(Poem #851) The Skater
My glad feet shod with the glittering steel I was the god of the wingèd heel. The hills in the far white sky were lost; The world lay still in the wide white frost; And the woods hung hushed in their long white dream By the ghostly, glimmering, ice-blue stream. Here was a pathway, smooth like glass, Where I and the wandering wind might pass To the far-off palaces, drifted deep, Where Winter's retinue rests in sleep. I followed the lure, I fled like a bird, Till the startled hollows awoke and heard A spinning whisper, a sibilant twang, As the stroke of the steel on the tense ice rang; And the wandering wind was left behind As faster, faster I followed my mind; Till the blood sang high in my eager brain, And the joy of my flight was almost pain. The I stayed the rush of my eager speed And silently went as a drifting seed, -- Slowly, furtively, till my eyes Grew big with the awe of a dim surmise, And the hair of my neck began to creep At hearing the wilderness talk in sleep. Shapes in the fir-gloom drifted near. In the deep of my heart I heard my fear. And I turned and fled, like a soul pursued, From the white, inviolate solitude.
When I read the first couplet, I realised two things - firstly, that this was not, critically speaking, a particularly great poem, and secondly, that I was captivated anyway. Having read the entire poem, both impressions remain - this will never be a great poem, but it's a beautiful one for a' that. It's hard to define exactly what it is about the poem that my inner critic balks at. It's mostly the impression that the poet fails to achieve the unselfconscious ease that marks the truly great poem - every now and then, the images feel faintly forced, or the word choice suboptimal, which throws me off my stride. Far easier to say what I like about it - the fact remains that, for all my nitpicking, this is a very pleasing poem. The imagery is beautiful, and very evocative in places - the quiet, lonely stream winding through the wood, its atmosphere slowly seeping into the narrator's mood, comes across vividly. Furthermore, couplets are a form I really like when they work, and they do here, the poem being carried along as swift and as feather-light as the skater on the cascading lines, and the slightly surreal atmosphere being enhanced by the fragmentation. martin Links: There's a bio of Roberts at http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/authors/roberts.html Two other poems that make effective use of couplets: Poem #84 R. L. Stevenson, 'From a Railway Carriage' Poem #209 Mary Robinson, 'The Camp'