By Lew Icarus Bede
            It is difficult, if not impossible, to know the state of poetry in any language during its “present period,” poetry is such a fluid force, and the best, or the most enduring, works rarely ever rise immediately to the fore.  Therefore, it is doubly dangerous to speculate on the works of one’s own time.  Nevertheless, I would like to analyze two poems in English of the New Millennium overlooked by present-day critics, Cancer by Yakov Azriel, and Three Achaian Perspectives by Bruce Dale Wise.
            One can see both poets have a mastery of the resources of the English language; and that, I would argue, is a positive barometer of the state of English language poetry.  Both poets use the structure of three sonnets, hence my interest in comparing and contrasting them. Azriel uses three Italian sonnets, with a rhyme scheme of abbaabbacdecde, while Wise has chosen three English sonnets with a rhyme scheme of ababcdcdefefgg.  That works to both poets’ favor, Azriel’s continuous theme of dying due to cancer and Wise’s three distinct Greek characters of the Trojan War.  And though each writer uses three sonnets, Azriel places a space between the octaves and the sestets, while Wise does not; and Azriel utilizes the traditional capital letter at the beginning of each line, Wise does not.  Both writers also have a mastery of iambic pentameter; although I would argue that Azriel’s meter is more polished, Wise’s more rugged.  Wise frequently slips out and in meter, perhaps for plosive emotion’s sake, as in “and as far as I am concerned, he can/ go off to hell.”
            Another interesting aspect of both writers is their diction and their rhymes.  Both use a simple, straightforward diction.  For example, Azriel’s rhymes are dominantly monosyllabic:  only goodbye and afternoon are not.  Wise is more willing to use polysyllabic rhymes, such as, ineptitude, haughtiness, journeyman, insane, undisciplined, and survive.  He even uses chasm to rhyme with as him in violation of the iambic meter.  These two writers also both use linear internal rhyme, such as Azriel’s “day’s last few rays of light,” and Wise’s “And so, although no man can know enough.”  Seen, along with Azriel’s increasing use of the assonance of the long i sound throughout the duration of his poem, is his usage of the word I as a rhyme word in all three of his sonnets; which brings up an important contrast between the two poems, Azriel has one speaker, Wise three.
            Both poets are adept at other poetic elements as well.  Examples of alliteration in Azriel include, “My branch will break,” “forest in a flowerpot,” and “before I have to bid goodbye”; in Wise we have “Commander hmmph! He’s just a journeyman,” and “Granted, true, tough grit/ is vital.”  Both also veer toward cliché, “rhyme/ And reason” in Azriel and “bile and bane” in Wise.  Both use metaphor and personification as well.  In Cancer, raft is a metaphor for the dying man’s life, shore, a grandson’s life.  In Three Achaian Perspectives, Agamemnon refers alliteratively to Achilles’ soul as a “melancholic chasm.”  Examples of personification in Azriel’s poem include “winter reigns” and “executioners of dark”; in Wise’s work “intelligence invades.”  One can see Azriel is more reluctant to use similes than Wise is; for his poem avoids them while Wise’s poem is chock-a-block with them, “tough as brass,” “He’s more like a teenager than grown man,” and “each is rather like a whirling wind,/ a cyclone lacking subtlety and wit” sufficing as instances.
            The use of repetition in both writers is clever and artistically satisfying.  First looking at Azriel’s work, in his first sonnet, “it’s not an easy thing to” is repeated, and neatly, “it’s not an easy thing to die” at the beginning and end of the sonnet; in the second sonnet, he uses “I’m jealous of,” “flea,” “raft,” and “Don’t) ask) me”; in the third sonnet, “so little time is left” and “to everyone.”  I am impressed by the handling of his motifs.  I particulalrly like how his run-on lines garner greater meaning as they go along.  In Wise’s first sonnet, “I hate” and the puerile “just” are used; in the second sonnet he continues to use “hate,” perhaps because of Homer’s opening word in the Iliad, mhnin; and and repeats “pompous ass” from the first sonnet; and in all three sonnets he repeats “true,” as a controlling word or phrase.  But, though Wise may be more original in less repetition (as per the dictum, don’t overuse a word or phrase), Azriel is more original in his lack of allusion (as per the dictum, make it yours and fresh).  Wise certainly expects his readers to  be aware of both Homer’s Iliad, Achilles’ beef with Agamemnon, and the Odyssey, “Oh, even if it takes a decade’s length!”
            Other differences between the two poems include: mood, as one would expect on poems looking at an individual dying of cancer and male warriors posturing; focus, the first poem on family and doctors, the latter emphasizing fighting and surviving; and movement, time and the seasons in the first (note the oxymoronic “I hear the silence of the clock.”) and place in the latter, “the tent,” the “field,” and the “seashore.”  I find both these authors’ conclusions interesting.  In Azriel’s poem, the change is from feeling tasked by a deadly disease and a somewhat distant and impersonal God to acceptance of one’s fate and speaking directly to a more personal Lord; and in Wise’s poem, the change is from power to knowledge, both poets achieving a modicum of wisdom at the end of their discursive enterprises.
            If I dared assess a judgment on the two poems, I would posit that Azriel’s poem is the more heart-felt lyric, because it is more tragical, “My daughter looks/ At me, then turns aside to cry.”  Note the brilliant sestet of the second sonnet:
                        “Don’t ask me what my doctors think, I know
                        I’ll never see my son get married nor
                        Embrace my wife when she is old. I won’t
                        Enjoy a grandchild’s hug or watch him grow;
                        The leaky raft I sail won’t reach his shore.
                        Please, don’t ask me how I feel. Don’t ask. Don’t.”
And the final cry, “Please let me see the dawning of Your moon.  Wise’s poem, on the other hand, if I dare to continue, seems like soliloquies in a poetic drama, where each couplet strikes an individual note:
Achilles,
                        “I’d just as soon as see him, see him gone,
                        as I would Troy, who never did me wrong.”
Agamemnon,
                        “I so hate having to put up with his
                        theatrics as if he is all there is.”
and Odysseus,
                        “And so, although no man can know enough,
                        it’s what he knows that matters in the rough.
            In conclusion, I do not think that either poem is perfect (What would that mean?) nor iconic, but both show enormous talent, definitely high literary quality; and there is much more one could say about both of them.  In these two works, and I dare not extrapolate further than these two poems before me, both New Millennial poets seem to follow the Romantics in using first person point of view, in the sonnet sequence, as in Shelley, in their conversational tone, as in Wordsworth, and in their choice of sonnets, Azriel leaning towards Wordsworth, Wise leaning towards Keats.  I cannot help but feel that poems such as these suggest the sonnet in English is a survivor still and poetry in English continues its remarkable trajectory.

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