Name this light a kind of tinting
Between dark and day, a mauve
Interwoven with blue heaven
Hovering over the yew grove.

Always did we keep this hour
Special in our home: your chair,
My chair, sherry on the table
By the gabled window there…

We would look out on new tulips
Then the trumpet vine and phlox
Then nasturtiums and then nothing
But white winter as we talked.

Souls we shared and spoken truly,
Trusting we could lay them bare
In the care of cherished friendship
Which was ours rich and rare…

But a sadness lurks in twilight
Seeks a help to see it through
Wants a lullaby for dying
Needs a loving rendez-vous.

So I shudder now at gloaming,
Gloom and dusk—one and the same,
Same two chairs, one glass for sherry
And an ache without a name.
Séadna: ” Irish poetry form. Syllabic. Quatrains of alternating octosyllabic lines with disyllabic endings, and helptasyllabic lines with monosyllabic endings. Lines 2 and 4 rhyme; line 3 rhymes with the stressed word preceding the final word of line 4. There are two cross-rhymes in the second couplet. There is alliteration in each line, the final word of line 4 alliterating with the preceding stressed word. The final syllable of line 1 alliterates with the first stressed word of line 2. The poem (not the stanza) ends with the same first syllable, word, or line with which it begins.” –Turco, Handbook of Poetics

73 responses »

  1. This is deeply moving for the reader, Cynthia, and for the poet too I’m sure – and look what you’ve had to do to write it: you’ve handcuffed yourself, locked yourself in a chest and thrown the key down a well, had the chest carried to the top of a tower and kicked away the stair. The writers of formless, unrevised spontaneous verse might wonder why. But it was surely a labour of love: the love of composition fed by the love of someone always remembered; the task of writing commensurate with the toughness of remembrance itself. La forme et le fond. Bravo you again!

    • What a truly wonderful comment, John.! I am exhausted just reading about what you say I did; I didn’t know I had worked so hard! Of course it is the work I love, as you know, so I don’t notice. La forme et le fond—form and substance; how they feed each other. And you and I have often remarked that form is best to carry some of the most difficult emotions. You have said all this so well, it has invited and multiplied into dittos from other readers. I, most especially, thank you.

      • I, too, am amazed at this poem, your reading of it and John’s comments…I just listening over and over to this song, especially repeating the lines:

        “But a sadness lurks in twilight
        Seeks a help to see it through
        Wants a lullaby for dying
        Needs a loving rendez-vous.”

        so very moving, Cynthia! Bravo, indeed! You keep showing me how deep love can be.

        • It really was and remains the most difficult time of day. In 43 years, I don’t think we ever failed to connect at this time of day, no matter how events might have taken the rest of our individual daily stuff to opposite places and concerns. I’ve heard there is a kind of upset that occurs with elderly people, especially those in “homes”, that is called “sundowners,” and I can understand it, in some strange way. I’m so pleased that you like this one, too, Julie.Thank you, as always, for your kind-ness.

  2. There are poets, and then there are poets. A Séadna, properly done! The Celtic/Irish forms are so difficult. You almost have to drive yourself into a spiritual place where the white goddess is a wind through the trees of a great forest where ancient songs echo out of silent stones to write them. I know when I try to write these forms I become almost frenzied, writing lines and crossing them out and reading them out loud and trying, trying to achieve the ancient magic.
    John brings up the issue of why write such verse. I have had several good poets of formless poems ask me that question, and the answer, of course, is what you have written here. Using form forces you to engage fully with writing the poem, not with the emotion, or the story of the moment, or the use of language that seems original. You have to wrestle lines into being that meet exacting rules that force you to use all the language, images, emotions, and ideas at your command. You become intensely aware of all the elements of what you are trying to do, paying attention to substance and music while striving for a whole that comes out of the hard granite of the poetic history behind the form.
    What you have achieved in this poem is, of course, magic. It is not the magic of a sorcerer pulling hack his arms and throwing lightning into a night sky, but the magic of regret for times past, for remembrance of great love that still exists, but is no longer present in the presence of the beloved, for small rituals that show how courageous the human heart is at it faces the consequences of having those we have loved die. John says that this is a deeply moving poem, and it is. Its movement is, as the first stanza says:
    Between dark and day, a mauve
    Interwoven with blue heaven
    Hovering over the yew grove.
    It is the atmospherics, captured within the Séadna’s complex music, that makes the poem ring with the sure hand of poetic mastery.
    So I shudder now at gloaming,
    Gloom and dusk—one and the same,
    Same two chairs, one glass for sherry
    And an ache without a name.
    To write stanzas like that you have to reach into tradition as well as immediacy of a moment and tell a truth that is not only true, but also universally human, two chairs, but one glass of sherry, and the ache that all of humanity feels that is without a name.

    • To some it may not be understandable, Thomas, but you truly know why. Your own fine formal poetry is testament to that. Our mother tongue is an organic thing, a gift from people who once lived and kept it alive, worked with it and changed it. It continues to change, but there is much also to be treasured in the tradition as people used and sang it…it’s in our bones, and in our guts. I love what you have said here about this poem….the praise, of course; but especially the understanding. Thank you.

  3. So often you “capture the sky” (- and tulips). The poem was sort of like a Whistler painting – probably coming from the starkness of the final stanza and bringing up the image of Whistler’s mother… I like the “comments conversation” regarding “formless poems” versus “form”. Formless poetry is like on stage with the potential actor putting emotion into the performance before even learning the lines! It turns into slop. This poem is very beautiful. It’s self-control is the key to it not becoming a formless “voluptuous vanilla ice cream”! I like the poem very much indeed.

    • You are the very first reader ever to have seen Whistler’s mother here…I love it! I know you care about form in poetry too, and I always look forward to your brilliant tanglings with it. Thank you for your kind and lovely words. It really pleases me that you like the poem.
      (My latest concoction was Cinnamon Chocolate, but i remain a steadfast devotee of French Vanilla. 🙂 )

  4. Lately I’ve been distracted by family events and left without time for reading (Ugh) Today is my first dip back into blogging – and what a treat. Even on the first read I recognized that this poem is very special. The poetic form blends with the emotion into a memorable piece of poetic heritage. I love it – one of your very best! I may have said this before about many of your other poems so I add that I find this one to be A plus plus. Thank you Cynthia!

    • Hi Jane…it’s so nice to see you back in the swim. I’m very glad you like this poem and give it your A plus plus…a valuable grade as it comes from you. By now you’ve read a lot of my poems, and always with something encouraging to say. I treasure your responses to my work, I hope you know, and I thank you again for your continuing kindness.

  5. Name this light–you captured me with that line and of course with the yew grove, I knew there would be grief. This is a visual and visceral poem. I can see the chairs, the light, the different scenes–and of course, many of us know grief and its accrued losses. I see now the relationship to Evenings at Five by Gail Godwin that you mentioned once. I am learning so much about forms by reading these. And another poem in the same rhythm always hits my brain–ah, such and such was written in that form. I like this and the way it speaks to missing someone at the gut level of routine.

    • Yes, that Gail Godwin Evenings at Five is definitely related to this. It was indeed such a ritual that now, several years beyond, the dog still looks for a special treat at about that time, as she always had one. I really like your phrase “the gut level of routine.” That is exactly it.

  6. All the folk who came by here before me have left comments that I would have left had I the capacity. All I know is that you have the ability while exposing your inner most world to touch the griefs and losses of us all. There is a magic and a genius in this ability. Though, based solely on how I feel at the end of reading and listening – I do wonder how and in which state you are left by the end of the composing. xo

    • Ah, Pauline, I’m guessing you’ve found me out. In the end, I am an instrument that has been played, maybe with some weeping and a few snapped strings, but ready to go back and sing and play again. Thank you for your insight and tender heart.

  7. I sat here for a bit, not knowing what to say. I cannot know your pain, but we have had two sets of bad news today and have been reminded of the ineradicable ache of past losses and the knowledge of what is to come. Poetry is where I go when I feel this ache, as nothing else reaches it in quite the same way. I sent your book to our newly widowed friend. I hope your words reach her too.

    • You always seem to know what to say, Hilary, particular and genuine. I am sorry to hear about the bad news. Each time it happens, it seems to tune in to our already accumulated knowledge of it, and, as you say, premonitions. I don’t know how may people still go to poetry with this, but I agree; it reaches best for me, too….sometimes in the reading and sometimes in the writing itself. Thank you for sending my book to a friend. I would be so honored in all anonymity, if it had the effect you hope for.

    • Yes, crépuscule is a most interesting word. I only knew it in French– and I had to research how it is pronounced in English (the English borrowed it from the French) and was surprised at the variety of pronunciations….none of which were so beautiful to me as the original one I have always known, in French. But this is a poem in English; what’s more, it’s an Irish form; so I stuck with one of the English pronunciations. Thank you, Sylvie

  8. Hello Cynthia. I especially like John and Thomas’ comments regarding the beauty of these words within the confines of its Irish/Celtic form. I don’t think I could ever write a response like that without much further training and education : ) The whole poem is very moving…however…I question the last line, or rather, I question the “ache with no name”, how can this be? For surely there was a person in the chair, non? Do we ache because of a deep namelessneed? absence? though I attach a name to the ache? Does the namelessness of the ache somehow make the absent person less named or personal or important, or the ache for the person less…something? I’m not sure what I mean here. The ache without a name is love, i think. Love. And that twilight hour, I agree with this poem.

    • Anna…it is so nice to find your comment here. I feel honored and privileged by the comments of John Stevens and Thomas Davis, because I think we all share a certain outlook on traditional form in poetry and I have a great deal of respect for them both as “fellow workers in the vineyard.”

      Your exploration of that “ache without a name,” is thought provoking. Perhaps the ache has been occasioned by a particular person with a particular name, who may never be forgotten, but the meditation of it moves beyond the particular to …compassion, maybe; or “suffering with,” in a realization that it’s not just about me, but, as Thomas Davis says, “the ache that all humanity feels, that is without a name. You have called it love. I agree, except that I have become hesitant to use that word; it has become crassly conventional, confining and nearly useless, in my book….and so without a name. And maybe we don’t need a name for everything, only an ability to dance with it. 🙂

  9. What a poem, Cynthia – on so many levels! I can only ‘ditto’ the comments above (especially from John and Thomas) and bathe in your artistry, skill and the engendered feelings.

    • Isn’t it funny how, when we’re young we believe in permanency, or most of us do; there’s all that perspective of time ahead of us. It takes some living and losing even the simple joys, to learn how precious our days are. Of course you would know this from your own loss. I’m so glad you enjoyed hearing the poem; thank you for reading , and for your lovely comment!

  10. I haven’t the form of words to express the poignancy you resurrect here, dear Cynthia, so I substitute a bit of Thomas Hardy:
    “She would disappear,
    Then show again, till I ceased to see
    That flexible form, that nebulous white;
    And she who was more than my life to me
    Had vanished quite.”
    [On The Departure Platform]

  11. I had to find the meaning of the title after reading and listening to what I found to be a tale of sadness based on the better days of days gone by. But like all your poems, I always enjoy your delivery.

  12. Beautifully crafted. And moving. Especially like how you have captured the changing seasons “…and then nothing But white winter as we talked.” Like a film with two characters in the foreground, immersed in conversation, with a backdrop that keeps changing.

    • That filmic impression of the passage of seasons with the same two characters in the foreground was exactly what I was aiming for, Ankur; I’m so glad you picked up on it. And happy, too, that you found the poem well crafted and moving. Thank you!

    • While it is not my intent to make anyone cry, It is good to hear—from one artist to another—that the work was strong enough to move someone. Thank you so much for saying so, Karen.

  13. Such an amazing piece of work Cynthia – as I think about the images you lay before us, the tenderness and pain of a beautiful soul that has slipped away. There is a knowing, but powerful way you leave us with your words, your voice – it’s raw at such a deep level. This is one that I won’t soon forget. I’m sorry for your pain my dear friend, thank you for sharing this most private time – I felt that emotional ping in my gut and heart. There is no other that can express life as you do.

  14. Some of your poems freeze me in the chair I am sitting in; the ceiling fan whirs on, punctuated by the ticks of the clock on the wall behind me. I read and reread them, pausing and unravelling the layers of emotions, of a lifetime spilt and captured in a stanza. It is only when I am able to get over the contents of the poem, I can focus on the finer points of the metrics. If I had not read the detail about Séadna in the postscript of this one, I would have missed it out totally. You have danced on the dagger’s edge with the grace and panache of a rare ballerina.

    • What a wonderful image…of dancing on a dagger’s edge….you have conjured here, Uma. I happen to love the challenge of limits, in writing poems, though I appreciate that not everyone does. The Séadna is particularly complex and so I enjoyed trying it. I do believe the thought and feeling are the most important, however, and the form should never inhibit but should sharpen and enhance that. It really is indeed like your fortuitous image of ballet, where centuries of traditional form and long practice of skill can sometimes result in a most satisfying performance.

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