While this is a lovely little couplet, with nary a verb in sight, it’s not my favorite Ezra Pound poem. That one is his parody of the Medieval English round, “Sumer is Icumen In,” which starts out:
Winter is Icumen In
Lhudde sing Goddamm . . .
And, indeed, I was singing away and giving it what-for yesterday, in the bitter wind and almost-freezing drizzle, as I decided what plants in pots to bring in and try and overwinter (the lovely lemon trees, the hanging begonia, and the bay), which ones to put in the sunroom to extend their season as long as possible (the parsley, the rosemary and the basil), and what to consign to the compost pile (pretty much all the rest). It’s just about here. Winter. Goddamm.
But I digress. Back to the verbless poem. It’s an interesting little form, dating back perhaps 150 years, with its origins in Russia. The poems, so the critics will tell you, seek to capture the “arrested moment, ” and to imprint an image firmly in the reader’s or the speaker’s mind. Most of them are short (hard work, non-verbing), and, as I’ve discovered while investigating the subject, often poorly translated from the original Russian. Equally often, the translation includes (gasp!) a few verbs, which sort of spoils the point of the whole thing. Still, I can’t read Russian, and I expect many of you can’t either, so here goes with the most famous Russian verbless poem by Afanasy Fet (1820-1892), in the most verb-free translation I could find:
Whispering and timid breathings,
Nightingale’s soft trill,
Silvery and rippling motion
Of the drowsy rill,
Nighttime radiance, nighttime shadows,
Shadows’ endless dance,
Magic sequences transforming
Love’s dear countenance.
In the smoky cloudlets
Rose’s purple hue,
Gleam of amber, tears, caresses–
Dawn, the dawn, anew!
It’s nice, though, isn’t it?
Ezra Pound’s little poem is only fourteen words, but it packs an imagistic punch as well. The long, snaking tunnel of the Paris Metro. Silent, pale faces, lined up, but not perfectly, tall and short, like flowers, petals on a tree bough. The natural world and the urban world, mingled. And then it moves, and the image dissolves. But for that one perfect moment . . .
These short poems remind me of Haiku (traditionally a line of five syllables, then a line of seven, then a line of five syllables again). Why not try your hand at writing one? It doesn’t have to be verbless; in fact, perhaps better not. I’ve had a few goes myself over the past few years down on the farm, most notably (I realize that’s a low bar around here) with:
It is hard to find
Large white dogs who hide themselves
In a field of snow.
RIP, Levi and Xena.
This will be the first full winter that Odo and Xuxa have spent together. I can’t wait to see what they make of it.
Hope I don’t lose them. (Not likely. They are GPS-enabled with Fi, a product which has worked out really well for me and which I wrote about in more detail here: Semper Fi! Dog Tracker Extraordinaire.)
Happy overwintering, everybody. Stay warm. Stay safe.