Poetry Revision: Growing a Seed (featuring Arthur Rimbaud’s “Sensation”)

None of the revisions I’m going to use in this article are necessarily “bad” or by any means “incorrect.” One might argue that each has its merit—even the simplest of them—but I’d like to argue here that simpler poems are sometimes the seeds to still greater poems.

I’ve taken Arthur Rimbaud’s “Sensation” and broken it down into a much simpler rendition of my own. Of course, I’ve done this only in order to mimic one approach to revision that I find useful. These are not a reflection of Rimbaud’s creative process.

Let’s start with my over-simplified rendition of the poem:

I will walk down this road,
Dreaming on a cool day.

Thoughtless, in love,
Nature will make me happy.

This isn’t bad at all. Though it lacks originality, it’s sensible and pleasant. Thought it doesn’t necessarily stand out, it does stand on its own.

However, what I’d like to do is to take what I’ve got and revise it a little. While keeping the original ideas and sensations, I’m going to expand upon them a little:

I will pass along grassy roads,
Dreaming with a cool breeze in my hair.

Thoughtless, overflowing with love,
I will love Nature like a woman.

This is better: an image is starting to take shape with the added sensory details. Moreover, the speaker’s love for Nature is more relatable now that it’s been compared to his love for a woman. But perhaps the ideas/images are still too contained here. Let’s add some more lines:

I will pass along roads in the summer,
Pricked by wheat, trampling short grass:
Dreaming, I will feel the cool breeze
On my bare feet and on my bare head.

Speechless, thoughtless:
Love will flower from my heart,
And I will wander through Nature—
As happily as with a woman.

Now we’re getting somewhere: the image becomes much easier to visualize with the prickly wheat and the short grass added to the road. And the breeze is much more tangible now that we feel it against the bare feet and bare head of the speaker.

The expanded second stanza reads smoother as well. The pause between the first and second line makes the state of the speaker more poignant. And a slightly more visual interaction between the speaker and Nature is introduced with the verb “wander,” as opposed to more abstract verb “love” in the revision prior.

However, I’m going to let Rimbaud finish this one off:

“Sensation” (translation by Wyatt Mason)

Through blue summer nights I will pass along paths,
Pricked by wheat, trampling short grass:
Dreaming, I will feel coolness underfoot,
Will let breezes bathe my bare head.

Not a word, not a thought:
Boundless love will surge through my soul,
And I will wander far away, a vagabond
In Nature—as happily as with a woman.

by Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891)

Afterthoughts:

Rimbaud was very capable of writing much longer poems, so why did he stop after only two quatrains?

At what point do you know when to stop revising?

Ugly’s Only Skin Deep

Ugly’s Only Skin-Deep

but who said beauty’s absolutely guts?
night is a gas flame in a dream
the altar boy aims his slingshot at a satellite

snuffs a comet drops a star
and slumps the city shoulder to shoulder with the hill
of the blonde valley of nine shadows where

a bee opens a raspberry flower
beside the sod hut where a bodhisattva’s too drunk
to play his paper flute where the fox died

of an infected paw a fly spreads its wings in the wound
the years collapse to weeks
weeks to hours hours to seconds!

and I’ve never been less iron than April
with its pollen and its people and all their pollution
it pokes a hole in grandma’s ghost

when daughter sister mother love
father brother son it’s the world on a stick
sit down drink up be kind

life is hard and leisure hardens in the sun.

 

by Ryan Dowling

James Galvin: Ideas at Play

Expecting Company

Death is when the outside world
Wants to get away from itself
By going inside of someone.

Till the walls cave in.
Till the roof is gone.

I’m floating face up
On a sea of adrenaline.
A broken window hangs around my neck.

I have to make more room in here.
I have to get rid of the furniture.

by James Galvin (b. 1951)

A Brief Analysis of Space and Death

In the first stanza we have two extremes of space squared off against each other: the macrocosm of the “outside world” vs. the microcosm of “someone,” a single person. Although it makes more sense to think of a person going into the outside world, this precept says that death happens when the outside world actually “goes inside” of a person.

Now that Galvin has set us up with this inversion, he proceeds to remove the barriers (“the walls” and “the roof”) that separate a confined space from the outside world. His careful word choice suggests not only the figurative decomposition of the person in question, but also the literal dilapidation of their living space once they no longer live there.

Side note: Much of James Galvins’ work revolves around his ranch in Tie Siding, Wyoming. When Galvin writes of someone’s living space after death, he’s probably not thinking of a city apartment that’s simply rented out again a week later; he’s thinking of a cabin in the countryside that’s been gutted out and left to rot.

In the third stanza, in a surreal turn of events, the speaker somehow has a window hanging around his neck and is floating face-up on a “sea of adrenaline.” These images suggest death (or violence in the very least), but it’s not clear that it’s either homicide or suicide. Remember the precept of this poem: “Death is when the outside world… [goes] inside of someone.” Still, it remains ambiguous as to whether the speaker has brought death upon himself or whether Death, in fact, has somehow taken action upon him.

The last two lines really drive the title of the poem home. Now that the speaker is presumably dead or about to die, he is expecting company (Death). Due to his lack of space for the “outside world,” the speaker can only express his anxiety at getting rid of the furniture for this particular guest. Now space is portrayed as the empty space that follows death. Although Death is never actually personified in this poem, his physical presence is certainly felt.

An Investigation of Zhuangzi’s Dream

An Investigation of Zhuangzi’s Dream

You dreamt heavily Saturday,
and woke up Sunday with an old question:
Am I yet the butterfly sleeping on the temple bell,
dreaming he’s a man? The day’s
events threw you off with their suggestions.
A young priest, dozing at the wheel,
rear-ended you at a red light.
He was scared and sorry,
but the police officer on duty was so jolly
the jokes rolled right off his tongue.
A circle of people in the town center
locked arms around a fountain
and then redispersed into the crowd all at once.
A bird sang from a soapbox
and its song got stuck in your throat.
The small invitation to your brother’s funeral
slipped in the wind
and landed on a dandelion.
There was no more honey in all the house.
You wrapped yourself tightly in your sheets like a cocoon.
When sleep lowered its bell over your head
you could hear a ringing
somewhere far away
and somewhere very near.

by Ryan Dowling

Mitsuharu Kaneko’s “Opposition”

Kaneko places a high value on opposition: “to oppose/ Is the only fine thing in life.” Yet he pushes opposition to such an extreme that it becomes absurd: “I ride my horse facing its buttocks.” What exactly is he trying to tell us here?

Opposition

In my youth
I was opposed to school.
And now, again,
I’m opposed to work.

Above all it is health
And righteousness that I hate the most.
There’s nothing so cruel to man
As health and honesty.

Of course I’m opposed to ‘the Japanese spirit’
And duty and human feeling make me vomit.
I’m against any government anywhere
And show my bum to authors’ and artists’ circles.

When I’m asked for what I was born,
Without scruple, I’ll reply, ‘To oppose.’
When I’m in the east
I want to go to the west.

I fasten my coat at the left, my shoes right and left.
My hakama I wear back to front and I ride a horse facing its buttocks.
What everyone else hates I like
And my greatest hate of all is people feeling the same.

This I believe: to oppose
Is the only fine thing in life.
To oppose is to live.
To oppose is to get a grip on the very self.

by Mitsuharu Kaneko (1895-1975)

The Mechanic

The Mechanic

We’ve learned to think for cars, and think like them;
we know their schematics better than our own anatomy.
Our blood’s been mixed with waste oil, our bones
replaced with bent rods. Our brains are computers
that cannot reboot. The dash lights are on.

Why do we do it, why do we lie down
on these dollies and slide under another Dodge,
another Corvette, another Ferrari we’ll never afford—
link by link, our hands broken in the wreckage,
groping for salvage as if it were salvation.

I think of the millions of miles of accumulation,
all the scum of the earth sucked up on a Sunday drive—
the sludge, the sludge, unstomachable.
Neon and sweet, the ethylene leaks. The blood
of a rodent sputters from the hubcap, and the rubber
hisses from a nail. What began as a spot of rust
ends in cancer. There is a diagnosis, there is a danger—
corrosion in the engine: the cylinders
eaten, the pistons spit out, the brute steel
beaten like an anvil under heat…

And at the end of the day, I just can’t get the filth
out from under my fingernails.

by Ryan Dowling

Epizeuxis in Sylvia Plath’s Poetry

Epizeuxis (ep-ih-zook-sis) is the immediate repetition of a word one or more times, as indicated by the underlined words in the following excerpts from the poetry of Sylvia Plath (1932-1963):

Ash, ash
You poke and stir,
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer,
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

(from Lady Lazarus)

This is a nice little device that’s not too difficult to get a handle on. Moreover, it can pack a punch when used effectively. Note that the repeated word’s article and modifier are included in this next example:

I do not stir.
The frost makes a flower,
The dew makes a star,
The dead bell,
The dead bell.

Somebody’s done for.

(from Death & Co.)

Aside from the pleasant sound its repetition creates, the device is a stylistic favorite of Plath’s. It imbues the speaker’s voice in her poems with an impassioned tone, and sometimes a manic one. It’s as if she’s so animated she cannot help but repeat herself:

Such pure leaps and spirals—
Surely they travel

The world forever, I shall not entirely
Sit emptied of beauties, the gift

Of your small breaths, the drenched grass
Smell of your sleeps, lilies, lilies.

(from The Night Dances)

Be sure to add epizeuxis to your tool box!