By Basil Drew Eceu

At least four people have been killed and forty injured in
a terrorist attack in London in the afternoon.
Here near the cradle of great Parliament’ry government,
a cruel terrorist went mad upon the hard cement.
He rammed, and slammed, his car into the people that he passed,
school children, women, men he hit; he stepped hard on the gas.
His purpose was to murder, and he did indeed do that;
and once he left the car he took his knife, and stabbed, and stabbed;
till he was stopped. Dear God, the very buildings seemed to shake,
as London’s mighty heart, thus wakened by such hate, did break.

 

Basil Drew Eceu is a poet fond of Britain.

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6 Responses

  1. Ruth

    A remarkably swift response to the events of yesterday, Basil; evidence of deep sympathy with London and its people. And an inspired thought to evoke Wordsworth’s very different portrayal of that city with its ‘mighty heart’. Here, his ejaculation of ‘Dear God!’ is transformed from a hushed tone of awe, to an outcry of horror. This is the kind of literary conversation that has taken place through the ages, and reminds us not only of the intensity of the present situation, but the rich history of the subject, making it only more poignant.

    However, in some respects the diction and meter of the poem fail to live up to their precendent. A few of the rhymes are weak, and in a short poem, especially on an intense subject, it is generally best to trim off unnecessary words to keep the impression powerful. Here, the first couple of lines read like a news bulletin, and phrases like ‘he did indeed do that’ or ‘and once he left the car’ lessen the overall impact. Internal rhymes like ‘rammed’ and ‘slammed’ can seem comical, though it’s clear why you’ve used them here, emphasize the violent force described.

    On the theme of that ‘mighty heart’… in Wordsworth’s poem it is lying still because the city is asleep. This attack taking place in the afternoon, I would suggest that it was beating pretty regularly, rather than asleep, at the time. The idea of it breaking though – a metaphorical and emotional response both to the great poet and to the people and city of London yesterday – is an excellent one.

    Reply
  2. Lew Icarus Bede

    Ruth, you seem to be a close reader of literature. Your observations are keen and your judgments are acute. As you noted, Eceu’s response was immediate. Eceu wrote his poem on the very day of the attack, March 22, 2017, in the same way that he thought Wordsworth had composed his poem on the very day he had seen London. That was not the case, however. According to Dorothy Wordsworth, they left London on July 31st, and this was Wordsworth’s picture of London, apparently, “recollected in tranquility.”

    You are correct that Wordsworth’s ejaculation, “Dear God,” is transformed from a hushed tone of awe to one of concern; and also this is “the kind of literary conversation that has taken place through the ages.” You are also correct in pointing out the diction is slightly different in Wordsworth’s and Eceu’s poems.
    Eceu is writing docupoetry, so you are right to point out that the first couplet reads “like a new bulletin”; that was precisely his intention. You also pointed out that “a few of the rhymes are weak.” Take, for example, the rhyme in the first couplet, “in” and “on.” I do believe Eceu is using the slant rhyme in that couplet to downplay the emotional content, unlike the Romantic Wordsworth, who ratcheted up the emotional content of his poem from the very beginning. I also believe that the slight off-rhymes of the assonantal “passed” and “gas,” and “that” and “stabbed,” also suggest uneasiness, that something in the topic of the poem is “off” or troubling, which indeed it is.

    As for the meter of the poem failing “to live up to [its precedent], however; I would note only that both poets handle meter quite nicely. Of course, the meters are different: Wordsworth uses iambic pentameter and Eceu uses iambic heptameter. And while, the only metrical violations occur in Wordsworth’s poem; the occasional substitution of a trochee for an iamb is hardly a failure in the earlier poet. Wordsworth’s poem is rightfully noted for its “great simplicity,” and, as Cleanth Brooks has pointed out, its paradoxical nature. Even Wordsworth himself fretted over his diction in the poem, when near the end of his life he wanted to replace the word “bare”, because it was so obviously in conflict with “The City now doth, like a garment, wear/ The Beauty of the morning.” Although I personally would not go as far as Cleanth Brooks has gone to point out the discrepancy between the male and his female companion in the poem, I can see his point of view; and I do understand Wordsworth’s fretting as well.

    Nevertheless, I prefer the diction in Wordsworth’s poem over that in Eceu’s poem; not because of its simplicity, for as you pointed out Eceu uses extremely simple phrases, like the alliterative “he did indeed do that” and the narrative “and once he left the car,” nor because of Wordsworth’s archaic usage of the quaint “glideth”; but rather because of Wordsworth’s unique use of “steep,” which I think was a masterstroke. I would also say that, although both poets use repetition in fairly short poems (Eceu’s tennos is 108 words and Wordsworth’s Italian sonnet is 109 words), I prefer Wordsworth’s. The two poems do nicely contrast iambic pentameter with the ballad form.

    It does seem Eceu has purposefully pointed out that the attack occurred in the “afternoon”, as opposed to Wordsworth’s “morning” picture. He willingly violated the rhyme for that word; so although I concur with you that London was “beating pretty regularly,” when the attack occurred, I am sure Eceu is metaphorically describing the jolting “wake” from its regular [busyness] to awareness of the tragedy.

    Reply
    • Ruth Asch

      Thanks for your interesting and close commentary in response to my own on the poem, Lew. Your revelations of Wordsworth’s own doubts over elements of the poem are new to me and a curious, and sympathetic, insight into the workings of a human poet.
      Your explanation of Eceu’s poetic choices is kind, thoughtful, and plausible. I am not personally convinced that he was trying to downplay the emotion by slant-rhymes… when the repetition of ‘stabbed’ for example is so evidently trying to crank up the reader’s emotional response to a violent scene. But it is totally understandable that a swiftly drafted poem will be flawed… my own always require careful revising and editing. However it can also be constructive to offer comments as to how things might be improved, as I did above. To illustrate what I mean about using stronger words and closer rhymes and rhythms I offer below a sample of how I might edit the piece, were it my own work.

      Four people killed and forty injured; bodies bloodied, strewn
      across a central bridge in London, in the afternoon.
      There near the cradle of great Parliament’ry government,
      a terrorist showed savagely his hatred and dissent.
      He rammed his car into, over, unwary passers-by:
      school children, women, men all hit; indifferent who should die.
      His purpose callous murder, and to strike in jijhad’s name,
      he left the car, a knife in hand, stabbed, and again, again –
      till he was stopped. Dear God, the very buildings seemed to quake,
      as London’s mighty heart, by horror struck, did bleed and break.

      I hope, Basil Eceu, that you are not offended by my suggestions but take them rather as a tribute and fellow-poet’s engagement with your original piece; I wish I had had the inspiration to write such a response to this tragedy and thank you for your own. (If you dislike my posting a rewrite here let me know and I’ll have the comment removed.) Best wishes, Ruth.

      Reply
  3. Ruth

    There isn’t an ‘edit’ button on the comments or I would have altered the way I expressed myself above; apologies if it came across as arrogant. My piece is a literary engagement with another poet’s work, of which he is welcome to adopt freely any ideas which seem to harmonize with his own; or ignore it entirely. It was Eceu’s own use of Wordsworth which drew particular attention to differences in style and technique – and such a grievous occasion seemed to warrant a poetic tone here, in contrast to all the news coverage.

    Reply
  4. Basil Drew Eceu

    Ruth, I am not in the least offended by your suggestions, and I do take them as a tribute and a fellow poet’s engagement with the original text. I am a poet who not only alludes to other writers, as you keenly perceived in your analysis, but I am myself a parodist, particularly of British poems. When Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” came out, the parodies were rampant, and when Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnet 43” was published, the parodies went “viral.” That is often an indicator of a poem’s worth. However, that is not at all what I am proposing about my poem. But it was surprising that the two editors I sent the poem to picked up the poem immediately; and I suspect I will send it to other editors as well. I have already happily received a few “likes” and “votes” elsewhere; but I value a critical analysis far more. So, indeed I am thankful for your insights, which were undoubtedly the best observations on the poem.

    You bring up several important topics that I would like to address. The first is the thought that a swiftly-drafted poem is flawed. I would say that every single poem ever written or to-be written is flawed. And to keep the vision wide, every single thing created by humanity is flawed, etc. But to attend to your premise, on a less encompassing assertion, that a swiftly-drafted poem is somehow more flawed than one that has the advantage of “careful revising and editing.” I do not believe that. It is true I occasionally rewrite parts of a poem, a word, a phrase, a line, or even an entire poem; but my poetic practice does not always allow for rewriting. May I point out that I am not alone in this. Among others, it has been pointed out that my favourite English writer, William Shakespeare, did not rewrite his poetry, not even a little. And that does not surprise me one iota, because he has written so many inferior lines of poetry, amidst the truly inspirationally superior lines he has composed, that I do not doubt it.

    Secondly, it is traditional in English-speaking literature that writers share ideas, and even text, as, for example, William Wordsworth’s awkward lines in Samuel Coleridge’s gawky, but remarkable “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” or even more significantly, the nonShakespearean lines of Hecate in “Macbeth”; Ezra Pound even spared us of some of T. S. Eliot’s less inspired parts of “The Wasteland.” Occasionally a whole culture alters lines, as in the case of Coleridge’s lines “Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink,” which I frequently hear altered to “Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”

    My second point moves right into my third point: the changing of text. When poetry veers to folk poetry, epic, narrative, lyric, or dramatic, people feel right at home in altering text; they just dive right in. Take, for example, the editors of Emily Dickinson, who were ever ready to “fix” original text to make her poetry “better.” Part of the reason editors are willing to do that is because they, like you, can see possible improvements, and they just join it. Forms, like the ballad form, are the closest we come to folk poetry in the English-speaking world; so writers, like Coleridge and Dickinson, from whom I partially have drawn my poetic practice, and myself as well, are likely to have our material altered for various reasons—and there are always reasons for the changes. For me it is exciting to have my works edited in this way; it shows that I am right in the middle of New Millennial folk poetry; and I couldn’t be happier as a writer. Not only at this site, where I have had poems and essays tweaked before being published, but many editors are frequently diving in to “fix” original text; and every once, in a very great while, the change is actually an improvement.

    Next, I would like to address your specific points. Because my docupoem is dated, I cannot change the poem. It must remain as it is, and I must live with it. There is one single change I could change, and that is the 3rd word, “four.” When I wrote the poem, I wrote the word “five,” and then I pulled it back to “four” because the many news reports I read began dropping one of the deaths. However, since then it has been altered to “five.” There are two reasons, however, I am happy to leave the word “four”; because its truth does not change, and it is alliterative with forty. Notice your strong line, “Four people killed and forty injured; bodies bloodied, strewn…” is now not true, whereas my line, “At least four people have been killed, and forty injured in…” remains true to the facts. Now you could revise that to “five” or whatever other number the final tally may be; however, and this is my point, not only would it would not have been written on March 22, 2017, but I do not need to revise my line.

    A more serious contention, however, relates to the purpose of my docupoem. Bede is correct; I am trying to downplay obscenely passionate emotions in this particular docupoem, which as you point out is difficult to do, when speaking about a violent act. Words and phrases, which are stronger in one sense, such as, “bodies bloodied, strewn,” “showed savagely his hatred and dissent,” “to strike in jihad’s name,” “stabbed, and again, again—” [note the slant rhyme], “by horror struck, did bleed and break,” in another sense are too vivid for what I was striving for, a less rhetorically sharp “news bulletin,” in the quiescent manner of Realist Emily Dickinson or Postmodernist Phillip Larkin.

    In the end, people will strive for different qualities in their poems and favour alternate possibilities for varying reasons, much in the same way that some writers will prefer Pindar’s poetry over Wordsworth’s poetry, Horace’s poetry over Keats’ poetry, Dante’s poetry over T. S. Eliot’s poetry, Vergil’s poetry over Milton’s poetry, or your criticisms over those less-finely tuned.

    Reply
    • Ruth

      Thank you, Basil, for your detailed address of my points and for accepting my suggestions (and irrepressible poetic instincts) graciously! 🙂

      Reply

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