“Enargeîs is the technical term ‘for divine epiphany: a word that contains the dazzle of “white,” argós, which comes to designate a pure, unquestionable “conspicuous-ness” ’ ”.  ~ Michael Schmidt, The First Poets, 19

I wonder if perhaps we moderns know
This brilliant whiteness much more clearly than
The ancients did. They made their temples glow
With painted color like the rainbow span
But more intense. The goddess and the god
Were daubed with firmest tints of red and gold,
Blues, reds, greens—strong as emeralds. How odd
That seems to us when what we know is bold
Severest white divinities and stone
Carved columns. Noontime light in Greece
Reveals the purest color for a throne,
A god’s own seat that might hold Jason’s fleece.
Before the gods became poetic wares,
Divinities appeared as white-hot glares.


Personalized Epiphany

“This ‘conspicuousness’, he adds ‘will later be inhabited by poetry, thus becoming perhaps the characteristic that distinguishes poetry from every other form.’” ~ Michael Schmidt, The First Poets, 19

Deep poetry does something depths can not
Do. It stands out among the arts, a thing
Conspicuous in power. Music, hot
With inspiration, has a different wing
Which rises in the air and heart, but lines
Of Mariana trench profoundness work
Inside the heart, inside its fathom brines
And currents. Down in that divinest murk
Are frigid swelters only words can tell.
The plastic arts appeal to eye alone,
Or sometimes hand, but do not cast the spell
Veins need. Paints do not travel in the bone.
The theatre and film demand too much
Control. A poem grants the reader’s touch.


Where? Where? Where?

“Achieved poetry paints with at least one colour  which can be found nowhere else.”
~ Michael Schmidt, The First Poets, 19

Do you know just what that color is? Gods’
Eyes must contain it—goddesses’ more so—
Yet can we see it there? Perhaps it nods
At us with holy winks above the slow
Convictions of a palm tree’s fronds before
The sacrifice by priests in island shades.
Perhaps it gives us glimpses from the floor
Of marble temples. Mostly it evades
Us. That is why it matters. Those who grasp
The color, artisans with words, do not
Themselves know what it is. Fists barely clasp
It in their lines. The hue hates being caught.
Once found it fades. It must be caught again.
The rainbow trout gasps out in air-filled pain.


Treatments in English Lessons

Yet even poetry is now without
Transcendence. No one wants to read it. No
One pays for it and no one is devout
About it as they were before the glow
Of cinema and television screens.
Forget about the God is dead debate.
Forget about the notion that machines
Could write it and computers might dictate
It. It is now long dead for most except
For weddings, funerals, engagement showers
And such. No man or woman now is swept
Away to love by sonnets. They have lost their powers.
The poem’s stored in classrooms only. Still
It’s there—given like a cultural pill.


Stunned, Stung with Aesthetic Tears

“When it reaches Alexandria, poetry comes in out of the sun, retires to the library . . . And so it [poetry] survives in a world where the vulgar tongue is not Greek.” ~ Michael Schmidt, The First Poets, 19

At Florida Technological U
One afternoon I had some time to kill,
Or I was bored with working my way through
Some Library Science. Needing health’s pill
I headed for the shelves of poems doomed
To be unopened in the stacks and took
Anthologized poems down. Wonder loomed.
I read an ode by Keats. The cosmos shook.
My eyes sang out with tears and not because
Of sentiment inside those lines. The tears
Burned down my cheeks because of beauty’s laws.
The ode was like the music of the spheres.
Perfection in the crafting of each line,
And not words’ meanings, formed that white stone shrine.


Phillip Whidden is a poet published in America, England, Scotland (and elsewhere) in book form, online, and in journals.  He has also had an article on Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum est” published in The New Edinburgh Review.

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9 Responses

  1. Sultana Raza

    Wish I didn’t have to agree with these poems, but am afraid I have to echo these sentiments. What a pity! Yet, at least some people such as yourself still thrum to the beat of authentic poetry. Merci et bon continuation!

    • Phillip Whidden

      Dear Sultana Raza,

      I’m unhappily glad that you were forced to agree.

      Real poetry is still being written.


  2. James Sale

    I am rushing to travel abroad at the moment so haven’t time to consider this properly, but it certainly strikes me immediately as containing some wonderful ideas and lines: the Still/pill is one such example – how true! And, as a direct result too, I have just been on Amazon to order this Michael Schmidt book, which I wasn’t aware of before. I really like Michael Schmidt – his Lives of the Poets is tremendous reading, except for one thing: in terms of contemporary poetry he loves meretricious trash – all the pretentious nonsense that has been heaped on the world since WW1 in the name of art. That said, his own poetry I quite like – still, mustn’t rant – pressed for time. Well done, Phillip – this is an excellently conceived sequence.

    • Phillip Whidden

      Dear James Sale,

      Thanks for your positive response and for writing to me even though you were in a rush.

      I’m glad you were inspired to buy THE FIRST POETS. It really pushes my buttons. Poems just flow out of me because of it. Very recently I got his book about early English poets, THE STORY OF POETRY. It is having pretty much the same effect on me.

      All the best,


  3. C.B. Anderson

    Maybe I’m right, or maybe I’m wrong. But for me, the preceding poems were murky: too many devices without adroit concision. De gustibus non est disputandum.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Maybe I’m right, or maybe I’m wrong. But for me, the preceding poems were murky: too many devices without adroit concision. De gustibus non est disputandum.

  4. Michael Dashiell

    In reference to Treatments in English Lessons, you tell the bleak truth about poetry today. Since free verse really has no specific rules to heed, anyone can write a poem, so why read and pay for them?

    • Phillip Whidden

      Dear Michael Dashiell,

      I’m sorry we have to agree on the point of this sonnet you commented on here.

      Thanks for taking the time and trouble to respond.

      All the best,

      Phillip Whidden


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