Thursday, October 05, 2006

Poetry Break: "Smitten"

The Smith-God Weyland, Captive of King Nidud
On the Front of the Franks Casket
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm currently writing an article on Beowulf, so I've been musing about things Anglo-Saxon ... like Weyland, the Saxon smith-god, who also had his love interests even if he could be a bit barbaric in expressing them.

Here's the poem that I imagine him writing for the daughter of King Nidud, the beautiful Bodvild, whom he seduced after secretly killing her brothers:


Jet eyes of undiluted night,
swart hair so dark, it blackens light,
yet still that smoldering fire inside.

Obsidian arrows find their mark,
obscure me now in shades of dark,
burn still, my coruscating heart.

I wrote this back in 1991 ... or possibly 1990 ... while living in Germany and thinking those dark Teutonic thoughts...


At 5:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1: jet(dark); undiluted night (dark)
2: swart(dark); dark(dark); blackens(dark) light (light!)
3: smoldering(burn, dark?); fire(burn, light?)

4: obsidian(dark)
5: Obscure(dark?); shades(dark); dark(dark)
6: burn(burn, light?); coruscating(light!)

Generally, I think you should be trying to pair opposing ideas in an abstract poem like this, in which the poet tries to elicit empathy for a state of mind using vague images. Here, the contrasting/ near-contrasting ideas are black vs burn/light.

But in one of my own such poems, I just wouldn't. It was all words of one idea with no contrast--it was all "dark." The effect only reinforced the one idea. But I wonder if it ultimately weakens the reading experience by removing an important poetic tool. After all, in a more abstract poem, devices of abstraction become more important.

What would you think about the strength of your own poem if it too was all "dark?" If instead of a poem about being "smitten," you wrote a poem about love's disillusionment or love's loss and there were neither "fire" nor "light," but merely "dying smoke(dark)" in your stanzas' closing lines?

It would gloom like "Funeral Blues," but "Funeral Blues" tries to give specific images. It's not trying to be as abstract.

Do you think such a poem would work nearly as well as what you have written here?


"Smitten," as you use it, is a good almost-pun, by the way. I'll pilfer it when I can. ;)


At 6:49 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think that you're right about this poem's effectiveness (such as it is), namely, that it stems from the contrasts. I hadn't thought of the imagery as so abstract, but I see that now. I think that the sounds, particularly the rhyme, make the poem seem less abstract. Imagine if it lacked rhyme.

As for whether or not the poem would work without the contrasts . . . well, I suppose that this would depend on the poem. If it had other interesting features, it could be compelling anyway.

The proof is always in the pudding.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 7:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I think that the sounds, particularly the rhyme, make the poem seem less abstract. Imagine if it lacked rhyme."
--Jeffery Hodges

Generally, I do not think that rhymes inherently make a poem less abstract or more.

I think the most important characteristic in this poem is that it has three lines in each of its two stanzas. The reason why I think this is most important is because some of the other key characteristics of the poem--rhythm, rhyme, and images--serve the three line limit.

1: dark
2: dark (*there is a "light" that gets "blacken[ed]" here)
3: burn/light

1: full rhyme
2: full rhyme
3: vowel rhyme

Your three line form is nice because of the suddenness in which the final contrasting image comes and ends.

I think, on balance, both the use of words and the aural experience of the poem, including the rhymes, probably make the poem seem more abstract.


At 7:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a bit baffled as to why you didn't think this poem was pretty abstract. I think we must have a different sense of what that word means.

Although, we can see what meanings you are trying to convey, the use of figurative language and the strangeness of lines 4 and, especially, 5 seem to convey a vagueness of images in a very good and proper way.

I do like this poem.


At 8:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, of course, "smitten" is not just a near-pun--smith and smite--but it also carries multiple meanings: to be consumed by infatuation and to strike or blow, as with a smith's hammer.

Since you are answering my queries, I might as well ask. What were you trying to convey with lines 4 and 5. I do not think that Weyland killed with a bow. Was 4 an allusion to Cupid? Are 4 and 5 describing the behavior of one who has a hidden crush?

Incidentally, there's another thing in this poem I will do my best to pilfer.


At 11:07 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'll try to respond, first about abstract vs. concrete.

Actually, I think that you have the better argument on this point. Nothing inherent in rhyme makes it more concrete.

But I do experience a rhyming poem differently than a nonrhyming one -- I want to read the former aloud and listen to its sounds, so my experience becomes more concrete due to the poem's immediacy.

Or so it seems to me . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 11:11 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, the arrows are Cupid's . . . which perhaps doesn't fit so well with Teutonic mythology. I wonder if Germanic myth had a figure cognate to Cupid.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 6:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Yes, the arrows are Cupid's . . . which perhaps doesn't fit so well with Teutonic mythology."
--Horace Jeffery Hodges

Sorry for returning to this one. I've been thinking about how I should resolve the problem you have posed for yourself myself. My conclusion is this.

I don't think it is a good idea to look for a good "fit." It works as it does only because it does not fit. So you should leave it. Nor do I think that it matters.

See: The Patroness of The Western Confucian

But if I were to rework "Smitten," I'd probably replace cupid with the smiting hammer of Thor's--the one that creates the pretty spark across the heavens.


At 7:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I suppose a bit of postmodern multicultural mixing is okay, so cupid will remain in the background to this poem.

But Thor's hammer is an interesting suggestion . . . though I wonder if he was ever the sort to bring a couple together.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 9:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...though I wonder if he was ever the sort to bring a couple together."
--Horace Jeffery Hodges

I'll give it a go...


Jet eyes of undiluted night,
swart hair so dark, it blackens light,
yet still that smoldering fire inside.

Obsidian clouds wrest hammer's spark,
obscure me there where heaven's dark,
burn still, my coruscating heart.


At 1:46 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...


"Obsidian clouds wrest hammer spark"

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 7:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Obsidian clouds wrest hammer spark"
--Jeffery Hodges

I don't think I conveyed to you the meaning I intended. It's my fault. I didn't punctuate properly. There are supposed to be 3 imperatives:

Obsidian clouds, wrest hammer's spark!
Obscure me there, where heaven's dark.
Burn still, my coruscating heart.

Sorry. I took about 5 minutes to come up with this and didn't bother to consider punctuation.


At 8:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, I did misread. Thanks for the clarification.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home