Guest poem submitted by Cristina Gazzieri:
(Poem #407) Solomon and the Witch
And thus declared the Arab lady: "Last night where under the wild moon On grassy mattress I had lain me, Within my arms great Solomon, I suddenly cried out in a strange tongue Not his, not mine." And he that knew All sounds by bird or angel sung Answered: "A crested cockerel crew Upon a blossoming apple bough Three hundred years before the Fall, And never crew again till now, And would not now but that he thought, Chance being at one with Choice at last, All that the brigand apple brought And this foul world were dead at last. He that crowed out eternity Thought to have crowed it in again. A lover with a spider's eye Will found out some appropriate pain, Aye, though all passion's in the glance, For every nerve: lover tests lover With cruelties of Choice and Chance; And when at last the murder's over Maybe the bride-bed brings despair, For each an imagined image brings And finds a real image there; Yet the world ends when these two things, Though several, are a single light, When oil and wick are burned in one; Therefore a blessed moon last night Gave Sheba to her Solomon." "Yet the world stays": "If that be so, Your cockerel found us in the wrong Although it thought it worth a crow. Maybe an image is too strong Or maybe is not strong enough" "The night has fallen; not a sound In the forbidden sacred grove, Unless a petal hit the ground, Nor any human sight within it But the crushed grass where we have lain; And the moon is wilder every minute. Oh, Solomon! Let us try again."
Love poetry is an extremely insidious genre. So many great love poems have been written that it is difficult to equal Shakespeare or Petrarch in elegance, refinement and conceit, while, on the contrary, the risk of writing oversentimental, banal or cloying verses is always present . For these reasons, Reiner Maria Rilke warned a young poet who had addressed him for advice not to write love poems. For these reasons, and for the crisis that love, as well as other traditional values underwent, great poets in the first half of our century preferred to exercise their skill on other subjects. Yet, even in the tormented years between the two wars there was a great poet who felt strong enough to write about love, achieving results of incredible distinction, of grace and taste and, at the same time, modern in the use of the verse and images. "Solomon and the Witch", for example can still appeal to the ear of even the most demanding reader, for the number of poetic elements and the measure and balance with which they are used in the poem, as well as for the theme which is inevitably dear to all men of the twentieth century. One of the elements of great appeal of the poem lies in the choice of the protagonists; they are Solomon and the queen of Sheba. These two very great people, representative of two ancient and influential civilisations, who looked for each other and met and paid tribute one to the greatness of the other, inevitably evoke the almost mythical respect that history and literature have had for them, so it is much the more surprising to read that the "Arab lady", lying within the arms of "great Solomon" should, unexpectedly and abruptly feel that she does not belong to him, he does not belong to her, and that she should feel the urge to cry, "in a strange tongue", in words alien to the situation and her previous mood, "not his, not mine". Before the sixth verse, Yeats has secured the interest of the modern reader who knows the way in which one can feel estranged from the person he loves and is also charmed by the idea that this feeling might be older than he thought, and that not even "great Solomon" and the queen of Sheba were shielded against it. Another successful device of the poem is to be found in the dialogic structure that allows the two protagonists to speak their language, to reveal their personality and temper. Solomon's speech, which covers the central part of the poem, is full of biblical reminiscences (The Fall, The apple tree...), of rich alliterations (a crested cockerel crew; the bride-bed brings despair;.....), of sharp puns (each an imagined image brings, and finds a real image there.....), of metaphors (a lover with a spider's eye; when oil and wick are burned in one). Solomon is the great ruler with a proverbial wisdom and he can make a cynical analysis of the nature of love. Through the metaphor of the spider he suggests that seduction and courtship are a tarantula-like process in which each lover slowly demolishes the personality of the other until an "imagined image" is finally superimposed. Yet, after the moment of courtship and seduction, when the superimposed image fades and lovers have to confront themselves with the real image of their partners "the bride-bed brings despair". "Choice" proves an illusion and "Chance" seems to mean blind, bleak destiny. It is not possible to read these lines without linking them to Sheba's cry: "Not his, not mine". The consideration on the impossibility of a real and enduring communion between two lovers might seem banal, yet, the banality of the consideration is made acceptable and does not seem crass thanks to the powerful, resounding language of Solomon, who, in spite of his awareness of the misery of human love cannot but end his speech on a tender note: "Therefore a blessed moon last night gave Sheba to her Solomon". Comparing Solomon's voice with Sheba's words, Sheba's language is simpler. She never uses images or references to holy texts and her tone is much more colloquial and less resonant. She talks the language a lover can attribute to his woman, not learned, not cultivated, but strongly evocative. All the quality of Sheba's speech is in the carefully connoted lexical choice, the queen mentions the "wild moon", "the grassy mattress", and especially in the final dialogic sequence her language is deliberately addressed only to lyricism. Her simple words describe a magic natural setting, a "forbidden sacred grove" a place of the soul which the queen has preserved silent and holy. Sheba concludes the poem with a sentence of startling freshness and spontaneity especially if compared with the cynical words of the king: "Oh, Solomon! Let us try again." The meter of the poem and the rhyme pattern exploit a device that has found place in poetic tradition since Romanticism. The poem is written on a basically tetrametric scheme with slight but frequent variations; and the rhyme, though often present in thepoem, does not follow any regular pattern. The effect when reading the poem is one of a slightly evasive rhythm, of a project and a regularity which cannot fully satisfy the ear, close to perfection, but not really so, like the love of Sheba and Solomon . What remains after going over the poem several times is not only the pleasure of the texture of lines and references but also the suggestion of the bewitching power of love, so strongly denied and yet not eluded by Solomon, so vividly evoked by Sheba. Cristina.