Nov 9, 2011

John Keats and Amy Lowell, Day Two: Yellow, Yellow, Yellow

To keep the comparison in mind, here again are both poems from yesterday:

To Autumn
by John Keats (1795-1821)

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,   
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless   
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,   
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;     
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells   
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees, 
Until they think warm days will never cease,    
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells. 

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?   
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,   
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,   
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook    
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep   
Steady thy laden head across a brook;   
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,    
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.  

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?   
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,   
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn   
Among the river sallows, borne aloft    
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; 
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;   
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft  
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,     
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.


by Amy Lowell (1874 – 1925)

They brought me a quilled, yellow dahlia, Opulent, flaunting.
Round gold
Flung out of a pale green stalk.
Round, ripe gold
Of maturity,
Meticulously frilled and flaming,
A fire-ball of proclamation:
Fecundity decked in staring yellow
For all the world to see.
They brought a quilled, yellow dahlia,
To me who am barren
Shall I send it to you,
You who have taken with you
All I once possessed?

So Amy Lowell’s “Autumn” is at the other end of the spectrum from Keats. I’ll begin by mentioning that I don’t know who Lowell's “They” might be, and I wonder briefly if the poem should make that clear. But by then, the scene has made me understand that the “round gold/ Flung out of a pale green stalk”--“frilled,” “flaming” and fecund--brings hurt and rage to a woman who sees herself as the empty opposite of female fertility and beauty. 

Surely we have all known autumn days, or entire seasons, that seemed offensive, an intrusion of golden glory,

when our day or season was grey, full of sterile, hollow routine, or was downright sad, as in actual grieving. And just as we were deciding we could cope with all that, some rosy-cheeked, Halloween-loving, cheerleader type comes along, sticks a pom-pom in our face, and demands we say rah-rah for the pretty leaves.

So, with Amy Lowell, we say to the amber season and to Them That Brought It Whoever They Are, take your yellow ball and go down the road. How dare you plop that thing on my table, you with your calm  guarantee of death just around the bend.

Can a season be an affront, feel like a personal insult, a mockery of who and what we are? There’s not a doubt in my mind.

I hear you, Amy Lowell. I still hear Keats, but for me there’s a new kid on the block. Her story isn’t gorgeous like young Keats’; after all, he was gorgeous about most things. In fact, Lowell presents The Boldly Anti-Gorgeous. It hates all that luxuriating, in love with itself and everything, converting earth to a sumptuous woman, the breeze in her hair, sitting in hippie contemplation over there on the granary floor. 

Lowell’s flinty argument is as plausible as Keats’ adoration, and I’m listening to both.  

Again, I hope visitors will talk about which poem, or which parts of poems, they like more, as opposed to what they admire more in terms of poetic achievement. The experiment is skewed by the different times and circumstances of the two poets. But we're not going for world peace here; we're just saying what we like and what we admire, recognizing that there might be a difference.  Sometimes I think of the incredible skill I see in some musicians, yet the actual music they produce can be, to me, little more than a frantic tangle of notes.



Birdman said...

Keats is my choice... it's Maine.

Hannah Stephenson said...

Amy Lowell's "fire-ball of proclamation" makes me shiver. I like how you describe her poem as the "Anti-Gorgeous."

Funny there's so much yellow talk I was driving home, I couldn't stop noticing all the yellow stuff, mostly in contrast with the grey sky and road. It's almost a sickly yellow, but a beautiful (anti-beautiful?) contrast.

I do love Keats, but I gravitate toward this Amy Lowell poem because it's more personal (well, the speaker is more directly implicated in what's going on). That's a contemporary bias, methinks.

Banjo52 said...

Birdman, a New England cultural imperative, I guess. How do folks there regard Amy Lowell's relative (nephew? cousin?) Robert Lowell, who spent time on a Maine island? See "Skunk Hour."

Hannah, thanks, and well said, as always. We do like our confessionalism in the last few decades, don't we. I don't automatically object to the ultra- personal, as long as it also hits on universal matters and details--and rises above mere narcissism. Most of Plath and Sexton are fine with me.

On the other hand, Ted Kooser (see two or three posts ago here) has three poems in the newest Kenyon Review, and his friendly, warm regard for subjects other than himself seems almost unique. The poems are both personal and detached--in two cases, very effectively, I think. I could go on . . . OK, stopping now. Hannah, thanks again.

Ken Mac said...

Dated a woman last night who loves Keats. And excellent photos!
I loved! Your comment re Athens blogger on my page. Dood, that totally made me crack up, your comment I mean. ha! Thanks. Bird in Flight! Ken

Banjo52 said...

Ken, stick with me, and I'll give you every pick-up line you'll ever need.
(And if you believe that . . .) Thanks for the lightness.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I like your explanation of the "in your face" pom poms. Somewhere back you broke poems into two parts (I can't find it) which I'm assuming these two works represent. Lowel's is the menopausal rant. I like a good rant. I like yellow but not in summer when it's a 100.

"they" is time. Saw an episode on NOVA last night about time which now has me terribly confused

-K- said...

Wonderful fall photos. So reminscent of my early days in Ohio and Illinois.

Anonymous said...

Banjo, that last photo practically makes me weep, it's so beautiful. I know those roads and cornfields so well.

Brenda's Arizona said...

"You who have taken with you
All I once possessed?" haunts me. I want to write a story about what she means. Did some guy leave her? Her lover? Did he take everything that her heart knew about him, and with that he dash it against the wall and break every thing she believed about him/them?

I love your "new kid on the block" idea. But didn't Keats have plenty of competition in his time with Shelly and Byron and Wordsworth and etc. etc. I mean, back then, did people have an "American Idol" of poetry contest in their newspapers/journals?

Oh, your fields, your skies - your photos. I love yesterday's photo of the hay bale/roll. Had never seen those until finding out about the Midwest. Thought hay always was baled in blocks!
What back roads have you been driving, Banjomyn? Do you 'hear' Autumn as you drive?

somewords said...

Banjo: Great poems, reading, and comments...

Pasadena has a cool idea about "they" or maybe even "you" being time itself.

I'm also agreeing with Hannah, noticing more yellow stuff: The Yellow Bicycle (by Robert Hass)

Banjo52 said...

Thanks, all, for the kind comments about the photos (not to be confused with pottos, which I just typed).

PA and Somewords, I guess I'm being too fussy about grammar, but I'm struggling to hear the plural "They" as the singular "Time." But the CONCEPT sure works, doesn't it. That's just what time does . . .

AH and K, I'd love to hear you write about or photograph something of your times in those places. Seems everyone NOT from there sees those areas as wastelands, which is way off the mark.

Brenda, see if I responded in the next day's comments. The real answer is, I don't know. The question makes me want to learn more about A. Lowell's life, which I intend to. But you see my great sack of intentions.

And B, I've been fascinated by haystacks, esp. in late afternoon or evening (or here, in overcast) for as long as I can remember. I bet if I had to move 'em around a little, I'd be a lot less fascinated.

Somewords, I'll check out the Hass. He can be so good, but can also be so talk-y. I've posted a couple of his here, probably a year or more ago.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

" Seems everyone NOT from there sees those areas as wastelands"

Not me...I like the midwest. I've said so several times on this blog.

Banjo52 said...

PA, you're right, you have. I mean in the general conversation, one cliche I hear is that, except for the Rockies, everything between the east and west coasts is just something you have to fly over, a dull nuisance. I hope I didn't sound wounded by that cliche; it's dumb. But I do marvel at the fact that it exists.

Lovers' Lane