“Write on!” the Masters from the shadows cried.
“By your thin air we breathe, nor ever died;
Your modest dress, our glorious raiment shares
And witness to our sun, your candle bears.

“Ignored, reviled, by fashion shut away,
We are not stilled, nor sleep as common clay;
We are the living, the unsurpassèd height;
What hand shall drag us down to mortal night?

“An hundred years, and nowthe heart’s decease;
Ride then, the wind which flies to art’s increase,
Our rhyming updrafts, wild currents to the sun
And in our matchless light, your work be done!”

 

A university faculty (PhD  University of California 1967, political science) and freelancer in his early career, Ted Hayes moved into full-time journalism and is now retired.

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17 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    “Write On” is clearly right on!

    Well done and SO very appropriate for this page.

    Reply
  2. Monty

    I’m struggling with the diction here, and I fear that my struggle may be preventing me from enjoying what might be a decent poem. Thus, I wonder if the author, or another reader, could suggest how I should read the following (unbroken) word-assemblies:

    a/ ‘our glorious raiment shares and witness to our sun’ . . Should I pretend that it reads ‘and is witness’.. and try to grasp it in that way?

    b/ ‘the wind which flies to art’s increase our rhyming updrafts’ . . Should I pretend that it reads: ‘flies to art, increasing our’.. and try to grasp it that way?

    I find myself mildly reluctant to mention the first word of the ninth line; lest it transpires that everyone else knows something that I don’t.

    Reply
    • Jack Durak

      “Your modest dress shares our glorious raiment.” This is a simple SOV-line that moved the verb to the end to get a successful rhyme.

      The second is harder. I want to read it as

      “Ride then, the wind which flies to art’s increase.
      Our rhyming updrafts wild currents to the sun—”

      i.e., take “updrafts” as the verb and “rhyming” as the noun, but I don’t want to assume that it’s simply a matter of incorrect punctuation. We’ll have to see if the author or another can clarify that line.

      Oh, and “an hundred” is just a dated convention. It used to be a rule that words beginning in “h” were all treated as if they began with a vowel.

      Reply
      • Steven Shaffer

        Re” “It used to be a rule that words beginning in “h” were all treated as if they began with a vowel.”

        Used to good effect several times by Monty Python in reference to “an halibut” 🙂

  3. James A. Tweedie

    For example, even today, most of us say, “I’ll see you in an hour” rather than, “I’ll see you in a hour.”

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      James,

      That’s because “hour” is pronounced as though it beigns with a vowel The “H” is silent.

      Reply
  4. Monty

    Cheers, Jack: ya’v half-answered my request.

    The half ya’v answered:
    Of course your understanding of line 3 is utterly correct, and I sensed it before I’d even completed your sentence. Given that, it’s now apparent that the comma after the word ‘dress’ has absolutely no right to be there; and I feel that it was that very comma which prevented me from seeing the line as I should’ve.
    ‘Your modest dress shares our glorious raiment’ (which, in hindsight, has a warm feel to it) has no need of a comma at any stage – regardless of the order in which the same words are placed. A comma can only impede the line.

    The half ya’v not:
    After line 3, there’s no comma until after the word ‘sun’: thus, it reads (in the above sense) ‘Your modest dress shares our glorious raiment and witness to our sun’.
    D’ya see what I’m saying? That’s why I initially wondered if it should read ‘and is witness’. What d’ya reckon? I’ve gave up on it; not just this particular aspect, but other aspects also. I’ve tried earnestly . . but I just can’t get anywhere near it!

    ‘An hundred’: Yeah, I suspected it might be along those lines after Mr Tessitore’s assertion above. Further, your explanation was no better exemplefied than in the fact that, even today, the word ‘hotel’ (when written) is still sometimes preceded with the word ‘an’. Ironically, I’ve never pronounced my aitches: thus I say hotel as.. which ‘otel.. nice ‘otel.. ‘ow many ‘otels.
    Hence, in view of the above; my natural way of saying “an ‘otel” is quite accidentally correct.

    Reply
    • Jack Durak

      After re-reading the peom, I can’t agree with the poet’s use of punctuaction at all. You’re correct to say something is wrong.

      L4 is “And your candle bears witness to our sun,” though this time it’s made into an OSV sentence, since the SOV would have been the more awkward “And your candle witness to our sun bears,” though perhaps consistency in the subject, object, and verb order here would trump that slight stumble. You’re correct to say that neither needs those commas.

      Reply
      • Monty

        It’s all over the place!
        All I could see were anomalies; the most glaring of which was in line 10: If the apostrophe in “art’s” is there to replace the ‘i’, it reads: ‘art is increase’, which we can safely and immediately forget about. So, if the apostrophe’s there to denote ownership (e.g. ‘the art’s increase’.. ‘the man’s car’) . . how does that then flow into ‘our rhyming updrafts’? It don’t happen! As I see it, that could only happen if the word was ‘increasing’, thus, it’d read (from comma to comma) as: ‘The wind which flies to art is increasing our rhyming updrafts’. That makes sense (and, incidentally, is a fairly potent line). But, other than that, it ain’t happening . . . nothing’s happening . . . that’s why I got outta there early, while the coast was still clear.

  5. Mark Stone

    Ted, Hello.

    1. In line 2, I don’t understand the meaning of “we breathe, nor ever died.” Since all of the poem except the first two lines is in the present tense, you could change lines 1 & 2 to the present tense as well. Here’s one idea:

    “Write on!” the Masters from the shadows cry.
    “By your thin air we breathe and never die.

    2. Line 6 is my favorite, with the alliteration and the simile.

    3. On the “An hundred” issue, my practice is to use “an” before a word that starts with “h” only if the “h” is silent. Two examples are “honor” and “honest,” and their variations, such as “honorable.” And, as James mentioned, “hour” is another example. So I would say: “a hundred and fifty dollars.” Perhaps you are being archaic on purpose, as Joe mentioned.

    4. I enjoyed the poem. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    • Monty

      Well, in view of your above words, Mark, that you “enjoyed” the poem; and that you “don’t understand” ONLY the 2nd line . . I can only assume that you understood every other line (otherwise you couldn’t have “enjoyed” the poem as a whole).
      If that’s the case: perhaps you could explain your interpretation of lines 3-4 (from the comma after ‘dress’ to the comma after ‘sun’) . . and lines 10-11 (from the comma after ‘then’ to the comma after ‘updrafts’).

      Reply
      • Monty

        Regarding the ‘silent aitch’ thing (and only in present-day usage): Could it be the case that an ‘h’ (as the 1st letter of a word) can only be silent when the 2nd letter is an ‘o’ (honour, hour, hotel, etc)?
        I’ve just been mulling over the use of the other four vowels as the 2nd letter (hand, hatch.. hedge, heart.. hit, hiss.. hut, husband) . . and they’re all obviously preceded by ‘a’ as opposed to ‘an’. Are there any words beginning with a silent ‘h’ in which the 2nd letter is NOT an ‘o’?

        And if it IS the case that an ‘h’ can only be silent when followed by an ‘o’ . . I wonder how it’s determined when the ‘h’ is silent, and when it’s not?
        e.g. (silent) an honour: an hour: an hotel . . (not silent) a hook: a hold: a hope. Is there a law which determines this?

        As an aside: Of all the human functions, the one which has always fascinated me the most is the subconscious.
        In view of the above: isn’t it a sheer wonder that, in speech, we subconsciously know when an ‘h’ is silent, and when it’s not . . and whether it’s preceded with ‘a’ or ‘an’.
        We’re never told at school (or at least I wasn’t) when to pronounce an ‘h’ and when not to . . but our subconcious automatically knows when to and when not to.
        I shall remain forever fascinated . .

  6. E. V.

    Hello everyone! Although I’m no literary scholar, I believe the poem’s meaning is clear; specifically, that when poets uphold the traditional writing styles of our predecessors, we are channeling their spirit … and receiving their approval. Ted Hayes, your delightful poem is very inspiring … and poetically written. My only challenge was tripping over the word “nor” in line 2. Maybe “nor” doesn’t belong there?

    Reply
    • Monty

      Very clearly put, E.V.; and, to which, I concur fully. You’ll notice in my first words of my first comment above that I sensed, upon first reading, that this was a ‘decent’ poem, and that I was reluctant to let my miscomprehension of 2 lines ‘prevent’ me from fully grasping what appeared to be a thoughtful-looking poem. Hence my subsequent request for elucidation – but only for the 2 lines in question . . not for the ‘meaning’ of the poem.

      None of the above discussions concerned the ‘meaning’ of the poem; nor failed to recognise that it was poetically-written (which it so patently was – timeless). I’d already slightly gathered after that first reading that the ‘meaning’ was somewhere along the lines of ‘spirits living on’ (but nowhere near your deep and precise interpretation; which I feel does the poem full justice). The discussions concerned only ‘punctuation’, and the author’s use of such.

      ‘Your modest dress shares our glorious raiment’ needs nowhere the separation of a comma; and it shouldn’t need one just because the words have been re-arranged to old-stylee? ‘And your candle bears witness to our sun’: again, no separation required, thus no comma – old or new-style! I feel that the comma in both cases – the separation- to be a potential hindrance to the reader’s transformation of the old-style diction to the present-style.

      Upon further musings over line 10: I confess that I can now see the author’s intentions more clearly; and I bow to him for its beauty . . and lament my ignorance. But because I read poetry from comma to comma (as one must: not by lines), I can now see how the comma after ‘Ride then’ hindered my interpretation of how the line should read; and again I feel the comma shouldn’t be there.

      p.s. Ironically, one aspect I DID manage to grasp early in the piece.. was the author’s use of the word ‘nor’ (being a word I use occasionally). I saw it as: If we (in the present) continue writing, the words are carried up on the wind to the air the masters breathe; thus the masters are saying: ‘Look, we’re not dead: we’re breathing on your words; you’re keeping us alive . . we never died (nor ever died).

      Reply
  7. Beau Lecsi Werd

    Unlike the other consonants, like labials (p, b, f, v,…), dentals (t, d, s, z,…), and palatals (k, g, ch, j,…), the letter h is frequently considered an unvoiced glottal fricative. I suppose that is why classical writers, like the ancient Greeks, considered the h sound, a rough breathing. Notice, that in pronouncing the h, like pronouncing the vowels, neither lips, tongue, nor palate are used, as are they are in pronouncing the consonants.

    Reply

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