crowd down to the river.
It is cold, even for morning it's cold.
The Jordan shimmers through the reeds, green silk,
licking the foot prints at the water's edge
into flatness. He waits for us, glowing,
on the far bank, hand in welcome to cross.
The new sun dazzles, some stagger bright blinded
into the water, the splash of feet dulls
as they reach midstream their clothes drag.
Waist deep, women toss their girdle aside,
rend their simlah, and bare breasted proceed
to receive favour. I sit on a dune
as others go. Some with clothes, folded,
held above their heads, slaves and masters, dogs
fathers, children, while maternal women
sail swaddled infants safe in fig baskets.
I do not move. Nor does the carpenter.
He takes new bread from his bag and breaks it,
gives me one half. I nod. A cheer goes up,
over the river, the blessing begins.
People dance, sing, hands clap, laughter pealing
as one by one these simple folk immerse
themselves, emerging ecstatic, absolved.
My tongue fishes unmilled grain from the bread.
Curiosity satisfied, we leave.
The tax collector's beadling stare pins me,
his sharp hooked nose, holds me, sniffing for coins
leaning across the narrow slatted stall,
eyes twisting, as a bird, or a lizard
eager for more; fearing its prey will flit.
Three meagre coins lay between us. His hand
gathers them up as he slithers from me,
beard stinking of onions, and avarice,
he moves on. I swat a fly from an eye,
and engagingly smile at a soldier
who stops to examine the paltry wares
left unsold, The glassy glazed expression,
milking inward, speak of the rot begun.
An evening breeze carries the scent of bread.
I keep the best fish, throw the rest to dogs
in the innkeepers yard, pull eight farthings
from a chink in the wall, settle my pitch;
and prepare for home, when I see a crowd
gathering around the doctor's side door.
The carpenter is there, sitting aloof,
as the people jostle, and push, to see
through the narrow door into the courtyard.
In his hand, he holds a stave, that he smooths
with a piece of glass, turning constantly
the wood, back and forward, thumb and fingers;
running the glass steadily up and down:
the stave's heel hollows a bowl in the dust.
at his feet From the courtyard drifts a voice;
a clear voice, baritone, lemon scented.
I have heard it before. The carpenter
lays the stave aside, stretches his left leg.
rises from the wall. It is then I see
the tax collector perched like an eagle,
in the lower branches of a cedar
spying into the courtyard down below.
My mother's neck is speckled with flour dust
when I arrive home. She takes the Barbel,
guts it, lops the head, boils it with sweet herbs.
"Dog dong. You, Sardine, two. Talapia.
Hands off. Six, Six." Creaking wicker baskets
spill their guts, glistening bloodied, dark fin,
sliding, slipping, gills gasping, mouth agape.
Clattering coins smack down, elbows jab, "Six,
six, not five, six. Dog dong." Rigging rings tap.
I secure my basket, mindful to pad
the twig, which when laden, vexes my back.
"Dog dong, Dog dong, sardine two, pay up now."
Damp morning still hangs wet upon the air,
horizon haze lengthens earth's rim skyward,
pulling trees into ghosts. Sun washed houses
open shuttered to bleach them fresh of night,
sleepy caught, burnt morning bread odour fades
in the ferment and grind of women's work.
I stop to shift my burden at the spot
on the river, where yesterday crowds came.
Abandoned sandals, snaking girdles, shawls,
lie on the near shore. Whilst on the far bank
nothing remains, except a single wreath
of thistles, purple patch in the rushes.
Cresting the rise, I follow a crow straight
to the inauspicious tree on which hangs
a slave. The patient bird struts and listens,
to the four squat figures, impervious,
standing beneath the cross. Drawing closer
I hear the tax collector and doctor
engaged in heated wrangle for the nails.
The carpenter hands the soldier his stave.
As the wood splits her groin, she sags, exhales,
her white eyes gaze up to heaven, released;
unmoved, the taxing Samaritan claws
at a deal for the nails tearing again
at the woman's palms as the soldier turns
back to the carpenter, dropping the shaft.
Passing, I move my cloak to hide my load
from the tax collector's carrion gaze.
Cue wine, women and song to accompany the Facebooks...
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