Thursday, July 28, 2011

Reverse Engineering in Poetry - A "Germ" poem by W.B. Yeats

I was reading Jane Hirshfield's poem After Long Silence:

After Long Silence

Politeness fades,

a small anchovy gleam
leaving the upturned pot in the dish rack
after the moon has wandered out the window.

One of the late freedoms, there in the dark.
The leftover soup put away as well.

Distinctions matter. Whether a goat's
quiet face should be called noble
or indifferent. The difference between a right rigor and pride.

The untranslatable thought must be the most precise.

Yet words are not the end of thought, they are where it begins.


and I discovered a poem with the same title that Yeats had written. Apparently this is very popular poem:

After Long Silence

Speech after long silence; it is right,
All other lovers being estranged or dead,
Unfriendly lamplight hid under its shade,
The curtains drawn upon unfriendly night,
That we descant and yet again descant
Upon the supreme theme of Art and Song:
Bodily decrepitude is wisdom; young
We loved each other and were ignorant.

This is a beautiful end result of a simple idea. Yeats started with the following "germ" poem that describes what he is trying to say more clearly. So writing a poem is really reverse engineering.

Subject
Your hair is white
My hair is white
Come let us talk of love
What other [theme?] do we know
When we were young
We were in love with one another
And therefore ignorant


Read more:
http://marjorieperloff.com/articles/yeats-silence/