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Poetry for Supper -- R S Thomas

Taking my cue from Martin...
(Poem #187) Poetry for Supper
'Listen, now, verse should be as natural
As the small tuber that feeds on muck
And grows slowly from obtuse soil
To the white flower of immortal beauty.'

'Natural, hell! What was it Chaucer
Said once about the long toil
That goes like blood to the poem's making?
Leave it to nature and the verse sprawls,
Limp as bindweed, if it break at all
Life's iron crust. Man, you must sweat
And rhyme your guts taut, if you'd build
Your verse a ladder.'

        'You speak as though
No sunlight ever surprised the mind
Groping on its cloudy path.'

'Sunlight's a thing that needs a window
Before it enters a dark room.
Windows don't happen.'

        So two old poets,
Hunched at their beer in the low haze
Of an inn parlour, while the talk ran
Noisily by them, glib with prose.
-- R S Thomas
Another slightly more explicit take on the divide between 'natural' and
'constructed' poems [1].

"This is the nearest Thomas comes to a comic poem. He has an ear for Welsh
dialogue, which he seems to use relatively rarely. Despite the imagery, one gets
a real sense of the two old poets' voices in the poem as they talk over the
nature of their art in a country pub. Thomas, one may suppose, is ultimately on
the side of the second poet who believes that inspiration needs the vehicle of
craftsmanship before it can fully come through."

    -- George MacBeth

I tend to agree with Thomas' point of view - I've always felt that much of what
is passed off as 'natural' these days is just laziness or shoddy workmanship.
That said, I would be the first to admit that there are contexts in which free
verse is far more apt than verse constrained by metre and rhyme; conversely,
there are contexts which cry out for the use of specific forms of prosody. The
true skill lies in knowing when to use which.


PS. I should add (before anyone points out my obtuseness) (Hi Martin!) that the
last line suddenly puts the whole poem into a new perspective - that poets, by
concentrating on the how and what of writing poetry, often ignore the why [2].

[1] See yesterday's poem, 'By-the-way', poem #186
for the source of my inspiration.
[2] Isn't it amazing how so many poems stand and fall on the strength of their
last lines? Browse through the Minstrels archives for more examples -

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