The Figure a Poem Makes
I took an online course recently on Modern and Contemporary Poetry – and I have to admit I was discouraged by it. The only poet I liked was one who deliberately bucked the Modernist trend – Robert Frost. A poet that many of his contemporaries considered hopelessly out of date.
I was glad to see the following in the December 2001 Poetry Magazine – the Q&A issue where poems are followed by questions to the poet – in this case Richard Kenny:
The poem’s last word is “love.” We were put in mind of Auden’s struggling with the last line of his famous, and (in his lifetime) suppressed “September 1, 1939”: “We must love one another or die.” “We must love one another and die.” The fulcrum, in both poems, seems to be hope. Any thoughts on this?
I suppose I think what others have thought, that the first version spoke a commonplace: we are mayflies. The second version, the sort of miracle revision one could hardly in cold blood think one’s way to, rattles our bones and frightens the future. I love the line, but the love of which I think I was thinking at the time was Frost’s, in my favorite essay, “The Figure a Poem Makes.” Frost speculates of poetry that its “figure is the same as for love.” Forty years ago that struck me as a handsome poeticism; in the intervening years I’ve come to understand he meant it. So, hope.
You heard him, now get on with it.