A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year

I know I've aired this one before, but it seemed appropriate.

New Year

Poised between past and future
Between alpha and omega
Between failure and fear of failure

I rub the almond that we’d picked,
Unripe, in Agrigento, Sicily. Once plucked
It could not ripen. Hard in my hand

It lodges: a furred, green pebble
Now blemished black. The nutcracker
Had skidded off its hull.

My mind goes back
To that low ridge of broken temples,
Tumbled blocks of stone,

Lintels at crazy angles,
Weeds creviced in the rock, 
Wine-dark caverns, olive groves.

At one cave wall we whispered and,
Incredibly, the echo boomed like thunder.
Were the gods displeased?

Or had the gods fled long ago
The lemon gardens of Agrigento,
Lizards flicking the hot stones?

We are not strangers, yet we were
Half-strangers to each other then,
Lovers lost in a stricken city 

Of split columns, cracked entablatures. 
Just like empires, we decline and fall.
Our glories fade like jasmine flowers,

Our dreams die with the gods,
Our empty promises
Useless as unripe amandolas.


George said...

A lovely, enchanting poem, Robert, and it sounds very fresh to me. Beautifully written.

Vagabonde said...

I do not know how to read this poem – it sounds a bit sad to me “Just like empires, we decline and fall” and “our dreams die with the gods.” I hope you will have more dreams for 2013 and certainly more lovely walks – best wishes.

Sabine said...

Enchanting and a surprising reminder of a balmy October day in Sicily. Thank.

Dominic Rivron said...

Like that. And the subject matter gives it a whiff of Pound, too, which I like.

jan said...

Thank you Robert. So many hopes. I love this but agree there is a sadness about it. I suppose that there always is that sadness lingering for what was and what could have been.

Ruth said...


This has a mix of lost hope and also hope, inside the beautiful images and phrases. I hope it leans more into hope, back to that fourth line.

Anonymous said...

The cadence is rather broken up and terse, and therefore curt and mildy confrontational to begin. Some of the sentiments or ideas, seem in their expression to be rather artificial, over constructed, formulaic. One can see the writer working at writing poetry, the result being little laboured.

The hubris of "Just like empires etc" and also "our dreams" linked to "the gods" strikes a jarring note.

I'd say this poem has the marks of thinking too much, rather than following the impulse which started it. Every worthy poet (as you are) works on his first draft, but overhandling, as with a wild bird, can kill it.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous. I really appreciate it.

I think that 'confrontational' tone is ok, and continues its broken-up style right to the end. Intentionally. But I think you hit accurately, perhaps — no, I'm sure — on the hubris of the 'empire' and 'gods' stuff — probably too high-minded for a minor, personal semi-tragedy.

This is such a constructive criticism, and I really do appreciate it. Really. It's often so difficult to get proper and useful criticism in cyberspace.

Anonymous said...

I totally accept your comment that "confrontation" was your (skilled) intention, and I think that therefore my half-right view was a miss as good as a mile.It's good to see the critic criticised, tho' I see the role of critic in its appraising sense, not in being negative as one sense of the word suggests. But critics have always borne the brunt of writers' rejection, and very rightly so. Critics are secondary and should take their licks. Yet the best of them can be a catalyst for understanding.

To write a poem and to offer it publicly is an act of honesty and exposure that requires courage from the poet. If one in ten poems is "successful" then that is doing well. But what a difficult path it is to follow.

In writing the thoughtful lyric, you are doing what I cannot do. The critic, if he/she is open, can have a vital role to play but it is always secondary to the writer's role. A good critic (I don't claim that) can stand aside from a poem and offer one reasoned view of the work, to be accepted or rejected. It is a poet/critic dialogue in which the poet must always take first place. I don't accept Shelley's faintly patrician 'poets/legislators' view- but I know what he means.

I think of Seamus Heaney's various critical works which are gold standard in criticism,and incredibly valuable to both writer and critic. Heaney seems to operate, first and last, from a love of poet and poetry. His criticism is in the end, loving.

Poetry appraisal can be difficult because there is a natural human tendency to praise the poem. Ultimately it's a marvellous impulse, but it doesn't help the poet. I say to friends "I have made you this meal. If you don't like it, please don't tell me it's delicious, because then you'll be served this dish again". If we laugh about this, it's good. But I don't put them on the spot, where I would not like to be.

If we knew personally the poets we appraise/praise, we could not be objective. I couldn't anyway. As'anonymous', I can offer a view and most importantly, be opposed, rejected and corrected (a Dylan-like echo somewhere!).

I like many of your poems and also honour your committment to the life of poetry in this blog.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks so much for your further comment, Anon. It's true that some of the best creative writers are the worst critics (too much egoism and jealousy) and some of the best critics are the worst creative writers (many examples). And sometimes the writer and critic roles are perfectly attuned (JB Priestley).

Personally, I love constructive, intelligent criticism — how else can one learn? I welcome it. (Did you hear those poetry workshop programmes on Radio 4 — or it may have been Radio 3 — sensitively and encouragingly led by Ruth Padel?)

I agree about Seamus Heaney — his essays, critical works, reviews, poems, interviews are all of a whole. The man is the work and the work is the man (in his case).

am said...

Although I clearly remember this poem, I had forgotten that its title is "New Year." Looked up the post from 2011, which I didn't comment on. Guess I was feeling the sadness and didn't know what to say. That's what happened this year, too.

What I want to say today is, "Feliz Año Nuevo and Buen Camino."

jen revved said...

So evocative and tender-- a stubborn totem, like the acorn I found in the parking lot one day-- but giving so much back in the contemplation. I love these lines:

Or had the gods fled long ago
The lemon gardens of Agrigento,
Lizards flicking the hot stones?...

Perhaps there is a bit of cerebration in the poem but then we are flesh and intellect, yes? The beauty of two in the ruins, looking for some connection to the living-- live with the poem awhile and see if Anon's comments are really just. xxxj

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your appreciative and appreciated comment, Jenne.

In the end I think I do disagree with Anon: I don't think the poem's particularly formulaic, and cerebral I think is ok (if it is cerebral, though I'm not exactly sure what that means here). I don't think the poem would bear change, the way I feel it. And the 'hubris' may work quite well — two alone, half-shattered themselves in the stricken city, trying to summon god-like strength to go on. Lovers can sometimes feel the only people in the world, tragic players in a high drama.