Monday, April 30, 2012

The Watchman and other poems, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I only have this last day in National Poetry Month to confess I've spent anytime reading any poetry at all! (Not normally my thing.) But Lucy Maud Montgomery is my thing and while I have read some of her poetry, I apparently had not read all. Realizing I needed to rectify this situation immediately, I purchased (yes, I said purchased) a copy of The Watchman and Other Poems. (This particular edition is published by Dodo Press. Sophomoric moment. I can't stop snickering.) Montgomery's other book of poetry (which I also own and have read) is poetically titled The Poetry Of Lucy Maud Montgomery. For awhile there I didn't recognize that there were additional poems of hers that I had not read hence my just now diving into The Watchman. (The Poetry is a compilation of sorts, giving you an overview of her poetry, but it is not all inclusive. The most notable thing about The Poetry collection is that I purchased it at the "Site of the Lucy Maud Montgomery's Cavendish Home" and it is stamped as such.)

The Dodo Press book (snicker) does not offer any explanation about this particular collection of poems and so I had to go elsewhere for information. This book of verses was originally published in 1916. This places it between the publication of Anne of the Island and Anne's House of Dreams. Consulting The Poetry Of Lucy Maud Montgomery and the notes by Kevin McCabe, The Watchman and Other Poems was received poorly by the 1916 audience and met with dismal sales. This is only somewhat surprising when you consider how well-loved she was as an author of novels, but it becomes clear (even to the likes of me) when you start reading her poetry. It is, as McCabe points out, much like her writing in that it is emotionally charged and full of wonder about nature and seasons of life. Only everything she says rhymes in this case, which makes her expressions somewhat painful. Consider this (which I find to be eye rolling and over the top in the romance department):

The Bridal

Last night a pale young Moon was wed
Unto the amorous, eager Sea;
Her maiden veil of mist she wore
His kingly purple venture, he.
With her a bridal train of stars
Walked sisterly through shadows dim,
And, master minstrel of the world,
The great Wind sang the marriage hymn.
Thus came she down the silent sky
Unto the Sea her faith to plight,
And the grave priest who wedded them
Was ancient, sombre-mantled Night.

Reading that makes me almost wish to deny the goodness that is romance. It's just a bit too fluffy for my liking.

McCabe critiques her thus:

She was not a disciplined student of the art of verse and her composition habits remained haphazard throughout her career. She would, for example, write the rough draft of a poem first, and then go back over it adding rhymes. The result is that her rhyming is sometimes a pyrrhic victory over sense and syntax. The poem "An Autumn Shower" illustrates this in lines which describe the wind as coming

To croon in minstrel grasses; where it stirs
The goldenrod its kingly vesture wears.

No adjustment of punctuation can turn this into English.

(Introduction to The Poetry of Lucy Maud Montgomery, Kevin McCabe)

I really, really like Lucy Maud Montgomery. And, grant it, I'm not bent towards the enjoyment of poetry. However, reading her poems cause even my eyes glaze over (when they are not rolling about in my head) and I think to myself that I'd really rather read her prose instead. (This was the problem with her contemporary audience as well. They wanted the same thing, much to her chagrin.)

Seriously though . . . ! Read this line from "The Call of the Winds":

Friend I am of each growing thing
From the gray sod into sunshine breaking;

Already I'm thinking, "This woman must have never had a case of poison oak in her entire life!"

See? I just can't connect - even though I love the woods! I love the trees! I love the less-than-15-miles-an-hour-please winds which ripple the leaves and lighten the mood. I like moss and ferns and lichen (now that I know what lichen is.) I love our family hikes and rambles into our green and wooded landscape. Therefore if I have to like her poems, I tend towards the ones where she describes the woods. In the whole collection of poems, the following had to be my favorite. (I'll included it with pictures from our first hike of the year, which we were able to go on last weekend.)

The Forest Path

OH, the charm of idle dreaming
Where the dappled shadows dance,
All the leafy aisles are teeming
With the lure of old romance!

Down into the forest dipping,
Deep and deeper as we go,
One might fancy dryads slipping
Where the white-stemmed birches grow.
Lurking gnome and freakish fairy
In the fern may peep and hide . . .
Sure their whispers low and airy
Ring us in on every side!

Saw you where the pines are rocking
Nymph's white shoulder as she ran?
Lo, that music faint and mocking,
Is it not a pipe of Pan?
Hear you that elusive laughter
Of the hidden waterfall?
Nay, a satyr speeding after
Ivy-crowned bacchanal.
Far and farther as we wander
Sweeter shall our roaming be,
Come, for dim and winsome yonder
Lies the path to Arcady!

Like it or hate it - it is what it is.

I've had my fill of poetry for a bit, but not of the great outdoors! Least you wonder, I still have not had my fill of Montgomery. I just know that I like her stories as plain as she can make them.


Barbara H. said...

I smiled all through this review. It's funny that someone whose writing is often described as poetic was not so great at poetry herself. These are a little over-the-top, but I'm glad she spent more time writing stories and novels.

I've sadly neglected Poetry Month. I do enjoy poetry -- some of it, anyway.

Annette Whipple said...

Barbara said it well...she's poetic in her writing...just not at poetry. But I bet you still love having this in your collection!

B said...

I was trying the figure out why a company would call itself Dodo Press, until I looked it up.

The poems definitely stink. They have the "feel" of poetry deriving from that era, but they lack all the substance of the good stuff.

Diary of an Autodidact said...

Few indeed are those that could write well in both prose and poetry.

These are an excellent example of why good poetry, like good humor, is rather difficult to create.

BerlinerinPoet said...

Ok, the ones you quoted are hysterical! It almost sounds like something she would have "young Anne" writing in her story club, while the other girls cried as she read it aloud.

Beth said...

I am laughing--your thoughts about poetry mirror my own. I can't recognize a good piece of poetry if I wanted to!

I am trying to expose my kids to poetry, but I don't think it is working too well since they don't enjoy it either. Oh,well!

Shonya said...

I am quite distracted by the snickers. The first one made me grin, the second enticed me to join you. Thanks! :)

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