United They Fall

Exhausted armies cling to noble trees
along the margin of a meadow mown
two weeks ago.  It’s fifty-five degrees,

and summer’s long campaign is at an end,
the bugles stilled, except when taps is blown —
for here and there a feckless golden horde,
a red brigade with nothing to defend,
and russet legions hoping brighter sun
will shine again upon their liege and lord.
As waning daylight fails the living crown,
dead soldiers break formation, one by one.

The law observed throughout this passing season
is uniform for woodland, farm, or town:
Each unsurrendered blade’s an act of treason.

 

The Year in a Day

1.
So long for now to summer’s honeyed fustian,
To afternoons of pollen-laden daze
When no one with a breath of sense would question
Another creature’s privilege to rephrase

Polite requests as firm demands.  The heat
Will summon sweat much as the light will turn
A leaf, and insects on the fly beget
Their kind — permission is the least concern

Of dancers on the crowded stage of summer.
The hazy bands of serous hills, like mounds
Of compost, molder till the leaden hammer
Descends and dampens all the living sounds.

2.
An afternoon is spent to buy an evening
(The interlude just prior to dawning night),
When sentiment is swollen past believing
And mindful gazers note the failing light:

Reflective moments hover at the gate
Of rapture.  Evening’s near equivalent
To autumn — both accorded benefit
From close encounters with the firmament

And stirring intimations of the world-soul —
For fall’s the time when noonday crews distill
A heady liquor from the ebbing ground swell,
While sunset colors flood each slumping hill.

First published in Bellowing Ark vol. 26 no. 6, November/December 2010

 

C.B. Anderson was the longtime gardener for the PBS television series, The Victory Garden.  Hundreds of his poems have appeared in scores of print and electronic journals out of North America, Great Britain, Ireland, Austria, Australia and India.  His collection, Mortal Soup and the Blue Yonder was published in 2013 by White Violet Press.

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34 Responses

  1. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    What happens when a poet draws from the rich pantry of his experience in gardening and throws open the doors of his vibrant imagination to celebrate the most poetical season of the year? The result is a set of perfectly intriguing, refreshingly original verses by C. B. Anderson!

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Methinks you understand me, Joseph Charles, and I hope I have understood you half as well.

      Reply
  2. Joe Tessitore

    The battle of the seasons – what a remarkable imagination and what beautiful poetry!

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      I thank you, Joe. What irks me is that these poems were written many years ago, when I was young(er) and unaccomplished. It’s difficult for me now to come up with anything that advances the promise I might have shown when I was young(ish) and naive. I feel that I’ve grown stale.

      Reply
      • Joe Tessitore

        I struggle with the same feeling and find myself writing about it more and more frequently. I’m currently working on one about inspiration:

        been far too long
        since she dropped by
        damned if I know
        the reason why
        could be she found
        another guy
        by now I fear
        my pen’s run dry

        But in your case:

        Should you never write
        another line
        your work will age
        like the finest wine

        Rest easy, my friend, whatever happens.

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    “United They Fall” is an example of something difficult to pull off in poetry — the extended metaphor. The conflation of the mowing of a meadow with a steady suggestion of military combat is the backbone of this remarkable poem.

    Rather than taking the simple path of using the idiom “mowed down” to refer to slaughtered troops as well as mown grass and weeds, Anderson uses military terminology (armies, bugle, taps, brigade, legions, liege and lord, soldiers, break formation) to generate a sustained image of a battlefield after a bloody action.

    But his real skill is seen in the deliberately ambiguous use of the words “uniform” in line 13 and “blade” in line 14. The first can be read as a simple adjective meaning “of one sort,” but it also conjures up the image of the uniform worn by a soldier; the second can be a “blade” of grass, or the “unsurrendered blade” of a combatant.

    That’s an amazing feat of wordcraft. I can’t imagine any of the free-verse jackasses in our mainstream po-biz world being capable of that achievement.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Joe,

      As usual, you have hit the nail on the head. The only thing you missed, in regard to “uniform,” is the uniform code of military justice. I’m very glad that we are fighting on the same side.

      Reply
  4. James A. Tweedie

    I second the above comments and join with Mr. Salemi in singling out “United They Fall” as a literary tour de force. Even the word “Fall” in the title carries a double entendre. Well done, C.B. The only word I can find to describe your poem is “sublime.”

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      James,

      Coming from you, “sublime” transports me to Valhalla, where I will battle it out with the Titans of various mythologies. And of course “Fall” is not just a synonym for autumn. Our language is much richer than many persons have presupposed.

      Reply
  5. Joe Spring

    The imagery in the first poem is marvellous. “dead soldiers break formation, one by one.” I can see it perfectly. Thank you.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Joe,

      The imagery is from observation. Look about you (if you reside in a temperate region) and notice that this is how it is. It appears that you have already done this.

      Reply
  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    Kip Anderson’s second poem (“The Year in a Day”) is also beautifully done. The use of “serous” in the third quatrain is the first time I have seen the word employed in lyric verse — a remarkable image, taking a strictly medical-biological term and applying it to hills!

    I’d like to point out something in the fourth quatrain, which illustrates how our various regional pronunciations can affect meter. Kip’s meter in the second line of that quatrain takes the word “prior” as a monosyllable. My Noo Yawk dialect takes “prior” as a disyllable, so for a moment I was thrown off balance when reading that line, and it immediately came to me that “dawning” should be changed to “dawn’s,” to accommodate the iambic pentameter. But then I realized that someone from another part of the country might take “prior” as monosyllabic.

    Similar misreadings can occur with words like “fire” and “ruin.” The word “fire” to me can go either way or both; and I generally treat “ruin” as a monosyllable (ROON). But I realize that other readers take “ruin” as a disyllable (ROO-in). For those of us who are sticklers about metrical precision, these little variations can be jarring now and then, but they aren’t anything to argue over. For those in the formalist movement who are looser in their metrical practice, the issue doesn’t come up at all. Robert Frost made the distinction between “tight” and “loose” iambic pentameter, saying that both types were appropriate in different poetical situations.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Joe,

      I remember feeling fortunate when I came up with the adjective “serous.” The many months I have spent in Maine, gazing at hills rising beyond the lake where I stay, has taught me that hills (small mountains) are living organisms with complicated hydrological systems within them that profoundly affect the growth and hues of the plant life growing on their surface.

      In fact, Joe, I tend to regard diphthongs as monosyllabic entities, not because I necessarily pronounce them that way, but because it’s often convenient to do so.

      One other formal aspect of this poem I would like to point out is the methodical use of slant rhymes: I don’t use them because I couldn’t come up with perfect rhymes, but because that was part of the plan from the beginning. Once I’d settled on “fustian/question,” the pattern was set and determined.

      Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      D.P.,

      From your lips to God’s ears. I don’t know how classical it is, but if you liked it, then that’s good enough for me.

      Reply
  7. Sally Cook

    Intricate, considered, multi-leveled — in United They Fall, the military aspects of the poem have been best delineated by Joseph Salemi. To me, .the line “A red brigade with nothing to defend” best describes the summation of your seasonal subject . The war, after all, is one of defense, not offense.

    Kip, you have immersed both poems in so many luscious adjectives and similes that I can almost taste them!
    As one who revels in a crossover of the senses, You gave me quite a delectable dessert, and I and I rejoiced as I read.
    “An afternoon is spent to buy an evening” – such a lovely and accurate line, like the extra sprinkles on whipped cream..

    Two poems of which you can be deservedly proud.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Joe,

      As usual, you have hit the nail on the head. The only thing you missed, in regard to “uniform,” is the uniform code of military justice. I’m very glad that we are fighting on the same side.

      Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Sally,

      I thank you for your comment, but I’ll bet you would rather have a cup of ripe berries (black, blue or rasp) in front of you. Just teasing!

      And BTW, you must already have seen these poems, since they were reprinted in my book, Mortal Soup and the Blue Yonder.

      Reply
  8. Jack Beaulieu

    I like its characterization of autumn leaves as exhausted soldiers, drained of all strength to keep their summer “campaign” going, yet still holding on, still clinging to trees until they can hold on no longer, but must break formation
    at last and fall dead one by one. I have always liked oaks for the tenacity of their leaves.

    I imagine the soldiers’ leige and lord might be earth (or nature) and that failing to surrender to its laws and die at the appointed time would be like an act of treason.

    I think the poem is quite imaginative.

    The living crown is another interesting image. I take it to be
    a metaphor for autumn’s climax: a sort of bejeweled panorama carpeted in amber, ruby, citrine hues.

    If only the soldiers could be more treasonous, and hold on forever– like conifers. It’s always depressing to see summer lose the war.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      J.B.,

      “The living crown” is actually a reference to the crown of a tree, its upper extremities, which will in due course (in spring, of course) send out another host of leaves.

      Conifers also shed their needles, but it’s less noticeable because they replace them while they do so. Summer never loses the war; it only loses the battle, because the living crown will be back to fight another day.

      Reply
  9. Cadwel E. Bruise

    If only peripherally, Mr. Anderson’s interestingly rhymed sonnet “United They Fall” (aba cbdcedfe gfg) reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s “Success Is Counted Sweetest,”

    Success is counted sweetest
    By those who ne’er succeed.
    To comprehend a nectar
    Requires sorest need.

    Not one of all the purple Host
    Who took the Flag today
    Can tell the definition
    So clear, of victory,

    As he, defeated—dying—
    On whose forbidden ear
    The distant strains of triumph
    Burst, agonized and clear!

    and excerpts from Thoreau’s “Walden”. For Thoreau, the naturalist, “Walden” was his prose “Iliad”. In my youth, I, too, like Romantics Shelley and Keats, experimented with sonnet rhymes. I was sorry to hear Mr. Anderson stated he feels stale; he is right; his sonnet shows promise. Mr. Salemi astutely pointed out the puns in L13 & L14 and Mr. Tweedie in the title; it is exactly that adeptness with language that is one of the indicators that reveals excellence in poetic construction. Though I personally fight the sonnet every day of my life now; and the lines are drawn; I also found Mr. Anderson’s disyllabic endings indicative of unease, appropriate for the battle-field. I prefer Mr. Anderson’s metaphoric blade to Walt Whitman’s metaphoric leaves or Stephen Crane’s terse war verse. Like Ms. Cook, I, too, admire the imagery of the poem, and particularly the placement of red and russet, which is almost Horatian.

    As an aside, I must admit the conversation, between Messieurs MacKenzie and “Beaulieu”, strikes me as if it had come straight out of Molière’s “L’Avare”.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Dear Cadwel,

      I borrowed nothing from Emily Dickenson. The rhyme scheme in this sonnet, if that’s what it is (let’s just say that it is a fourteener), is a natural expansion of the abacbc stanza. I’ve read examples of this, but I have (almost) never read anything where this rhyme scheme was extended past six lines.

      I have written a number of poems that exploited this scheme, and here I would immodestly describe this form as an Andersonian sonnet. Ideally,
      an octet is sandwiched between two tercets, all of which are grammatically disconnected. (Alas, this is not always a practical reality.)

      Have I made myself clear?

      Reply
      • Cadwel E. Bruise

        I was sure you had not borrowed anything from Emily Dickinson; I mainly posted it for contrast.

  10. David Watt

    I wish to add my praise to that already given. “United They Fall” uses a metaphor to great effect, enabling rich language and imagery. “The Year In A Day” reminded me of “To Autumn” by Keats.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      David,

      Although it has never been my intention to imitate Keats, I shall attempt to search out “To Autumn”, if only to normalize my own pretensions of having written something worth reading.

      Reply
  11. The Society

    Please note that we will now be deleting comments from anyone posting under a pseudonym or anyone posting under a different name and posing as a second commenter. A commenter named “Jack Beaulieu” has previously commented under the name “Mort Miller” and is suspected of being someone else entirely. If Mort Miller (or Jack Beaulieu or whoever) wants to sort out the identity issue and be allowed to comment simply contact submissions@classicalpoets.org. (The only exception to this rule is Bruce Dale Wise, who comments under a wide variety of anagrammatic pseudonyms)

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Evan,

      This policy seems to be (Bruce Dale) wise to me.

      (As well as an appropriate epithet for Bruce himself, the original “wise guy.”)

      PS: Molière? . . . L’Avare? . . .LOL . . . I’ve been snobbed!

      Reply
      • Charles Southerland

        Really nice work, C. B.

        Striper season is coming up on Norfork Lake, let’s go fishin’.

  12. C.B. Anderson

    I wish I could, Charlie, but I’m tied up here in the northern reaches, where the air is starting to grow mighty cold.

    Reply
  13. C.B. Anderson

    I should add, Charlie, that up here stripers refers to a marine fish, which is clearly not the species you allude to.

    Reply
  14. Carole Mertz

    I’m impressed by the way you used the word “serous.” It seemed such a fresh usage in “A Year and a Day.”

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Yes, Ma’m, but if you could see those hills, then you would know that that word was almost inevitable.

      Reply

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