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CCII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Jim Kilgo was a professor of American Literature at the University of Georgia when I was doing my doctorate there back in the 1970s.  I never had a class with him, but we bonded as fellow Christians.  We had other reasons too.  I miss that man.

KILGO

We never did get to the woods together.

We’d meet up in his air-conditioned office

From time to time to swap a tale or two.

He’d find a chair beneath a pile of papers

For me, beneath a pile of books for him,

And we’d lament the state of education

And then get on to more important things:

How quiet dawn is in a river swamp,

How sharp the wind blows over Albert’s Mountain,

The steam a plate of grits makes on a table

When frost is on the sedge outside the window,

The best last lines in all of literature

(They must be Izaak Walton’s Life of Donne

And then “The Life and Death of Cousin Lucius”).

We’d quote from C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Faulkner,

Or Robert Frost, or Flannery O’Connor;

We loved the words that named the things we loved.

We even tried some naming of our own–

He’d read his stories, and I’d read my poems,

Testing lines like newly mounted axe-heads

For balance and a clean and compact stroke:

The different rhythm life has on the trail–

I said, “Three days away from clocks you feel it”;

The trout he caught high in a mountain stream

In pools between the rapids and the falls–

“No gift comes cleaner from the hand of God.”

His book was Deep Enough for Ivorybills.

He meant woodpeckers in a cypress swamp;

I take it and apply it to his soul.

We love the words that name the things we love,

And one among the cleaner strokes is “Jim.”

Photo credit: David Hodges

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

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LXII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

More on the demise of contemporary poetry:  The third movement follows inexorably from the first two.  Once the Poets, the Critics, and the Teachers have betrayed their trust, what else is there for the poor Readers to do?

ARS POETICA

A Musical Suite in Four Movements

(Continued)

III

Nolo Tolerare

(Plaintive Chant for the Reading Public)

Poetry is a pastime for

The pedantic scholar and the bore.

My proof for this?  It’s plain to see

They’re not writing anything for me!

For all I care, their poems can rot.

I’m not a fool!  I’ll buy them not.

 

Oh, once I thought that Robert Frost

Had shown me something I else had lost

About a snowy woodland eve . . .

But I was wrong.  I was deceived.

The English Teacher (who should know

When such things are and are not so)

Said that he had really written

About a Death Wish that had smitten

The poor old man before his time,

And that was why he wrote the rhyme.

I thought he’d given me a sight

Into the mystery of the night—

How Nature’s presence, always near

Could suddenly become quite clear,

Life capsule in one snowy eve . . .

But I was wrong.  I was deceived.

 

And that’s not all:  this recent “verse”

Is, if it’s possible, even worse.

You can’t even think you’ve caught the scent

Of something the poet might have meant.

Well, I have now been burned enough.

I’m thought with all this wretched stuff.

For all I care, their poems can rot.

I’m not a fool!  I’ll buy them not.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://www.createspace.com/3562314 and order Stars Through the Clouds!  Also look for Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest book from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  https://www.createspace.com/3767346.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

LX

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

The next four entries together make up a larger work that let me take out some of my frustrations with what was happening to poetry in the late Twentieth Century—which can only be called the suicide of an art form.  It is hard now to remember that in my own lifetime there were living poets (Robert Frost, for example) that people actually cared about.  Try naming just one who is writing now.

OK, if you’re reading this blog you can name one.  Name another one!  How did this major cultural shift come about?  Read on.

ARS POETICA

A Musical Suite in Four Movements

I

Discursus Discordus

(For a Choir of Contemporary Poets)

We are Artists!  Thus, we cannot be

Bound to any false conformity

To Nature (or to Grammar, for that matter).

It is enough if we keep up the chatter!

For we are Artists!  Therefore, what we say

Has worth intrinsic.  Things are just that way.

So if our lines cannot be understood,

Well, we think that is all more to the good

Because by this they seem the more profound,

Whereby out reputations do abound.

Don’t worry whether what we say is true,

It’s more important that it just be new!

Each emotion in our hearts that flowers

Makes worthwhile reading just because it’s ours.

Edification, timeless truth, insight,

Whether our sentiments are wrong or right—

We can’t be bothered by such bourgeois fetters,

For we are Great Souls—Artists—Men of Letters!

Dump the raw emotion on the sheet

To make a lyric poem that can’t be beat.

Look, look:  We have no tune, and yet we sing!

Oh, come and hear.  It is the latest thing.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://www.createspace.com/3562314 and order Stars Through the Clouds!  Also look for Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest book from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  https://www.createspace.com/3767346.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

XLIV

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 

Robert Frost shared both inner and outer weather with the tree at his window.  Truly they are connected.  Besides, the outer weather can sometimes just be so much fun!

 

WEATHER REPORT

Delivered by Radagast the Brown

To the People of Harlindon

What news does the West Wind bring today

From lands undying, far away?

 

Joy she brings from Westernesse

And comes with ocean waves cavorting,

While tall clouds in gallant dress

Ride on her back to watch the sporting.

Reaching the land

With no less than

A thousand thunder-voices snorting,

She laughs with glee;

Nor hill nor tree

Will be her headlong passage thwarting!

 

Blowing leaves and blowing paper

With the West wind dance and caper.

 

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://www.createspace.com/3562314 and order Stars Through the Clouds!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

 

Guest Bogger, Michael Bauman: Review of STARS THROUGH THE CLOUDS

Williams, Donald T.  Stars Through the Clouds (Lynchburg, VA: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011, 360 pages paperback)

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Bauman

Professor of Theology and Culture, Hillsdale College

Scholar in Residence, Summit Semester, Summit Ministries

In the preface to his long historical poem Old King Coel, Adam Fox, former Oxford Professor of Poetry, former Canon of Westminster Abbey, and former Inkling, wrote that in it he had “used verse and rhyme in a traditional way, since the experimentalists do not seem to have created any more pleasurable substitute.”  He was, of course, completely right, both about his work and theirs.

That statement could be lifted whole from Fox’s book then planted four-square into Williams’, and with good reason:  first, because Williams’ poetry is better — more true, more beautiful, and more rhetorically apt — and, second, because its subject matter is more varied, its insights more enduring, and its content more theologically well-grounded.

All that is one way of saying that Donald Williams is an academic.  He lives in his mind.  That mind is furnished with the ideas and forms of classical culture and its subsequent reiterations.  His poetry, therefore, has meter, rhyme, structure, and substance.  It asks and answers the perennial questions of life, questions like:  “What’s a good life and what good is life?” “What’s a good death and what good is death?” “What’s a good love and what good is love?” and “What’s a human being?”

Because Williams is also a Christian, the poetic answers he offers to these diagnostic questions are full of Biblical theology and spirituality, the sort that grows up best and most richly in the hothouse of real human experience in a fallen world.  Those answers are robed in the drapery of precise, memorable rhetoric and then scattered liberally in epigrams, proverbs, images and gobbets of printed gold across almost every page.

For years, I have said to anyone who will listen that Donald Williams is the best practicing poet in America.  This collection bears me out:  formal, informal, satirical, theological, poignant, insightful, playful, factual, and beautiful — it’s all there.  Williams’ poetry is high verbal art that takes tradition seriously and that thinks art ought to serve the highest and best purposes.  That sort of verbal art is less appreciated in our age, when shock and offense have displaced beauty, truth, and goodness.   Thank God, that displacement has not been total.  The higher things still can be found, if you know where to look.  If you do not, then simply look here.

No poet is perfect, of course, though some are far better than others.  Count Williams among our best.  While every poet has a voice, Donald Williams has many.[i]  Sometimes it’s the voice of Frost or Dickinson or Gray.  Sometimes it’s De la Mare or Tolkien or Housman.  All have their place.[ii]  And sometimes, if you have the ears to hear, you might catch an echo of the Higher Voice.  In his impressive multivocity, Williams is much like the late Anne Ridler, another verbal artist whose works are too little known.  I’m not saying that Williams is a mere imitator.  I’m saying that his poetic mind is well stocked with the works and words of the great poets and sages, and that it shows.  I am saying that you are what you eat, and that Williams has obviously fed upon the best poetic morsels the English-speaking world (and beyond) has yet produced.

I won’t subject you to a selection of my favorite lines or poems.  This review is not about me.  But whether or not, like me, you prefer poems that are pointed and concise, poems that waste no time or words in getting where they’re going — something along the lines of Housman at his best — or those poems that are more patient and that draw themselves out more slowly and at length, like a giant waking from slumber, you will find plenty here to satisfy you: “Sehnsucht” (p. 314), on the one hand, or “Toccoa Falls: An Ode,” on the other (p. 82).

Williams is not the first of that name to write something significant and profound called “Seed” (p. 117).  When read together with Charles Williams’ nativity play “Seed of Adam,” the six-part poem published here becomes part of a double journey into the mind of God and incarnational consciousness.  But its six portions are perhaps one too many, the final installment unsuited to the rest and capable of standing on its own.  Still, his “Reflections” on the next page (134) is more than ample compensation, as are “The Irony” (134) and “The Hypostatic Union” (135). “Miracula” (142) is simply deepest conviction.  The two Williamses also have the poetic saga of Taliessin in common, and of the first the second Williams is a worthy successor and more, maintaining the profundity of the original while adding the clarity it sometimes lacked (pp. 172-226).

For good measure — and quite unlike anything I’ve seen since they collected Thurber or Nash — you’ll find page upon page (pp. 228-265) of rhyme that will make you smile, chuckle, and laugh, while simultaneously reading your way through the history of philosophy, theology and hermeneutics, to which topics Williams returns later not in levity but in full seriousness (pp. 267 ff.).  The effect is a liberal arts education in miniature, with Theology as its capstone (p. 334).  The book ends beautifully, much like Paradise Lost:  the end is the beginning (p. 360).

Finally, three notable, but passing, particulars:

(1.) The publisher has the great good sense to use a slightly smaller font when a larger one would cause the line to bleed over — because visuals matter.  To sound and sense add sight.

(2.) While the word “sackbutt” (p. 171) is historically accurate, it is so — unpoetical.

(3.) Lastly, please understand this comment as the highest possible praise:  Of the nearly 400 poems in this collection, not one can righty be called a somnifacient — not one.  The achievement is impressive.  Not even Sidney, Housman or Gray could ring the bell every time.  Yet here, every poem both embodies and elicits thought and piety.  Each one, considered carefully, illustrates why thought and piety are so closely related, perhaps twins.  Williams’ poetry is the verbal embodiment of Henry More’s dictum that no notion ever changed his heart that did not first enlighten his mind.  Read here to benefit both.


[i] For example, Frost: “Times in the Appalachian High Country” (p. 12) and “Metaphor Glimpsed” (p. 51), Hopkins: “Plane Flight” (p.33), Dickinson: “Spring Metaphor” (p. 17) and “Commentary, Job 38: 7” (p. 36), De la Mare: “New Every Morning” (p. 44), and occasionally even Wordsworth: “Conversation with a Back-Packer” (p. 52).

[ii] But not — praise God — Eliot, Sandburg or Pound, or at least not too much.

Remember: go to https://www.createspace.com/3562314 and order Stars Through the Clouds!  Only $15.00 plus shipping.