Sunday, August 27, 2006

13 | "The final dance"       [sestina]

Let the lamp affix its beam
and cast its rueful light perchance
if be may true the lie of seem
we'll see anew a high romance
the Emperor of fine Icecream
may join us for the final dance

With tandava   the swirling dance
in all directions furls its beam
the Emperor of sweet Icecream
is churning in his sea perchance
the world is lost in fell romance
of be   which breaks the spell of seem

If be is there   and here is seem
the twain conjoin in courtly dance
the consequence is pearled romance
which sends through every world its beam
the glint of it arrives perchance
when Emperors imbibe Icecream

The Emperor of deep Icecream
delights in all the sweep of seem
he laughs around the bend of chance
fierce grace informing tender dance
to see   one needs a steely beam?
but through the haze   one feels romance

The wellsprings whence may flow romance
the Emperor of haute Icecream
the language of the lucid beam
the aim behind the game of seem
the deep purport within the dance
these are a single thing perchance

We skid across the field of chance
and lose the thread of real romance
our feet forget the flow of dance
the Emperor has no Icecream?
none pierce the tenebrous veil of seem
yet through the thicket hail a beam

Amid the dance we glimpse the beam
the hid romance is garbed in seem
Imperial chance scoops out Icecream


The first line of this sestina is borrowed verbatim (and the third line is borrowed in an altered form) from Wallace Stevens' philosophical poem The Emperor of Ice-cream (1922). Tandava is the name of the great dance (generally conceived as the cosmic dance of creation, preservation and destruction) performed in mythic space by Lord Siva. The critic Helen Vendler has given detailed background notes regarding Stevens' poem here (though I did not read nor consider these when writing the sestina).


August 28: I've now taken the poem through a round of revisions that (among other things) interweave into its prosody a secondary play of internal rhyming -- mainly involving the penultimate stressed syllable in several lines. I'll note in passing my original draft for line 3 in stanza 1: "If be may trounce the feint of seem." But for reasons of both sound and sense, that version was abandoned in favor of what's seen above. Mentioning this, one may also, here, recall Wallace Stevens' original line from which this line of the poem derives, viz., "Let be be the finale of seem." That poet had his own interesting ideas about the sense or meaning of reality and appearance (the "be" and "seem" of his poem). My poem does not essay to follow from (or seriously comment on) his views per se; instead, it honors (and drraws on some terms of) his evocative language, while simultaneously seeking to ply its own chosen weave of metaphysics and its own lyric play of thought. Whether or not it may be deemed as my "answer to" Stevens' poem, seems perhaps a question. Certainly, anyway, it involves a manner of response to that underlying poem, albeit being (obviously) chiefly involved in showing and enjoying the ways a sestina may permit a sort of systematic contemplation and exploration of words, ideas, images, meanings, and sounds.

the hid romance is garbed in seem: although a rather tangential point, it may be remarked in passing that the origin of the English word "garb" is traced to the Sanskrit garbha (meaning "womb") -- a word of some importance in the Mahayana Buddhist metaphysical lexicon (among other things), though I do not mean to suggest any special rapport with that latter lexicon here. This etymology is anyway curious to note.


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