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Saturday, March 12, 2005

On moonlit heath and lonesome bank (Housman)

this is an audio post - click to play

Here's the text of the poem.


Humble Servant said...

"The stroke of eight is the stroke of fate"--Oscar Wilde, Ballad of Reading Gaol. Near contemporaneous (Wilde's is one year earlier) and eerily similar. (Too contemporaenous, I think, to be plagiarism--just must've been something in the air.)

MackJohnny said...

Hmm, I see you feel quite strongly about that....

Heh, it was probably the heels of dead men in the air.

Seriously, though, I think you're right about it being coincidence. The hour of execution was probably a set time across England. If that's so, then 8 a.m. was graven pretty deeply into the minds of people who though about such things, as Housman and Wilde obviously did.

Humble Servant said...

Triple posted? Got error messages and no comments showed up. But I've larnt my lesson--assume it's gone through. Thanks for cleaning up--you may blame IE if that will assuage things.

There is something much more evocative (what a word to use in context but what is better? romantic? compelling? imaginative?) about a public hanging on a scaffold as opposed to lethal injection in a closed in prison room. The public aspect, the out in nature aspect, the openness aspect, the crucifixion aspect, the spectacle of it, the commonality. What are poets (safe in armchairs--even Wilde?) doing screwing around with something that profound/violative as a condemned man's actual death? And doing it well? I'm sure someone is writing poems about lethal injection, but they would be political things and they would be respectful, not personal, I think.

MackJohnny said...

"Compellingly evocative?" "Evocatively compelling?" Tough call, alright.

I agree with what I think you're saying about executions. Does hiding them away from public eyes make them (executions) any more civilized? Who are we kidding?

Does using lethal injection make us any more civilized as a species?

In the end, death is death and trying to disguise that ultimate fact by hiding it away and using needles for the job ... these are only lies, lies, lies.

Interesting questions you bring up: would a poem about a lethal injection be only political? Would "respectful" and "personal" be mutually exclusive in such a poem? Are they mutually exclusive in any poem? Who should a poet be more respectful of? The subject of a poem, the readers or listeners? Are "respectful" and "personal" things that should be consciously considered by a poet?

I think these are all questions which are implicit to some degree in the poem I'm planning to audiopost this evening.

(Yep, you did have a triple post --- blogger seems slow today.)

Humble Servant said...

Lethal injection may have more dignity for us (the crowd at public executions often seems to lack dignity), and privacy may guard the condemned from a public display of the bodily functions that go with death, but it robs the condemned of the chance to die a martyr or to throw defiance at the police, to courageously smoke that last cigarette and refuse the blindfold.

Do serial killers or terrorists deserve this kind of platform? (Heh--that's intentional.) Certainly not, but again, is this a personal issue for the condemened or a societal issue? While the reasons for public/private executions are political, I don't think you can make a good poem about them. You can make a great poem about what a condemned person feels, because we all are.

I think a consciously respectful poem would probably suck--challenge me with one that doesn't if you disagree.

OTOH, doesn't every great thing start from something very personal? While that aspect may rot :) (the reader may lack the passion that drove the writer), it is the source.

MackJohnny said...

To my mind, capital punishment (and I'm agin it!) is a societal issue and, as such, if practised, should be carried out before the eyes of the public it claims to protect, not hidden away like a dirty little secret.

Whether or not public executions would provide a platform for the persons executed is immaterial to my mind. How condemned persons choose to portray themselves their last minutes of life is not something that can be mandated by any state.

Our personal dignity is also immaterial to capital punishment, although I'd say we have less of it when we allow such a thing to be practised in camera than when we demand that it be done publicly. Of course, indulging in it at all is probably where dignity begins to seep away.

It would be very difficult to make a good poem about the reasons for public/private executions (I'm too cautious to say it would be impossible).

I do agree that a consciously respectful poem would almost certainly suck. I also agree the personal is the source of all art, great, mediocre, and bad --- greatness results in part from finding a way to raise a thing beyond the merely personal.

Humble Servant said...

Hey, thanks for the chat about this--I've enjoyed it.

The only poem I can think of that feels like lethal injection is Prufrock--all stretched out on the table and etherized.

MackJohnny said...

Hey, thank you. Enjoyment was mutual.

Heh. Prufrock, another damn poem impossible to ignore. I've given in, I think, and decided that it is a truly great one though I'm convinced that it poisoned the soil for other poems and poets, resulting (and still resulting) in years of stunted growths before an immunity was developed.

(I'm tougher than Prufrock, see --- I've measured out my life in coffee pots, not mere spoons.)

Humble Servant said...

Doesn't seem to have stunted your growth any.

I think I'm repeating myself, but Eliot said that Paradise Lost poisoned the soil for all of English lit until he and his revolutionaries swept in to insist that grand style was unreal--something to do with a condition of complete simplicity.

MackJohnny said...

As I said, I'm tougher than Prufrock.
(Acquired immunity, is what I meant.)

You may have mentioned that before --- would explain why the poisoned metaphor leapt so quickly to mind....

As for Eliot and completely simplicity; well, Prufrock, The Hollow Men, The Waste Land, and The Four Quartets are obviously examples of complete simplicity, aren't they now? Christ, he must have been an annoying man.

Humble Servant said...

Yeah--what was it about Italian (besides the fact that it showed his over-education, which he tried to laugh at in some contexts but couldn't help flaunting) that he craved?

Milton was likewise apparently a walking annoyance.

Eliot didn't say the simplicity thing came easy or free... maybe it was mostly aspirational.

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