.

Amber Song

I come from amber, Baltic gold,
A gem but not a stone,
And not a thousand ages old,
A girl from pine sap grown,

When fully cured, of warm physique
And vibrant to the touch,
A little sunshine called in Greek,
Electron, for I clutch

Fair living forms diminutive
By piquant treacle caught,
And render them evocative
Of poignant thoughts inwrought.

Magnetically I heal harsh aches
Of head or intellect;
Electrically my being quakes
When waves the sun reflect.

From Hyperborean deep blue sky
Apollo still sheds tears;
Of Lithuanian lineage, I
Sing verse for other ears,

But worship the Unconquered Sun,
As folk of mine have duly done.

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Hyperborea: temperate paradisal land beyond reach of the north wind, periodically visited by Apollo

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Apollo’s Tears

No road to Hyperborea exists.
One cannot travel there by foot or horse
Or ship and sail, but only in the way
Apollo knows to find his mother’s home.
Beyond and through the north wind’s savage storms
He bursts, though circled by occluding hills
Steep, lacking footholds, thrusting strugglers off,
Slippery as serried snow and wild as boars
That wander there to feed on freezing flesh.
These gelid limits passed, there comes a price
To pay in filial love for fields half his,
Elysian country, Leto’s native shore.
Accordingly, the healer god reserves
Protective resin from its thriving trees,
Enriching potent liquor as his tears
To cure arboreal wounds, and flowing strong,
Flood down upon and into genial soil,
Transporting bark bits, insects, creeping things,
Slim grass blades, petals, pollen, spiral wisps
Of wiry fiber, oxide coloring,
Fragments of sedgy loam, or nothing but
The tint of the brilliant, bare bronze-featured sun,
Himself dependent on a holier power.
The teardrops sheltered in the mouldy ground
Mature, and through unfathomed passageways
Descend in the direction of the sea
Where undulations roll, shove, strike, crash, grind
And roughly polish pieces held in pits
Till squalls scoop up bright clusters free to float
And yellow load a beach with lustrous lumps.
Cold tides slosh dingy sand awash with gold,
Orange red, brown, saffron, cinnamon, maroon
Slabs, pebbles, morsels, driblets, chips and scraps.
Men fish for light in after-tempest waves,
And keep a chunk, that they be not betrayed
By impotence, but sense a solar heat
To let within a woman’s body flow
The full rewards of health she sole can know.
Small flecks and specks of amber best are pressed
As tender beads for teething necklaces;
The jewel in infinite distinctive shapes,
An amphora of heavenly attraction,
Discharges pain by transient-current touch,
Or serves as a condenser of live charge,
Relieving, stimulating, animating
The body, mind and soul with energy
Like that the sovereign sun weeps over earth.

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Leto: name of Apollo’s mother

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Margaret Coats lives in California.  She holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University.  She has retired from a career of teaching literature, languages, and writing that included considerable work in homeschooling for her own family and others.  


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29 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    Both poems are spectacular evocations of the beauty and mythological history of amber. The second longer poem is a perfect example of the strength of “the catalogue” in poetry, where a long list of things builds to a crescendo of coruscating detail. Top-notch work! Amber, by its very nature and its inclusions, is a prime subject for imaginative musing.

    I once visited a special show on amber at the Museum of Natural History. Most persons don’t realize the vast variety of things that have been trapped in this ancient fossilized sap. I’ll never forget a small family of baby scorpions embedded in clear yellow, or the buds of an extinct plant species swathed in pure orange. Snapshots from millions of years ago.

    Reply
    • Eric Jurien

      Mr Salemi,
      I value your knowledge of poetry and think you are a fine poet in your own right. I was wondering, just to clarify what you mean, if Dylan Thomas’ poem After the Funeral would be an example of “the catalogue” in poetry. Also, the first poet that came to mind is Whitman, to my mind the best practioner of the list poem. Or Fernando Pessoa, who of course his Alvaro de Campos was influenced by Whitman. Is this in your line of thinking. I don’t expect a reply since I know your a busy man. Just hoping for one.
      Eric

      Reply
      • Margaret Coats

        Eric, I’ll leave Joseph Salemi to answer your particular questions, but it seems to me that making lists is a common impulse of poets, with many such poems in each language. I would say better poets create a structure to govern the impulse. I’m thinking of English Renaissance works such as Christoper Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” and Walter Raleigh’s “Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd.”
        I favor this pair right now because both speak of amber studs! But “The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage,” formerly attributed to Raleigh, is a finer example with a more serious tone. If you keep looking, I’m sure you’ll be able to make a catalogue of catalogues.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Dear Mr. Jurien –‘

        Well, “After the Funeral” by Dylan Thomas does have a lot of stuff in it, and it is list-like, but I hesitate about it because Thomas intertwines everything in his poem in complicated grammatical clauses and lengthy colonic structures that tie everything into a single utterance. The reader is too busy following the sense of his statement to pay loving attention to all the things mentioned. The true “catalogue” in poetry is usually just a list, with items separated by commas or an occasional “and.”

        Margaret is correct when she mentions that the list or catalogue is something that all poets really enjoy, especially if they are enthusiastic about their chosen subject. The temptation (for me at least) is to make the catalogue too long. There’s always something else that you want to add, and if you don’t control the impulse, you spoil the poem.

    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Joseph. I had thought of “Apollo’s Tears” as an attempt to fuse mythology and folklore with natural history. As it turned out, there were many little opportunities in the story for lists of details, resulting in the catalogue you identify. As you surely know, I had to make a choice between myths: either the tears of Apollo or the tears of the Heliades sun nymphs. The nymphs seem better suited to be the origin of equally renowned Sicilian amber.

      Reply
      • Eric

        Thank you for your response. Keep up the good work.
        Eric

  2. Brian Yapko

    These are both wonderful, Margaret. Of the two, I prefer “Amber Song” which is relatively simple but beautifully phrased (“piquant treacle” is pretty memorable) and fascinating in its melange of personal, scientific and mythological themes. “Apollo’s Tears,” in blank verse (I assume) carries a sense of ancient epics and is also very impressive. Well done!

    You’ve chosen a subject which is close to my heart. My mother was from the Baltic and someone who loved amber not just for its warm beauty but for its associations of her lost home. I’ve inherited that love. Have you, by chance, visited the Amber Room at Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg? It’s a reconstruction rather than the original but stunningly beautiful nonetheless. It’s truly a magical experience to be surrounded by amber and I think your poetry conveys a similar magic.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Brian, I didn’t ask Evan for July 6; he just happened to choose the 768th anniversary of the coronation of King Mindaugas, a national holiday in Lithuania. I meant these two poems to reflect two major types of Lithuanian poetry: folk song and long lines influenced by Russian symbolism. My long lines are, as you perceived, blank verse. The song does speak of me personally, as my father’s family came from Lithuania, and my great aunt went back to visit after the fall of the Soviet Union. I have never visited the Baltic region, but the Amber Room is a place of fascination to me, and you who have seen the restoration must have a poem about it somewhere among your future works!

      Reply
      • Brian Yapko

        Margaret, thank you for explaining your personal background concerning these lovely poems! My mother was from Konigsberg (East Prussia) which became Kaliningrad under the U.S.S.R. I have not been there, but I’ve been to several Hanseatic cities on the Baltic, including Klaipeda, Lithuania, and the photo Evan selected is spot-on. Amber is ubiquitous and treasured in that entire region. I hope you get a chance to visit. And — since you know I’m fascinated by Russian history — I will take you up on your idea to write a poem about the Amber Room!

  3. sally cook

    Dear Margaret –
    You have a remarkable ability to get inside a subject , turn it inside out, and share its clarity with others. I am well aware that I am not the intellectual you are; nor do I have a surfeit of training in that regard. Still, I do believe we share a strong affinity for perceived knowledge that does not come from training.
    I perceive that these are fine poems.
    I intuit that your landscapes have a mythological grandeur.
    Those mind pictures from which you create your poems seem to have a symmetry in them which runs on a parallel track to mine.
    This is why I can say you are that rare person, the creator/intellectual, and your work always offers both intellectual speculation and sensory delight.
    Thank you for having done it once again.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Sally, I usually do turn a subject inside out before I write about it. I gather intellectual information, but with amber in my thoughts as a topic, I got distracted on evening walks past a neighbor’s rose bush with big amber-colored roses. I could not begin to write until the bush had gone through its full blooming season. Maybe it was clarifying my perceptions! I am glad you enjoy the resultant poems.

      Reply
  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Margaret, you have pulled out all the poetic stops in this treat of a post and I love it – alliteration, onomatopoeia, internal rhyme, imagery, sensory appeal, and a whole lot more. Brian has already mentioned my favorite; “piquant treacle” – an aural delight. The word treacle takes me straight back to delicious desserts of my homeland. Treacle steamed pudding and custard was a firm favourite… that amber, ambrosial nectar coating a light fluffy sponge came to mind when I read your words… I’m certain this was not your intent, and apologize profusely for this distraction. Here’s another; “The tint of the brilliant, bare bronze-featured sun” – divine.

    Margaret, thank you for my delicious and delightful journey through the wonders of amber.

    Reply
    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Margaret, I’ve just re-read “Amber Song”. It’s beautiful, inspirational, educational, and just the sort of poem that inspires my literary passions. Very well done, indeed!

      Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Susan, the word “treacle” was not in my vocabulary when I first visited England. But I have now cooked with it successfully, thanks to the guidance of June, an expert on sweets who owns the nearest British Emporium. She made sure I bought golden treacle for a marmalade tart, and not the black treacle needed for spicy Scottish buns. Thus I welcome your culinary response to “Amber Song.” Glad you enjoyed the poems and the memories!

      Reply
  5. Paul Freeman

    Thanks for expanding my knowledge and experience of amber beyond Jurassic Park and a BBC documentary set on a lake somewhere on an Eastern European shoreline.

    I particularly enjoyed the chronological and physical journey in Apollo’s Tears.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you so much, Paul. All mythology tells us about the journey from Greece to Hyperborea is (1) no one except Apollo has completed it and (2) the destination is beyond the very home of Boreas, the frigid North Wind. Therefore I’m delighted that you particularly enjoyed what came entirely from my imagination! The rest of the information (about what amber is and how tree sap becomes amber) has its basis in nature. Near the Baltic shore, amber was formerly mined from the earth as well as collected from beaches. And like the mines, there are presumably seafloor pits that contain a great deal of it, which is released and thrown up by storms. Unlike mineral pebbles on the beach, amber is an organic compound light enough to float in salt water. But when it’s found, it is not quite as polished as the golden piece that stands out among the pebbles in the illustration!

      Reply
  6. BDW

    as per Lew Icarus Bede:

    Although for me, Ms. Coats’ “Amber Song” is not a “spectacular evocation of the beauty and mythological history of amber”, I do like Mr. Salemi’s suggestive comment of things “trapped in this ancient fossilized sap”, his prose begging for an H. D.-like poem, etc.

    Of course, I liked the meter of the poem, despite its variants, and I liked its topic, one I recently embraced, but from a focus upon Thales. I also liked, as Mr. Yapko did, the underappreciated Baltic/Lithuanian touch; though I might have used actual Lithuanian works as a backdrop or as a tag. As a Dickinson fan, I did like the Greek and Latinate elements; to me that is a challenge to the metric camp in poetry (of which I am, partially, a part-icipant). I think the meter that Ms. Coats chose for “Amber Song” was appropriately the “folk ballad” form, which for me, despite the poem’s visual layout, seemed the longer-lined poem.

    As to Mr. Jurien’s open question about “the catalogue” in poetry, I particularly appreciated his noting of Pessoa (Alvaro de Compos) and Whitman, two important poetic figures of the Realist and Modernist eras. Like Ms. Coats, I tend to look backward for examples of “the catalogue” in poetry, as in the Iliadic ships, etc. Though spiritedly I indulge in catalogues myself, as Ms. Coats, Mr. Salemi, and countless others do (and have done), it is those of John Milton which are my favourite.

    My favourite comment in this thread is that of Ms. Coats, when she connects to Marlowe’s and Raleigh’s poems, and the mention of “amber studs”, a phrase, I think, I used in my response to those two Elizabethans in their stanzaic forms. It is that attention to detail which reveals one important element of poetic talent.

    Like Ms. Cook, I also like Ms. Coats “getting inside” of her topics. In addition, I appreciate the range of her topics, even if I do not share her artistic goals; for it is there I am closer to her poetry than perhaps to any other New Millennial poet. It is that variety, partially practiced by poets @ SCP, that I think essential for the advancement (such as it may be) in New Millennial poetry in English, etc.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Bruce, for your attention to the poems and your comments. The topic was an easy choice for someone with half Lithuanian ancestry and a love of classical mythology. Myth about amber and Hyperborea is rather sparse, leaving the field open for development. In doing research, I came upon Thales as the one who is said to have discovered or reported amber’s electromagnetic properties; thus I see how you came to be interested. I only touched upon the science. I hardly understand the claim that Baltic amber is a limited and diminishing quantity, if it begins with tree sap. The Soviets did not de-forest Lithuania, although there are fewer trees and more farms than a century ago. I did allude in the song to my belief that amber forms and cures faster than some “experts” think. Australians have clearly demonstrated than opals can be produced, using natural materials and means, far more quickly than used to be thought.

      With regard to Lithuanian poetry, I don’t refer to anything except the main genres because I don’t know the language. My Lithuanian ancestry is on my father’s side, and I have paid much more attention to my mother tongue, and other heritage from that side. There are online translations of Lithuanian poetry, but I have the strong suspicion that much formal verse has been translated into English free verse. And though I am interested in a small portion of what I find, it’s beyond my abilities and my interests to go much further in that direction. For example, I can’t really tell whether my choice of meter for “Amber Song” corresponds to Lithuanian folk song meter or not. It is, as you say, a common meter for English folk songs and hymns, and I have to be satisfied with that as representing folk song to readers of English. I am aware that long lines in Lithuanian poetry are hexameters, with complex rules for what counts as a measure. Having dealt with that in medieval and Renaissance French, I know that only reading widely in the poetry, not trying to master the rules, gives a sense of the music. And since my own English hexameters rarely satisfy me, I chose blank verse for “Apollo’s Tears.” In cataloguing, the four lists (of amber inclusions, wave motions, colors, and shapes) lead up to three participles and three nouns in the last three lines. You may not have liked the feminine ending of “animating,” but remember that in syllabic French, a feminine rhyme ending a line is simply not counted as an extra syllable, even though it is one. And in English, of course, I’m counting stresses. Hope I haven’t stressed you out with all this!

      Reply
  7. BDW@

    Though I know I am nearly always misread @ SCP, I am “stressed”, and all of English poetry is “stressful”. I do so truly hate English poetry (and love it)—odi et amo.

    In regards to “amber studs”, I did use the phrase in a poem of a decade ago, and first published at the Kalyna Review, in which I joined in the arguments of Elizabethans Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) and Walter Raleigh (1552-1618).

    The Shepherd’s Response to the Nymph
    by Wilude Scabere

    Though nothing that is born stays young,
    nor does truth lie on but one tongue;
    yet still there is that which can move
    you, lovely nymph, to be my love.

    It is not rocks, nor flocks we see,
    nor rivers that bring love to me,
    nor birds that sing from morning to
    the evening that would give me you.

    Though roses make a nice bouquet,
    to move you, love, it is not they,
    nor is it gold or diamond rings;
    you will not fall in love with things.

    The clothes we wear will all wear out;
    that they would bring forth love, I doubt.
    So caps and shoes, it can be said,
    will not move heart, nor hands, nor head.

    And as for belts of straw and buds,
    or coral clasps and amber studs,
    these are ridiculous, I trove.
    They could not move you ever, love.

    It’s not delights, like these that bring
    two lovers close in lovely spring.
    It is ourselves, not stars above
    or stones below, that make love move.

    In regards to Lithuania:

    L12 of “The Wasteland” by T. S. Eliot (1888-1965): Bin gar keine Russin, stamm‘ aus Litauen, echt deutsch. [I have a poem somewhere on that line.]

    I am reminded of the Cole Porter (1891-1964) lyric:
    “…In Spain the best upper sets do it,
    Lithuanian and Letts do it,
    Let’s do it, let’s fall in love…”

    Although I do have Estonian, Belarusian, Russian, and Polish charichords, I have been remiss with Lithuania and Latvia. In light of that, spurred on by your nod to Lithuania, here is a tennos on the Modernist Lithuanian poet Maironis (1895-1932).

    Intro to Maironis
    by Liudas Weberec

    His was the voice of spring, the poet Jonas Mačiulus,
    professor, priest, mathematician, known as Maironis.
    From Kaunas High, he went to Kiev University,
    returning to achieve his art in Lithuania.
    He later went to the Saint Petersburg Academy
    to study deeply Roman Catholic theology.
    O, sonorously and melodic’lly, but nat’rally,
    he wrote in lyric, epic, and dramatic poetry,
    replacing pure syllabic verse with accents in his voice,
    portraying love of country, past and present, classic, poised.

    Newsreel July 9, 2021:
    Today Lithuania began building a barrier on the border with Belarus
    to halt the flow of illegal migrants sent in by Belarusian authorities
    in retaliation for sanctions imposed by the EU bloc.

    Though Boreas frequently blows into my poems, you alerted me (& SCP) to “hyperboreal” in the fifth stanza of “Amber Song”. That sent me first to Herodotus, and then to Pindar.

    The Muse is never absent there, where lyres flash and flutes cry out,
    and maiden choruses whirl round, o, everywhere about.
    Disease and bitter age aren’t mixed within their sacred blood;
    and they live far from work and battle; everything is good.

    And though it didn’t grab me, even poetic’lly cursorily, at least I now have the word available for the future. But it is the metrical work in the 5th stanza of “Amber Song” that I “may not have liked”, not the diction-rich, blank verse of “Apollo’s Tears”. In fact, I actually liked that “animating” touch @ the end. As you already are well aware, I’m really difficult to please, as my poetic vision coincides at very few points with writers of this generation. [As an example, Mr. Tweedie has written all kinds of poems, et cetera, but the single poem of his I like, despite natural flaws, “Contemplating Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer”, equal to the best of Timothy Steele, received little critical attention @ SCP. ] You know I do not give the glowing remarks others @ SCP give, because we have already discussed how I think all poetry has flaws, like painting, philosophy, mathematics, music, physics…

    So, having said that again, hopefully not “stressing” you out, for me “Apollo’s Tears” is too diffuse. It is brilliant in conception, at moments it approaches Tennyson, but your control over the rich material you have displayed is lacking. It is breathtaking in its NewMillennial vision, but it is unwieldy. Its depth is beyond that of most of SCP, and it may be my favourite poem of yours thus far; and yet…let me give just one example:

    “Beyond and through the north wind’s savage storms
    He bursts, though circled by occluding hills
    Steep, lacking footholds, thrusting strugglers off,
    Slippery as serried snow and wild as boars
    That wander there to feed on freezing flesh.”

    To me, this sentence is as out of control as Tennyson’s opening to “Ulysses”:

    “It little profits that an idle king,
    By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
    Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
    Unequal laws unto a savage race,
    That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.”

    Though for me, Tennyson begins with an off-step, he controls the rest of his material so well, that the poem rightfully deserves its high place in the Victorian canon. For me, I did not get that from “Apollo’s Tears”. Perhaps I’m missing something, and you could elucidate; but I have said enough.

    And, if you do not want this in your thread, have Mr. Mantyk delete it, as my contrarian comments were in the case of Christopher Flint’s poem, pulled from SCP. I am so used to being deleted by PostModernist and NewMillennial editors I hardly care, though I do have charichords, like Bic Uwel, “Erased”, to deal with that side of contemporary poetry.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Bruce, I do like your “Shepherd’s Response.” The nymph has apparently persuaded the shepherd that his first approach was wrong, and he is willing to throw it aside for her. You help him get to a point of view that is straightforwardly personal. His great challenge now is whether she actually likes him, but her contribution to the debate via Raleigh leaves that unclear. I would say she ought to test him more, having seen that he easily changes his tune. His long-term practical intentions remain unclear–and we know that she is concerned with the effects of time on their situation.

      In the Maironis poem, that is a superb final line. It gives due credit to a man who had to weave his way through world-shaking events in developing his goals, and who gained some renown in what he achieved. I wouldn’t call him a Modernist. I think you made a typo on his birthdate: it was 1862, and that extra generation-length in his life made a big difference.

      Thank you for posting the two poems here, and for your critique of mine. I think I know what you mean, and I’ll answer when I have more time.

      Reply
  8. Tom Rimer

    One advantage we have in coming late to reading these poems is that we can enjoy and think over the comments already made by others. It is fascinating to see the wide variety of approaches taken by the various correspondents in approaching these two beautiful poems, which my wife and I enjoyed reading and re-reading very much.

    For me, my strongest response, particularly for “Apollo’s Tears,” is to call up memories of paintings by Titian and Rubens which, while using elements of classical mythology, provide cornucopias of lush, colorful images. This is the same prodigious richness I find here, and repeated readings have reinforced these happy impressions.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Tom, and thank Laurence for her appreciation. The topic is indeed a rich one, as the mythology suggests. Myth doesn’t say exactly why Apollo (who’s not an emotional type) sheds tears. There is a suggestion that he missed Olympus while in Hyperborea, but I am hinting that the tears come as a response to his mother’s homeland. Take your choice. In any case, these tears are tremendous riches that carry with them Apollo’s light, warmth, force, and capacity for healing. The illustration chosen by our editor shows seashore pebbles that might all be amber. Amber as it comes from the sea is rough. Once pebbles are tested for capacity to float in salt water, and a warmer, softer touch than rocks would have, they are known to be amber that can be polished into jewels of every color from ivory to black. Gold tending to orange is most common in the great abundance of Baltic amber, and it’s been that way since trade with Greece began in ancient times.

      Reply
  9. BDW

    Thanks for correcting the typo; he lived to be 69—Maironis (1862-1932). There is very good reason for not calling Maironis a Modernist, especially as a new generation felt his voice at the beginning of the 20th century was already dated. Individuals don’t really conveniently fit into constructed categories (literary, or other). Take Shakespeare, for example, I usually call his work Elizabethan, but what about his Baroque Jacobian dramas? etc. I rejected the Realist label; but perhaps I could have called him a Naturalist, another term for late 19th century and early 20th century literature.

    A recent Lithuanian film on the brutality of the communist labour camps (a major topic of mine in 2020 and 2021), “Ashes in the Snow” (2018), mentions the myth of Jurate and Kastitus, where the sea goddess sheds tears of amber mourning over her beloved.

    In a now lost play by Sophocles, Pliny refers to Sophocles’ link of amber (tears) to Meleager’s tragic death by his mother.

    Coincidentally, “amber” popped up, in an offhand manner, in a recent note on the “incentovise” of the young free-verse poet Joshua Corwin, who I said was “not to be confused with Corwin, a Prince of Amber, the main character in the first five books of the “Chronicles of Amber” by Postmodernist American poet and fantasy/sci-fi author Roger Zelazny (1937-1995).” Is that possibly where I got my ’95?

    Apparently Ovid indicated, in his myth of Phaethon, the vegetable origins of amber. I turn to Ovid frequently, especially in his exile, appearing in a not-particularly-good, recent poem of mine: “cOvid-19”.

    Thanks for your comment on Marlowe/Raleigh. I now see I need to change the title of that poem for its next printing to “The Second Shepherd’s Response to the Nymph”. What I was trying to do in that poem was to offer “my” 21st century outlook to that dialogue—that is, to link our present to the Elizabethan period from a NewMillennial point of view.

    The “Intro to Maironis” needs a better title. I’m glad you liked the last line, which draws from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “An Ancient Gesture” by the placement of the word “classic” at the end of the line,

    “This is an ancient gesture, authentic, antique,
    In the very best tradition, classic, Greek…”

    though, of course, I am using iambic heptameter. Though I am not a “devotee” of Millay’s verse generally (as I am of Dickinson’s, for example), I think her extraordinary poem deserves greater recognition; and how wonderful it was that when I came to that last line, my memory of her poem succinctly clipped the tennos; and you caught a glimpse of it.

    Reply
  10. Margaret Coats

    Many things in that last comment, Bruce! I didn’t know of all those references to amber as tears. As I remarked above, I chose the myth that amber represents Apollo’s tears. The other important one is the Phaethon myth, where amber comes from the tears of Phaethon’s sisters, who are transformed into trees. This is somewhat more complex, and again as I said above, it is quite suited to a southern backdrop and Mediterranean amber.

    In your metrical critique of “Amber Song,” you refer to the fifth stanza, where I substitute dactyls for iambic feet, pronouncing “HY-per-BOR-e-an” and “LI-thu-AN-i-an,” rather than stressing the fifth syllables of these words. That is, I use normal word accent rather than forcing the words into the iambic meter. Forced meter, especially in a song, creates a ridiculous and undesirable sing-song effect by stressing syllables that are not stressed in speech.

    The other lines you quote as lacking control are more interesting. Here are the two lines that are not regular iambic. They describe extremely frigid hills in the domain of Boreas, beyond which is the temperate Hyperborea.

    Steep, lacking footholds, thrusting strugglers off,
    Slippery as serried snow and wild as boars . . .

    The first of these lines definitely lacks control, because I wrote it that way. For it to be an iambic line, the first foot would need to be a spondaic substitution–but a caesura breaks up that foot, and another breaks up the third foot. The meter serves the meaning here–and this is certainly the toughest line I have written, because this barrier must be impossible to pass, even for an Arctic expeditionary force. This is a ten-syllable line in an iambic poem, but it has three parts with a total of six stresses. Just take it as wild–but the underlying rhythm it breaks is iambic; it is not free verse.

    The second line is simply an iambic line with a trochaic substitution to begin. The first word “slippery” is two syllables in accord with longstanding pronunciation. A phonetic transcription puts the central schwa in brackets, but we don’t need to remove the “e” and put an apostrophe there.

    The five lines you quote may be a challenging sentence for some readers, but there is no troublesome grammar, and I think the punctuation is clear. Let me know if you need more explication. Paul Freeman above actually liked this part of the poem.

    Reply
  11. Daniel Kemper

    I’m impressed by your creative range. These poems are so different yet each captures a voice perfectly. I’m also intrigued by that impactful amber-colored rose…

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks, Daniel. I wanted a girl’s voice in the song, but thought of the narrator in “Apollo’s Tears” as simply explaining myth and nature more fully than usual. Now that you say so, I can hear that voice as a “bardsinger” (to borrow Theresa Rodriguez’ name for her website). As for those amber roses, they kept me thinking for a good, long time. Taking a walk is one of my recommendations for students who have trouble beginning a paper, or who can’t seem to write enough to fulfill an assignment. Both of these amber poems are longer than I thought they might be, but I’m satisfied with the length. Of course, the comments help confirm me in my satisfaction. Thanks for confirming that these two on the same subject are in fact quite different!

      Reply
  12. Daniel Kemper

    Here’s the problem you contend with — note we cross swords on aspects of literary theory and probably will continue to for a while — to start again… Here’s the problem you contend with: I have known many geniuses and they always think they are “simply explaining” or that what they see is obvious. It doesn’t mean their genius extends to all fields (e.g. a roommate who got swindled by a car-dealer), but within their field, things they think are obvious, just aren’t. So it is with much of your writing, in my view. That’s a compliment in case it didn’t come out clearly.

    Regarding walks – Yes, yes, and yes! I love to challenge the peak of the heat of the day, frozen water bottle in each cargo pocket and stroll the Pocket-Greenhaven Greenbelt, memorizing and reciting poems (and lookers on staring at the weird guy talking to himself). Whether talking or walking or both, it is a great level-setter/mind clearer. Long live the peripatetics!

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Yes, motor activity and mental activity do mesh. Of course, the current protocol for talking to yourself is to do it with a phone in your hand, so that onlookers will think someone is listening. But that loses some of the benefit gained by ambulatory arm-swinging.

      My problem seems to be shared by most people, with or without a field of expertise. We all think what we perceive is obvious, and are surprised when others are uninterested or hostile. Thank you for the compliment in saying that what I write here does not seem obvious to many SCP readers. I hope that means I explain it clearly, when what I am doing is explaining. It’s more difficult to explain clearly in a poem (e.g., explaining myth and materials science in the amber poems). This is why I usually have my husband (or someone else) read my poems. Long life together does not guarantee that he understands what I write, but when he finds something problematic, I can usually understand how the words are troublesome.

      Now I do suppose that by telling me I have a problem, you are suggesting a correction, but I am not sure what kind of correction you mean. Do you think I need to write more? The difficulty with that is, eyes glaze over when they see a long block of print. Long poems get less attention than short ones. Essays get less attention than long poems. But I think you are aware of that, and anyway, that’s not your problem. Thanks for the unusual comment and friendly discussion.

      Reply

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