©1961 By Bob Litton
NOTE TO READERS: I am in a mental slough right now, folks; so I have returned to some of my earlier writings…and I mean way earlier. While I was still in the air force and stationed on Okinawa, I checked out a novel by James Ramsey Ullman titled The Day on Fire from the base library. The book was a fictionalized biography of the late 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud, and it got me all fired up about writing poetry myself. As my regular readers should recall, one of my latest blog posts related the anecdote of my first attempt at poetry, when I was ten years old. But one brick does not a castle make. And, as I have read elsewhere since then, that novel also fired up other young poet wannabe’s.
Anyway, I subsequently read a volume of modern American poetry and discovered that, since I had left high school it seemed, America had turned away from rhyme and hammered hard on meter. Yet it was not really so recent. I have read T.S. Eliot’s remark that he hated paying attention to meter. The problem with “free verse”, however, as Robert Frost said, is that it is “like playing tennis without a net”. The fact is that rhyme, when it fortunately seems inevitable instead of forced, makes a poem more credible, more eligible for popular acceptance; and meter, when it is consonant with the meaning of the words, adds impact. The rhyming of long words is especially effective in humorous poetry: look through Byron’s “Don Juan” and you’ll see what I mean.
One of the new facts I learned about modern poetry, on Okinawa, is related, I believe, to the invention of the typewriter and its use by poets. The lines of some poets’ works, the anthologist said, were broken with the intent of guiding the reader’s eyes in such a way that, when read aloud especially, the lines would have a unique emphatic effect. I point to Hart Crane’s “The Bridge:Section IV: Cape Hatteras” as a good example of my point here.
Moreover, what was common in the poems I read was the amount of personal introspection among the poets, even to the point of “confessional poetry”. This, as I learned later, is typical of young poets. I’m afraid it too much affected me. But, it is true, there is a profound flowing of the blood and hormones in the 14- to 24-year-old set that can lead either to poetry or to drugs, sometimes both.
This introduction is longer than I intended it to be, but I felt it necessary to alert you to the fact that the following two poems were written by a boy-man either 19 or 20 years old. Yet I still hold onto them out of inexhaustible fondness, much as a man will cling to his teddy bear.
When I was young
When I was very young
I thought that the sun’s rays
piercing the clouds
were the eye of God
watching the acts of mankind.
I thought that the stars,
high and shining,
were the angel counter-parts
of those departed
keeping eternal vigil
over their loved ones.
I thought that God spoke
through the mouths of some men.
I was happier then.
There was one who did not smile
when the boy let out his heart
but listened intent the while
till counsel was asked. In part,
this is what her wisdom said:
“You ask me if you’re too young
to love; if within your head
childhood’s dreams still rule your tongue.
You can love, and deeply, or
you may change your mind one day.
But youth is not the time set for
thought or throwing dreams away.
Be not so concerned, my friend,
about what may shortly end.”
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