For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Friday, 1 March 2013

When I Thought I Was Right I Was Wrong

When I thought I was right I was wrong.
I was weak when I thought I was strong.
When I thought I was big I was small.
I was short when I thought I was tall.

When I thought I was young I was old.
When I thought I was hot I was cold.
When I thought I was good I was bad.
When I smiled I disguised I was sad.

When I thought I was saint I was sinner,
A loser and never a winner.
I was lost when I thought I was found,
In a tunnel deep under the ground.

When I thought that I might not be heard
I left without saying a word,
I left without writing a line,
And I thought I would manage just fine.

I knew I had nothing to say
When the night would not turn into day.
When I thought I was white I was black.
It's too late. But I wish I was back.

18 comments:

Suman said...

This is beautiful, Robert. Somewhere deep inside, we all have these stories hidden.. And the last line almost breaks my heart.

Mark said...

Bravo - love that, shall be printing it off and stowing it away somewhere handy.

George said...

Well done, Robert. Lao-tzu would have applauded the discovery of all of these paradoxes in your life. As to the inability to go back, I would say that only adjectives travel in that direction, whereas verbs dwell in both presence and possibility. From what I have observed, my friend, you are more of a verb than an adjective.

Gerry Snape said...

great rhythm that drives it on and very tender concepts...thankyou.

The Weaver of Grass said...

It is never too late Robert - never forget that pearl of wisdom.

John Zorn said...

Rhyming couplets seem to me to be *sometimes* a straitjacket which obliges one to favour the rhyme before what we want to say. In other words, the need for rhyme diminishes the thought or impulse in the selection of a word which fits, but isn't really what one wants. Tail wagging the dog?

If the couplets are closed then the danger of meaning slipping away is increased, I think.

One may end up with a neat rhyme scheme, but I wonder if that is the most important thing? Is this form over function? Style over substance?

Clearly my preference is for substance and function. Perhaps that's why I like reading free verse.

I wonder what others think?

The Solitary Walker said...

Sometimes formal rhymes and structures can be a 'liberating' straitjacket, I think — enhancing meaning, forcing the writer to be hyper-exact with the meaning.

Similarly, free verse can sometimes make a writer lazy and inexact — too much freedom can detract from meaning. Did not Eliot say that 'no vers is libre for the man who wants to do a good job'?

Whether rhymed or unrhymed, formal or informal, highly structured or less obviously structured, tight or free — style and substance, form and content should marry.

I like reading all kinds of poetry, if it works, if it's good — whatever the structure.

John Zorn said...

I fully agree with your comments on the pitfalls of free verse. Many may feel that this is an easier form, but I'd say it's more difficult. Liberation can become a licence to be sloppy..

I'm not sure though about the 'liberating straitjacket'. And I'm not sure if one can be 'hyper exact' when one is obliged to find a rhyme before meaning/intention. Pope managed it though. So that's one against my thoughts.

Think of it at its most fundamental - do we want style or substance. Which has priority? Or is this a false question?

If both can be achieved (as Pope managed) then it works. But I for one get tired of reading Pope for its eternal precision. But he's good at it.

Maybe I can compare this issue to gardens/landscape - some like formality,(a managed landscape) others like informality(the wild hedgerow). Or better the wilderness, so hard to find.

And yet, and yet, I like the look of the intensely formal Zen garden, constructed to rules; but in the end I prefer the wild, rather than a representation of the wild.



Of course I agree that if a poem works, it works.

The Solitary Walker said...

I repeat, I think both style and substance are intertwined, John. So, yes, I think it's a false question. Forget Pope — just consider Shakespeare, Marvell, Keats, Wordsworth, Eliot, Larkin, Heaney and many more poets who seamlessly marry the two in rhymed and/or unrhymed ways.

Re. gardens, temperamentally I prefer the wilder garden — but even Gertrude Jekyll had formal colour patterns in her designs. And another part of my brain also likes the highly formal structure of the Japanese or French garden. I suppose, as in poetry, if a garden works, it works.

John Zorn said...

Good points!

My problem is less with rhyme in itself but the cramming of rhyme into couplets or quatrains if it erodes intent or meaning.

I agree to forget Pope (relief!). I will go along with many of the poets you invoke but will put aside Wordsworth. Purely on grounds of preference, for he is so deeply boring, and in later life his poetry reflected his politics - fossilised, futile and comfortable.Radical to reactionary. Which is allowable but not acceptable in old age.

On S/Speare, we love his poetry and note that he reserved poetry for the 'upper' classes and saved prose for the servants. Tony Harrison is excellent on this. Of course ole Billy was a product of his time as we all are. He made a fair job of his talents too.

What do others think, I wonder?

The Solitary Walker said...

'The Prelude' boring?!

John Zorn said...

Yes 'The Prelude' is dull and deadly. I think.

What do others say?

The Solitary Walker said...

Well, I'm astonished, but I can only speak for myself. It's one of my favourite poems by anyone anywhere.

Wendy said...

It might be a beneficial practice to be neither rigidly formalist nor insistently dismissive of form.

Personally, I like this poem's use of rhymed couplets, which lend a playfulness appropriate to the opening tone of "immaturity" that leads up to and is juxtaposed with the poem's final existential seriousness.

In reference to Mr. Zorn's comments, my untrained ear/eye catches at most two lines where the rhyme seems to dictate a line's direction (I can't go so far as to say it sounds forced), but... overall I think it works and melds substance and function.

I was delighted by this.

John Zorn said...

A very few words on WW and The Prelude.

Firstly, I am averse to epic; from the Mahabarata to the worst of all - Milton's Paradise Lost, where I lose the will to live. Then there is The Prelude, which is a punishment for its endless drone. And I wonder about someone who can write "Bliss it was to be alive/but to be young was very heaven". Ouch!

And elsewhere,
"I see a little muddy pond
of water, never dry,
I've measured it from side to side
'Tis three feet long and two feet wide". Sigh.

His philosophy I also disagree with (tho' I'd let that pass if I could tolerate the poem); the idea that life is a circular journey is patently untrue, I think.

As for taste? Vive la difference!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for understanding what I was trying to achieve, Wendy. Sometimes a traditional form can counterpoint existential angst and the deceiving, schizophrenic mind to good effect, I think.

John Zorn said...

You make an interesting comment about angst and deceit, which seems to me to be full of potential. I guess there's more you could say.

Is this something on which you'd elaborate?

John Zorn said...

Mrs Wendy - it's a pleasure to read your comment.

From this I consider what you say, see your point of view and realise anew that appreciation of poetry is personal. But you go further and say WHY you think as you do. Many don't do that.