The Crowded Street

Today’s contribution to National Poetry Month is a long verse by William Cullen Bryant, an American poet who lived from 1794-1878. I often have the same sort of thoughts as I watch humanity flow past me on the crowded street or in a mall.

The Crowded Street

by William Cullen Bryant

Let me move slowly through the street,
filled with an ever-shifting train,
amid the sound of steps that beat
the murmuring walks like autumn rain.

How fast the flitting figures come!
The mild, the fierce, the stony face —
some bright with thoughtless smiles, and some
where secret tears have left their trace.

They pass — to toil, to strife, to rest;
to halls in which the feast is spread;
to chambers where the funeral guest
in silence sits beside the dead.

And some to happy homes repair,
where children, pressing cheek to cheek,
with mute caresses shall declare
the tenderness they cannot speak.

And some, who walk in calmness here,
shall shudder as they reach the door
where one who made their dwelling dear,
its flower, its light, is seen no more.

Youth with pale cheek and slender frame,
and dreams of greatness in thine eye,
goest thou to build an early name
or early in the task to die?

Keen son of trade, with eager brow!
Who is now fluttering in thy snare?
Thy golden fortunes, tower they now,
or melt the glittering spires in air?

Who of this crowd tonight shall tread
the dance till daylight gleam again?
Who, sorrow o’er the untimely dead?
Who, writhe in throes of mortal pain?

Some famine-struck, shall think how long
the cold dark hours, how slow the light;
and some, who flaunt amid the throng,
shall hid in dens of shame tonight.

Each, where his tasks or pleasures call,
they pass, and heed each other not.
There is who heeds, who holds them all
in His large love and boundless thought.

These struggling tides of life, that seem
in wayward, aimless course to tend
are eddies of the mighty stream
that rolls to its appointed end.

Capturing Their Feelings

I recently purchased and have been reading a book titled Write Like Issa: A Haiku How To, by David Lanoue.

The writer talks about the compassion Issa often showed for the creatures he saw. He seemed to  look through their eyes for a moment and express, in an understanding way, how they were reacting to heat, cold, pain, etc. Be it the fly in a hot stuffy room, the toad on a chilly morning, the chicken dragging a damaged wing, he could display through his verse, without actually stating, their physical feelings.

The sparrows we see in winter puff up when it’s cold and they must feel an icy wind ruffling their feathers. Or we may see a baby bird hopping after its harried mother, crying for more food. Issa wrote a famous verse identifying himself with the hungry chick, by throwing in the words “step-child bird.” Knowing that the poet was a step-child neglected and harshly treated by his father’s second wife, we get the picture of his own hunger and longing for affection.

One of the exercises Mr Lanoue gives readers is to recall a experience shared with a some creature and then capture that in a haiku. I think we can all recall instances when a creature, especially a pet, shows some “feeling” we can identify with. One day as I was walking to the mall, I saw a salamander alongside the curb, twisting his head this way and that in obvious distress as cars swished past not far away. The traffic wasn’t steady; but every so often another car would pass and frighten him, yet the poor creature couldn’t go up the curb to escape that way. Just observing him a moment, I caught his fear and bewilderment. I could easily imagine the desperate cry of, “Which way shall I go?”

I’m not sure I could condense that scene enough for a haiku — if you want to give it a try, go for it, and leave your verse as a comment. But here’s a quick and easy scene for a verse. I don’t know if it’s a great haiku or not, but have you ever noticed how a fly is attracted to a dish or jar that once held something sweet?

fruit fly explores
the just-washed jam jar
something tells him

Who Is This?

 

 



Who is this person who
goes about with her head up
in the blue heavens plucking
white puffs from passing clouds,
weaves them into poems
until there is no cloud at all?

Who is this person who
goes about with her mind so
full of foolish things?
What does she think she’s doing,
ignoring the latest styles
in ladies’ hats and shoes,
missing social niceties
and other vital signs of life?

Who is this person who
goes about whipping out
a coil-bound notebook
at the slightest stimulation,
hunting for a pen, fearing
some precious thought will vanish
before she’s tacked it down
in scrawling lines of poetry.

Who is this person who
thinks she can demonstrate
why we feel the way we do
or how we should look
at some unusual bloom
or distant arcing rainbow
when we have so much more
important work to do.
Odd, isn’t she?

 

 

Listless

Word of the Day Challenge this morning: LISTLESS
A thought formed in my mind and has come out as a haiku.

One of the biggest challenges is writing any poetry, and especially haiku and senryu, is to know how much to say and how much to leave for the reader to imagine. I’d like to hear what this verse says to you.

the old dog listless
his master away —
how can he know

Are Readers Being OD’d On Angst?

Have you ever read a book that felt like one long spiel of navel-gazing with a bit of plot thrown in?

I have. And I find it irritating. I’d like to read a story.

Readers are human; we all have feelings. We like it when our story characters seem human, too — even display some faults. When characters show their feelings and inner conflicts we can identify with them and sympathize with their trials. We cheer when they find their answer. In my opinion that’s what a story is all about.

Writers need to give their readers credit: we do “get” how the protagonist feels and we understand that attractions, fears and insecurities are going to be ongoing. But light touches now and then are reminder enough. The writer doesn’t have to tell us again and again and again how insecure, worried or resistant to some change the character feels.

Navel-Gazing: Contrived Conflict

Stories do need conflict, but is really effective in the long run to generate “internal conflict” by rehashing the character’s fears, self-doubt, and suspicions every few pages? Wouldn’t the novel be better if those efforts rather went into plot? Into writing in some actual conflict with life circumstances?

I read one novel where the main characters had joined a wagon train headed for a new life in California. They were going through unfamiliar territory, supposedly anticipating the new life they’d be living. But instead of the trials of their journey, scenic description, or speculation on their future home, the writer served readers a steady diet of the female MC examining her feelings for, and trying to generate resistance to, the male MC. And vise versa.

They spend so much time scolding themselves about their feelings, by Chapter 4 you’re thinking, “Get a life, people! There’s a whole world happening around you.”

I rarely read romance books or chick lit and this is mainly why. But I find this style of writing common in other genres nowadays, too, especially cosy mysteries. In one novel the protagonist finds a dead teen in someone’s empty house and, according to the writer, her thoughts are:
Why on earth did I have to find this body?
What will people think of me when they know I’ve found this body?
What will my family think of me when they hear I’ve found this body?
What will people think of my family when they learn I’ve found this body?

That a person died is pretty low in her thinking. Her fears prove overwhelming, so she jumps in her car and leaves the poor guy lying there. As the story unfolds all her angst gets played out with the mystery as a background. In all fairness, the writer did a good job of spinning out the plot, but the protagonist comes across as so self-centered.

Put More STORY in the Story

I know we live in a world that’s focused on navel-gazing. We’re encouraged to analyze our feelings and reactions. This is naturally going to spill over into the books we read. However, if writers were to delete the monotonous rehashes, I’m afraid some books might lose a third of their word counts — unless they filled the pages with actual happenings. And that takes work.

Maybe my problem is that I’ve been reading the old masters. There’s a lot more going on in Pride and Prejudice than how Liz feels about her feelings toward Darcy and how Darcy feels about his feelings for Liz. Jane Austin’s characters had lives to live, places to go and things to do. Her stories were woven around action as well as romance.

Without a lot of navel-gazing Charles Dickens’ characters managed to rouse people’s sympathies to the point of effecting positive changes in society’s attitudes.

For mystery writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, “Who did it?” was the focus of their stories. Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and Lord Peter Wimsey rarely wrestled with self-doubt or anguished over what others thought of them. Yet they were very human — and often very humorous as a bonus.

The popularity of these writers has endured; you can still find their works in any library and most bookstores. That tells us something.