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« Greetings from Mobile Libris [by Sharon Preiss] | Main | News of the Week »

November 03, 2008


very well expressed! i can relate except to "cat has bad teeth." (don't have a cat.)

well, that'll take the bubbles out of your Bosco.

Mr. Hilbert's prophetic outlook is not so prophetic anymore, and a little too much like real life... I like the way the colloquial language still is expressed in perfect form, like a drunken guy on the sidewalk haranguing you in meter.

The perfect election eve tribute to our troubled times!

Ah, Ernie, always ebullient and optimistic! At least the bad news is easier to take when it's couched in such elegant verse.

Ah, Ernest Hilbert... Somehow, his poem here makes all the rough reality so much easier to take. We know it's all true, and it all totally sucks, but it feels like a friend's right there with you, so you know it's going to be ok.

Excellent poem. Apt posting by the website given our troubled times. Particularly the long vowel sounds balanced against the caesurae -- make for nice dramatic effect. I've seen the Hilbert name around but as editor. Looks as though he can write as well. The poem has awareness: it is aware of world circumstances; by inculcation it makes you aware of the crap that is not poetry; its final line turns the poem in on itself (and in effect asks if what else one might be missing).

Nicely done with the rhyming pattern. I'm sure there's a correct term for that pattern, and of course I don't know it, but cool nevertheless.

E.H., in this and other sonnets of his I've seen, gives the lie to the frequent lament that English at its plainspoken best is challenged for rhymes. OR it could be that his ingenuity with such scant resources is what blinds us from a basic linguistic fact. Either way, Houdini-like, he ups the ante by shackling himself with end-stopped lines, only to wriggle free of any oppressive rhythms or syntax.

"You just noticed for the first time, that's all" recalls, faintly, Frost's "And forced the underbrush, and that was all," also a poem ending.

Rad. Rock on Ernie.

I see someone asked a question about the rhyme scheme (at last!). You can call it pararhyme. Doomed trench poet Wilfrid Owen used it in his poem “Strange Meeting,” which remained unfinished on his death. He is generally credited with the first use of the technique.

The term itself was coined by another First World War poet, Edmund Blunden. It is also sometimes referred to as partial rhyme or “double consonance,” as the vowel sound varies within a single consonant. However, neither of these fully describes the technique as it was used by Owen. The first rhyme of each couplet in “Strange Meeting” sounds higher on the palate than the second, thus producing a sensation of falling, or decline. It marks a departure from the Victorian penchant for pure rhymes, such as “blue/true” or “light/flight.” Here is an example of Owen’s use of pararhyme:

For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something has been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.

I chose to compose “Prophetic Outlook” with 14 variations on a single lateral consonant (in English, the lateral consonant contains two allophones, though I was only able to use the velarized alveolar lateral approximant, also known as the “dark L,” found at the end of words, in order to maintain the rhyme).

The gesture was intended to impart both a sense of the tedium experienced by the anxious speaker and the rising and falling of such things as private fortunes, moods, and, of course, the stock market. It should also be noted that the poem is fairly slathered with irony. It was intended to be almost comic (or epic!) in its grumpiness, but, as another poster has pointed out, it seems to have become strangely prophetic after all!

Hilbert’s phrases fit so snugly into the poem’s rhyme scheme that it’s easy to overlook his strategic mash-up of public and private woes – it’s easy, in other words, to register that graceful piling-on of negatives with the same undiscerning sense of tedium as the speaker’s. But that's why the last line (“You just noticed for the first time, that’s all”) is so satisfying: It recognizes and clarifies all those inconsistencies that had so far served only to amplify the poem’s maudlin mood of helplessness and uncertainty. There’s a dose of Emerson in the observation that the dreary state of the world can collapse into perspective – not because things don’t get better or worse in reality, but because we have trouble telling when the true issue is in our outlook. So there’s another reason why the cleverness of this line sneaks up on us: We’re all so thoroughly entrenched in our own heads that the poem’s self-centeredness doesn’t look unfamiliar enough to raise an eyebrow, even in lines that purport to prophesize about the world at large. Really, there are very few worries here that aren’t finally just personal, or even purely subjective: The speaker doesn’t *feel* well and his paychecks *feel* small; he may be sick, but “it’s hard to tell;” childhood songs no longer cast a spell, but we know this isn’t the fault of the music. Hilbert noted that the poem, a comical lyric of overblown gripes, is “slathered in irony.” Maybe the cleverest irony is that this poem, which catalogues a prophet’s unreliability, turns out to tell a lot of truth about the way we all respond to hard times - in this way, the speaker’s prophesy is humbled into truth.

I adore the pararhyme, which seems to fit so satisfyingly with the theme. The Shakespearean trounce-the-reader-on-the-last-two-lines is also extremely effective in conjunction with the overall tone.
Very nice.

Um, Ernie, it's "Wilfred." with an "e." as in "Ernie."


Well I like this so much I've linked it on my blog, as an election day special. We are also one day after the official EU prediction that the UK will be the worst-hit of European countries. Not great news for me!

(Does anybody need any freelance copywriting/ editing?)

But Ernie, as to the rhyme, I read it as a straightforward ABAB rhyme scheme: "ell" "all" "ell" "all." It's wonderfully effective, precisely IU think because the rhyme sounds are so close to each other that it gives the poem a relentless driving quality, adding to the horror of each of the realisations, till you get to the end - where, unsonnetlike, the final couplet stays (inexorably as a credit crunch) on the same track, unable to swerve away from the final, killer realisation. And the ending! "...that's all." Gorgeous.

Er, forgive typo! (I don't do that in professional work.) My fingers are cold...

Of course it is Wilfred Owen. You'll see the time stamp is just after 5PM, so it was an end-of-the-workday comment, a bit rushed. I used to misspell Wilfrid Gibson's name as "Wilfred," so I suppose I came full circle with that typo. Thanks for pointing it out.

A solid Jeremiad, made perhaps more disquieting by the sheer impermanence of so many of these irritations. But that, too, is true to life--one is more irritated by the rock in one's own boot than by the decline in students learning Greek. And the last line is surely what prophets always tell us: wake up, zombies, it is all already bad.

Cheer up, all. Is it only Jeremy Axelrod & myself who don't take this seeming catalogue of discontents at face value, but rather, read it as a commentary on the impatience of the terminally self-involved--the aforementioned "comic lyric of overblown gripes"--as underscored by the final couplet? (The more things change, the more they stay the same; there's nothing new under the sun; und so weiter.) Call me a paleolithic paleoconservative curmudgeon, a misguidedly sober Evelyn Waugh, even, but I know that Hilbert's too smart & subtle to intend his poems as flat-line declarations of simplistic outrage. Substitute "I" for "you," & we have a miniature post- postmodernistic dramatic monologue worthy of Tennyson or Browning, a portrait of the solipsistic character ranting against Fate.

And as the pararhyme & other parallels to Owen testify, Hilbert knows that syntax & form, among other elements, underpin a poem & allow it possibly to endure after the hoo-ha has been forgotten.

It never occurred to me until I saw the phrase “the Dow just fell” incorporated into Hilbert’s sonnet, but the preferred pronunciation of Dao/Tao (literally “The Way”)—or at least the English approximation of the term—is…Dow. The following lines come to mind:

When the Tao is forgotten, there is righteousness.
When righteousness is forgotten, there is morality.
When morality is forgotten, there is the law.
The law is the husk of faith,
and trust is the beginning of chaos.

A reminder that the Dow is not the Dao (or the Truth or the Life) is especially timely, of course, but the discontents of the addressee are, for the most part, perennial. The remark about the cat’s teeth, for instance, puts me in mind of the ancient Egyptians, their devotion to said animals, and their practice of animal mummification.

In technical terms, I appreciate both E.H.’s virtuoso rhyming and the way that his meter shifts back and forth between accentual-syllabic and syllabic. “Loosely tight,” to quote Keith Richards.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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