The Order of Things

October 4, 2022

  Since last week’s audience participation with translation worked so well, I thought I’d try another interactive post.  This time I want to look at the order of poems as they unfold and reveal themselves. The examples that follow are all published poems that might or might not be in their original order.  For those that are only three stanzas, I think you could try all six possibilities (poet’s math, correct me if I’m wrong) to see which you prefer.  For the five-stanza poem, there are many more (again, poet’s math) possibilities, and for longer than that….

Post your thoughts here–your order, and any comments you want to add–by Thursday, so that we’ll all have a chance to read them before this week’s Fridays at 4 (eastern time) discussion.  The point is to see how a poem’s meaning and impact can be changed simply by changing the order of the stanzas.  You might also come up with your own titles, since I haven’t included them.

*

 

Then the keeper threw a stick
And the dog went after it
On four legs, the other two flapping behind,
Which made one girl shriek with laughter.

She was drunk and so was the man
Who kept kissing her neck.
The dog got the stick and looked back at us
And that was the whole show.

If you didn’t see the six-legged dog,
It doesn’t matter.
We did, and he mostly lay in the corner.
As for the extra legs,

One got used to them quickly
And thought of other things.
Like, what a cold, dark night
To be out at the fair.

 

*

 

Let it come as it will, and don’t
be afraid.  God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to the air in the lung
let evening come.

Let the dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass.  Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down.  Let the shed
go black inside.  Let evening come.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn.  Let evening come.

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

*

 

The sleep of novels as they are read is soundless
Like the sleep of dresses on the warm bodies of women.
And the sleep of thunder gathering dust on sunny days
and the sleep of ashes long after.

The sleep of wind has been known to fill the sky.
The long sleep of air locked in the lungs of the dead.
The sleep of a room with someone inside it.
Even the wooden sleep of the moon is possible.

There is the sleep of one moment
inside the next, lengthening the night,
and the sleep of the window
turning the tall sleep of the trees into glass.

There is the sleep of my tongue
speaking a language I can never remember–
words that enter the sleep of words
once they are spoken.

And there is the sleep that demands I lie down
and be fitted to the dark that comes upon me
like another skin in which I shall never be found,
out of which I shall never appear.

*

 

The man who stands down at the dock screws up his eyes against the water.
Docks get old faster than men.
They have silver-gray posts and boulders in their gut.
The dazzling light drives straight in.

The man who spends the whole day in an open boat
moving over the luminous bays
will fall asleep at last inside the shade of his blue lamp
as the islands crawl like huge moths over the globe.

The man who lies on his back under huge trees
is also up in them.  He branches out into thousands of tiny branches.
He sways back and forth,
he sits in a catapult chair that hurtles forward in slow motion.

 

*

 

One soft foot at a time,
She climbed on my chest,
Looked through the blank
Lid of my face, made
The faintest cry, then
Curled over my heart
And slept, so that I could,
For three nights in a row–
Visitations like belief,
Unreal, against all odds.

Back home at last
After seeing my mother
Lowered into frozen earth,
I couldn’t find sleep
With wine or even pills,
When our calico, as if
Called, came to the sofa
And did something
Never repeated since–

*

 

When I forget to weep,
I hear the peeping tree toads
creeping up the bark.
Love lies asleep
and dreams that everything
is in its golden net;
and I am caught there, too,
when I forget.

When I am sad
I sing, remembering
the redwing blackbird’s clack.
Then I want no thing
except to turn time back
to what I had
before love made me sad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 Comments

  • Reply Anne Myles October 5, 2022 at 1:30 pm

    If you didn’t see the six-legged dog,
    It doesn’t matter.
    We did, and he mostly lay in the corner.
    As for the extra legs,

    One got used to them quickly
    And thought of other things.
    Like, what a cold, dark night
    To be out at the fair.

    Then the keeper threw a stick
    And the dog went after it
    On four legs, the other two flapping behind,
    Which made one girl shriek with laughter.

    She was drunk and so was the man
    Who kept kissing her neck.
    The dog got the stick and looked back at us
    And that was the whole show.

    [There seemed no other way it could be, given the logic of syntax and situation. I notice how the poem begins by describing a scene or situation, and then moves to action within it.]

    *

    Let the light of late afternoon
    shine through chinks in the barn, moving
    up the bales as the sun moves down.

    Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
    Let the wind die down. Let the shed
    go black inside. Let evening come.

    Let the dew collect on the hoe abandoned
    in long grass. Let the stars appear
    and the moon disclose her silver horn.

    Let the cricket take up chafing
    as a woman takes up her needles
    and her yarn. Let evening come.

    To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
    in the oats, to the air in the lung
    let evening come.

    Let it come as it will, and don’t
    be afraid. God does not leave us
    comfortless, so let evening come.

    [First stanza: earliest in sequence (afternoon). Last two stanzas: change in pattern signaling move towards closure.]

    *

    The sleep of wind has been known to fill the sky.
    The long sleep of air locked in the lungs of the dead.
    The sleep of a room with someone inside it.
    Even the wooden sleep of the moon is possible.

    The sleep of novels as they are read is soundless
    Like the sleep of dresses on the warm bodies of women.
    And the sleep of thunder gathering dust on sunny days
    and the sleep of ashes long after.

    There is the sleep of my tongue
    speaking a language I can never remember–
    words that enter the sleep of words
    once they are spoken.

    There is the sleep of one moment
    inside the next, lengthening the night,
    and the sleep of the window
    turning the tall sleep of the trees into glass.

    And there is the sleep that demands I lie down
    and be fitted to the dark that comes upon me
    like another skin in which I shall never be found,
    out of which I shall never appear.

    [Less sure of this one, but moving towards the series of three stanzas beginning in parallel ways, and the “and” of the last stanza signals finality.]

    *

    The man who lies on his back under huge trees
    is also up in them. He branches out into thousands of tiny branches.
    He sways back and forth,
    he sits in a catapult chair that hurtles forward in slow motion.

    The man who spends the whole day in an open boat
    moving over the luminous bays
    will fall asleep at last inside the shade of his blue lamp
    as the islands crawl like huge moths over the globe.

    The man who stands down at the dock screws up his eyes against the water.
    Docks get old faster than men.
    They have silver-gray posts and boulders in their gut.
    The dazzling light drives straight in.

    [My main reason for this ordering is the final line it provides—most powerful to me.]

    *

    Back home at last
    After seeing my mother
    Lowered into frozen earth,
    I couldn’t find sleep
    With wine or even pills,
    When our calico, as if
    Called, came to the sofa
    And did something
    Never repeated since–

    One soft foot at a time,
    She climbed on my chest,
    Looked through the blank
    Lid of my face, made
    The faintest cry, then
    Curled over my heart
    And slept, so that I could,
    For three nights in a row–
    Visitations like belief,
    Unreal, against all odds.

    [The logic of connection seemed to require this, but I sort of like the ending better the other way around!]

    *

    When I am sad
    I sing, remembering
    the redwing blackbird’s clack.
    Then I want no thing
    except to turn time back
    to what I had
    before love made me sad.

    When I forget to weep,
    I hear the peeping tree toads
    creeping up the bark.
    Love lies asleep
    and dreams that everything
    is in its golden net;
    and I am caught there, too,
    when I forget.

    [The second stanza in this order opens out more, more intriguing.]

    I realize my inclination in titles is pretty laconic—I’m interested to learn and discuss the real ones!

    • Reply Sharon October 5, 2022 at 1:46 pm

      I love it that you played with several. I looked for two-stanza poems to show that even there it makes a big difference. It’s fascinating to me.

  • Reply Mary Jane White October 7, 2022 at 10:19 am

    First poem’s first stanza lines

    OUT AT THE FAIR

    If you didn’t see the six-legged dog,
    It doesn’t matter.
    We did, and he mostly lay in the corner.
    As for the extra legs,

    One got used to them quickly
    And thought of other things
    Like,what a cold, dark night
    To be out at the fair.

    Then the keeper threw a stick
    And the dog went after it
    On four legs, the other two flapping behind,
    Which made one girl shriek with laughter.

    She was drunk and so was the man
    Who kept kissing her neck.
    The dog got the stick and looked back at us
    And that was the whole show.

    Second poem’s first stanza lines

    LET EVENING COME

    Let the light of late afternoon
    shine through chinks in the barn, moving
    up the bales as the sun moves down.

    Let the cricket take up chafing
    as a woman takes up her needles
    and her yarn. Let evening come.

    Let the dew collect on the hoe abandoned
    In long grass. Let the stars appear
    And the moon disclose her silver horn.

    Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
    Let the wind die down. Let the shed
    go back inside. Let evening come.

    To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
    In the oats, to air in the lung
    let evening come.

    Let it come as it will, and don’t
    be afraid. God does not leave us
    comfortless, so let evening come.

    Third poem’s first stanza lines

    THERE IS

    There is the sleep of my tongue
    speaking a language I can never remember—
    words that enter the sleep of words
    once they are spoken.

    There is the sleep of one moment
    inside the next, lengthening the night,
    and thesleep of the window
    turning the tall sleep of the trees into glass.

    The sleep of novels as they are read is soundless
    like the sleep of dresses on the warm bodies of women.
    And the sleep of thunder gathering dust on sunny days
    and the sleep of ashes long after.

    The sleep of the wind has been known to fill the sky.
    The long sleep of air locked in the lungs of the dead.
    The sleep of a room with someone inside it.
    Even the wooden sleep of the moon is possible.

    And there is the sleep that demands I lie down
    and be fitted to the dark that comes upon me
    like another skin in which I shall neverbe found,
    out of which I shall never appear.

    Fourth poem’s first stanza lines

    THE MAN

    The man who lies on his back under huge trees
    is also up in them. He branches out into thousands of tiny branches.
    He sways back and forth,
    he sits in a catapult chair that hurtles forward in slow motion.

    The man who spends the whole day in an open boat
    moving over the luminous bays
    will fall asleep at last inside the shade of his blue lamp
    as the islands crawl like huge moths over the globe.

    The man who stands down at the dock screws up his eyes against the water.
    Docks get old faster than men.
    They have silver-gray posts and boulders in their gut.
    The dazzling light drives straight in.

    OUR CALICO

    Back home at last
    After seeing my mother
    Lowered into frozen earth,
    I couldn’t find sleep
    With wine or even pills,
    When our calico, as if
    Called, came to the sofa
    And did something
    Never repeated since—

    One soft foot at a time,
    She climbed on my chest,
    Looked through the blank
    Lid of my face, made
    The faintest cry, then
    Curled over my heart
    And slept, so that I could,
    For three nights in a row—
    Visitations like belief,
    Unreal, against all odds.

    WHEN I AM SAD AND FORGET

    When I am sad
    I sing, remembering
    the redwing blackbird’s clack.
    Then I want no thing
    except to turn time back
    to what I had
    before love made me sad.

    When I forget to weep,
    I hear the peeping tree toads
    creeping up the bark.
    Love lies asleep
    and dreams that everything
    is in its golden net;
    and I am caught there, too,
    when I forget.

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