Saturday, November 06, 2010


A couple days ago a troubled aged moon rode in the pools left by the cloud-wrack, and I wrote an American Sentence: “the moon's thin arms cling to the ghost-gray smear of her vanishing father.”

If you're marinated in Coleridge, as I am, you'll know the antecedents: his epigraph to the Dejection ode, from “the grand old ballad of Sir Patrick Spens” --

Late, late yestre'en I saw the new moon
With the old moon in her arms,
And I fear, I fear, my maister dear
We shall have a deadly storm.

Which inspired in their turn possibly the most brilliant lines Coleridge ever wrote:

For Lo! The new moon winter-bright
And overspread with phantom light --
With swimming phantom light o'erspread
But rimmed and circled by a silver thread --
I see the old moon in her lap, foretelling
The coming on of rain and squally blast,
And O that even now the gust were swelling
And the slant night-shower driving loud and fast . . .

Well, well, you'll never be Coleridge, Dale; never mind; we're just doodling here. Your lines will do for a pale 21st Century “poem.”

It just happened to be an American Sentence. As you may recall, I don't think the American Sentence makes much sense as a verse form. English verse is a stress-counting creature, not a syllable-counting one. But I recollected that I could make it a “haiku,” as we disastrously miscall that other unsuitable-to-English form, that 5-7-5 thing. So I tried it out.

The Moon's thin arms cling
to the ghost-gray smear of her
vanishing father.

Ugh. Ending a line with “of her”? No thank you. And the feminine near-rhyme of “of her” with “father” is icky, if your attention is drawn to it like that. In fact, maybe that near-rhyme is a problem anyway. Hmm.

Well, leaving aside how to chop this thing into lines, if at all, I turned to the problem of titling it. “Waning crescent?” There's a nice inbuilt semantic contradiction there: “crescent,” etymologically, means “growing.” This moon of course was not growing, it was dying -- the last of the old moon, not a new moon yet. And then I realized that this was critical to how I saw this Moon. Not everyone observes the distinction I do -- or even knows it exists -- between the last edge of the old moon and the first edge of the new moon. The poem makes no sense if you think it's a new moon. Maybe it should go like this, and then the problems of lineation and title might both solved:

Old Moon

Waning crescent: the moon's thin arms cling
to the ghost-gray smear of her vanishing father.

And so, it becomes a poem of four-beat lines, and as Nicholson Baker's Anthologist insists, all English poetry is really in four-beat lines. Good enough. For now. But I still think that internal near-rhyme is a problem.

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