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You, Andrew Marvell -- Archibald MacLeish

Guest poem sent in by Vivek Narayanan
(Poem #1691) You, Andrew Marvell
And here face down beneath the sun
Here upon Earth's noonward height
To feel the always coming on
The always rising of the night:

To feel creep up the curving East
The earthy chill of dusk and slow
upon those underlands the vast
And ever climbing shadow grow

And strange at Ecbatan the trees
Take leaf by leaf the evening strange
The flooding dark about their knees
The mountains over Persia change

And now at Kermanshah the gate
Dark empty and the withered grass
And through the twilight now the late
Few travellers in the Westward pass

And Baghdad darken and the bridge
Across the silent river gone
And through Arabia the edge
of evening widen and steal on

And deepen in Palmyra's street
The wheel-rut in the ruined stone
And Lebanon fade out and Crete
High through the clouds and overblown

And over Sicily the air
Still flashing with the landward gulls
And loom and slowly disappear
The sails above the shadowy hulls

And Spain go under and the shore
Of Africa the gilded sand
And evening vanish and no more
The low pale light across that land

Nor now the long light on the sea:

And here face downward in the sun
To feel how swift how secretly
The shadow of the night comes on...
-- Archibald MacLeish
My number one memorisable poem has to be at the moment Roethke's The Waking;
of course it's not about sleep at all, but the sleep of reason and anxiety,
ie., an attempt to put reason and anxiety to sleep.  Sure enough, it seems
to have a very real, calming effect on me when I recite it to myself: which
leads me to believe that the number one reason we memorise poems is that so
they may be internalised in the living body and have an actual, physical
effect, be a way of reforming the self.  Well... since that one is already
in the archive, I'm typing up this other famous poem from memory, a
remarkable visualization of time in the shadow that creeps as the Earth

The poem's own movement/cadence and its eschewing of punctuation makes for a
physical mimesis of the shadow's constant growing; and it manages both a
very large scale and a minuteness of seen detail: such as (and how!) the
wheel-rut left by centuries of wheels on Palmyra's street.

Slightly longish, MacLeish's poem is nevertheless surprisingly easily to
memorise because of the rhymed quartrains and the very steady, measured
iambic (te-tum te-tum) line which is stretched out longingly by all those
long vowels.  When I checked my version out against the poem at the website there were a few things I'd gotten wrong, I'd typed: "the"
for "those" in the 7th line, "darken" instead of "deepen" in the 21st line,
and "downward" instead of "landward" in the 26th line.  Thus the exercise
was a very good one which made me pay renewed attention again to MacLeish's
subtle and rather careful word-choices.

I'd also kept the last four lines together and not used any punctuation.
The punctuation seems to be a bit different in different versions on the
net; for instance, in one version the poem ends in an ellipsis, in another in
a full stop-- which makes me think, my humble opinion, that perhaps the poem
would indeed be better without any punctuation at all.

One clarification may also aid the memorising of the poem: going strictly by
sense, the third stanza parses out as follows: "... and strange at Ecbatan,
the trees take leaf by leaf the evening; strange, the flooding dark about
their knees, the mountains over Persia change."  So there should be a slight
pause or breath just before the second "strange" to make the enjambment



A great piece by Mark Strand on today's poem:


Today's poem is very reminiscent,  in tone, feel and rhythm, of
Auden's "The Fall
of Rome" [Poem #494]

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