Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Here were the words of the Blind Poet

This one I picked up from Poets.org, because I didn't have a poem in mind for today.  You could play "name that poem" with the references in here...I put some at the bottom.

An Octave Above Thunder
Carol Muske-Dukes

  ... reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience.

--T. S. Eliot,
"What the Thunder Said"


She began as we huddled, six of us,
in the cellar, raising her voice above
those towering syllables...

Never mind she cried when storm candles
flickered, glass shattered upstairs.
Reciting as if on horseback,
                   she whipped the meter,

trampling rhyme, reining in the reins
of the air with her left hand as she
stood, the washing machine behind her
              stunned on its haunches, not spinning.

She spun the lines around each other,
her gaze fixed. I knew she'd silenced
a cacophony of distractions in her head,
              to summon what she owned, rote-bright:

                             Of man's first disobedience,
                                        and the fruit...
                              of the flower in a crannied wall
                              and one clear call...

for the child who'd risen before school assemblies:
eerie Dakota rumble that rolled yet never brought
rain breaking over the podium. Her voice rose,
                        an octave above thunder:

When I consider how my light is spent--
I thought of her light, poured willy-nilly.
in this dark world and wide: half-blind, blind,
a widening distraction Getting and spending
 we lay waste our powers...Different poem, a trick!

Her eyes singled me out as the wind slowed.
Then, reflective, I'd rather be / a Pagan
 suckled in a creed outworn / than a dullard
                         with nothing by heart.

It was midsummer, Minnesota. In the sky,
the Blind Poet blew sideways, his cape spilling
rain. They also serve! she sang, hailing

as I stopped hearing her. I did not want to
stand and wait. I loathed nothing so much
as the forbearance now in her voice,
              insisting that Beauty was at hand,

but not credible. I considered
how we twisted into ourselves to live.
When the storm stopped, I sat still,

Here were the words of the Blind Poet--
crumpled like wash for the line, to be
dried, pressed flat. Upstairs, someone called
                   my name. What sense would it ever

make to them, the unread world, the getters and spenders,
if they could not hear what I heard,
              not feel what I felt
              nothing ruined poetry, a voice revived it,


"Of man's first disobedience" --Milton, Paradise Lost
"of the flower in a crannied wall" -- Tennyson, "Flower in a crannied wall"
"One clear call" -- Tennyson, "Crossing the Bar"
"When I consider how my light is spent" 
 "in this dark world and wide" 
                       --Milton, Sonnet 19, "On His Blindness"
"Getting and spending/we lay waste our powers" 
"I'd rather be / a Pagan suckled in a creed outworn

             -- Wordsworth, "The World is Too Much with Us"
"They also serve"
"stand and wait"
                 --Milton, Sonnet 19, "On His Blindness" 
"The Blind Poet" could be an allusion to Homer or to Milton (at the end of his life), but perhaps also to Tiresias, the blind prophet and a voice in The Waste Land. And the number of allusions here make it seem like she is paying homage to Eliot.


  1. When I was a kid in Catholic school, there was one nun who used to make us memorize poetry every time any one in the class misbehaved. I got quite good at it.

    But even back in those distant, pre-internet days, Sister was an anomaly. When did schools stop making students memorize and recite as a matter of course, anyway?

    These days, I have much more poetry on my shelves but much less of it stays in my head. Not whole poems, anyway, it's just single lines and "that reminds me of that poem, I'd better google the exact verse..."

    An Irish rann on the virtues of memory:
    The man who only took
    His learning from a book,
    If that from him be took
    He knows not where to look!

    I recognized most of the quotes; is there something definite that "Never mind" comes from?

    And no evocation of blind poets would be complete without Blind Raftery. I believe I quoted you one of the traditional translations once; here's a more contemporary version:

    I’m Raftery the poet.
    My eyes stare blind
    I’ve known love, still hold hope,
    live in peace of mind.

    Weary and worn
    I walk my way
    by the light of my heart
    to my death’s marked day.

    Look at me now,
    with my face to the wall,
    playing for people
    who have nothing at all.

    tr. Desmond O'Grady

  2. I had to memorize bits and pieces of Shakespeare in high school and college, but not really any other poetry.

    During my senior year I was writing my thesis on the Four Quartets, so I just memorized chunks of them without meaning to because I read them so often. I still can quote bits.