Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Flute Seller


Today I visited Windy Skies for the first time and encountered the figure of an itinerant peddler, attempting to sell his flutes in the midst of Indian traffic. The image struck me as an apt metaphor for the poet in the 21st century—a wanderer with a sheaf of songs and hand reaching out with a handmade gift while the world whirls by, faster and faster, not like a dervish but like a manic child's top.

Since Beth Adams of Phoenicia Publishing and qarrtsiluni and the cassandra pages just wrote me that she is now reading The Throne of Psyche (my new book from Mercer University Press, May 2011), I feel inspired to post the first section of the title poem.  You will find it below--I'm afraid that even a piece of a longish poem breaks up the short post rule and dances on it! A good many poems from the book have been reprinted on the site, but not the opening of the book.

Well-made poems are creations that reward re-readings. If you have liked the poems from The Throne of Psyche posted on the blog, I hope you’ll consider owning a copy of your very own to read over time. As a physical object, the book is unusually beautiful in design and production. As for the contents, I have strewn the blog with samples so that passers-by may taste and see . . .

Also available for bloggers by request (contact me here or via email or facebook or twitter): uploads of audio readings from The Throne of Psyche; uploads of videos by Paul Digby with me reading poems; images; copies of poems, links to related material, etc.

For more information about the book, please go here and here. For information on how to order my books, go here.

* * *

THE THRONE OF PSYCHE (opening section)

A soul’s mysterious as any tree—
It drives a root as deadly low as hell,
It stretches peaceful branches heaven-high,
It harvests light with leaves of memory.

I. HER GIRLHOOD

You see the limestone wall that catches light—
Those olive trees inside the circuit of stone?
The gardeners said the eldest one had passed
Three thousand years. It looks as gnarled and scarred
As rind from dragons that survived a war,
And underneath’s the spot where I was born,
The Queen my mother snatched by sudden pains
While walking in the garden. I looked up
And saw the sun like showered stars in leaves.
You think I can’t remember? Yes, I can;
And I remember breeze and branches tossed,
The olive shifting, singing down at me,
Saying I was Psyche, blessed and blessing—
I made a cry and Mother laughed in joy
And drew her knife across the bloody cord.
A Queen is busy like an ant whose nest
Is shattered open by a curious
Small child: the tree became a family,
A secret place to go and talk or hide.
I ate her fruit, I drank her bitter teas
When I was ill, and someone carved a doll
Fleshed in olive wood from wind-thrown branches.
The greenish face with streaks of yellow-brown
Made me daydream strangers from another
World where sky was rose and water purple.
In ours, my sisters married parched old kings
To give my father fine alliances;
I scaled the tree and heard an oracle
Foretell I would not bear a fate like theirs.
The courtiers made me abashed with praise
That I was fair, the people offered gifts
As though I were a goddess from the sky.
I grew afraid and gods grew angry, as
They will—yet why, since time is always on
Their side? I clambered up my olive tree
And harkened to the auguring of leaves:
I’d have a fate called strange and wonderful.
But messengers approached my father’s throne
To tell how I must be a sacrifice
To temper Aphrodite’s jealousy.
A monster tarried on the mountaintop,
My promised bridegroom—winged and scaled from sole
To crown, the color of a stormy cloud
But hard as armor from the gods’ own forge.
I thought of sisters, queens in jeweled crowns,
Of truce between security and looks
And guessed perhaps there was more than one way
To be consumed. All gossiped I would be
A morsel for my bridegroom’s evening feed;
My mother shrieked, my father slashed his robes,
Our people raised a mighty swell of grief.

I tipped the polished bronze from side to side
But could not find why such a fate was mine—
A face in metal or in water is
A dim and shining thing. I clambered up
And listened to more prophecy of leaves,
How I would shiver like an olive branch
Before I tasted fate, how I was meant
To be unlike all others of my world,
How I would grow as radiant as a tree
Below the burning chariot of sun.
So when the people’s loud procession came,
I did not cry or flee. I bound my doll
Of greenish olive wood into my sash
And climbed past aloes to the mountaintop,
Walking as if between two founts of tears:
My mother and father, for whom I tried
To be a comforter despite my dread,
Though all the while I gripped the olive wood
That lived three thousand years, as if the luck
Of living long might sink into my palm
And shin a tree of blood up to my heart.
I was sixteen the night I watched the court
And people winding like a starry snake
Down the mountain’s flank to town or palace,
And wept as one by one the torches died.
It seems a thousand years ago to me
And only instants: how my courage flared
Or failed at noises in the wilderness—
I could not speak for dread of the unknown.
On my last morning of familiar things,
I’d flung my arms around the rugged trunk,
And leaves had fluttered message in my ear:
Inside you is a beauty left untouched
By thrones or the admiring throngs of men,
And seeking at your girlhood’s door is love,
A glistering monster and a child of light,
A mountain errand dark with mystery,
A loveliness that springs up from a seed—
Those leaves of fire, that bright enchanted tree.

19 comments:

  1. It is amazing how this poem seems in itself carved out of wood or stone, like the figure discovered there by a sculptor.

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  2. What a lovely thing to say! Thanks.

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  3. Marly, I read those last italicized lines before going to sleep on my 30th wedding anniversary, as you now know, and thought -- how true this is! It shows how legends and the best poems (along with their archetypal heroines) shed light on truths that span the centuries of human thought. I wish every girl on the brink of womanhood, but especially marriage, could hear that she has inside (and always will have) "a beauty left untouched"; that she will experience Love as both "A glistering monster and a child of light" and that there will always be a bright enchanted tree which can whisper secrets to her when she's confused, alone, or frightened.
    Readers: the rest is just as good! I recommended it highly!

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  4. Wasn't that nice? In fact, sterling! Thanks, Beth.

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  5. Oh, I love this, Marly. It reminds me in part of the Kalevala (the Finnish epic). And Beth's words ring true too.

    I wonder if Anil of Windy Skies found you in the comments of my last post which you'd both visited. His image of the flute peddler is a favourite of mine too, and you've made it even more so with your words, Marly.

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  6. marja-leena--

    Now I have thought about Longfellow two days in a row because it was through Longfellow that I learned about the Kalevala...

    That might be. Very likely! It's funny but in the past week or so I've noticed that people I've known for thirty years are all of a sudden a lot more tied into my met-on-the-web people. Every now and then there's a jump, and I see more unity. Community-building, I guess it is. I see it a lot of facebook.

    I do like the flute peddler piece. It's so evocative, and so close to the image of those who practice arts that in our age are being swept away or made much, much smaller by the rise of new technologies and forms.

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  7. @Marly

    Such a beautiful poem. It's evocative in the close parallels it draws with the real world, situations and circumstances forged similarly by the destiny of many, even now. The tree as a fount of life is an apt metaphor for survival.

    Of hope! In ours, my sisters married parched old kings
    To give my father fine alliances;
    I scaled the tree and heard an oracle
    Foretell I would not bear a fate like theirs.


    Of being expendable! I thought of sisters, queens in jeweled crowns,
    Of truce between security and looks
    And guessed perhaps there was more than one way
    To be consumed.


    With beauty left untouched
    the only hope of retaining a future one dreamt of.

    Thanks for the mention, and reference to the flute seller.

    The analogy you drew in your post between poetry and tunes from the flute, and the practitioners of both sailing in the same boat, is apt.

    The rush of 'content traffic' and that of motor vehicles' is not dissimilar in the least, with each buffetting the poetry of tunes while calling out attention to what's in store for those who might pause or what might be missed by those who rush by.


    @Marja-leena

    That's right. The one about dying languages at your place led to here, of shining language and evocative imagery.

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  8. Anil, you have the heart of a poet!

    I am still thinking about the flute seller... such a poignant figure. So glad you take your camera out and see the world and then write about it.

    Yes, content traffic! We are all awash in it (or drowned by it, perhaps.)

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  9. Hello Nice blog and post ...thanks for shear information ... Be Blessed

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  10. Hi , "The Flute Seller" seems very interesting.. i hope would be enjoy with this..

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  11. yeah , I've enjoyed this looks very nice and very interesting to read ..

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  12. Great job ! really i like it .....keep on posting stuff like this

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  13. Hello prophets!

    I have had an overnight visitation...

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  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  15. Oops, didn't delete that properly... I have changed my mind and hence my comment.

    * * *

    Good cheer, everybody!

    Feeling very frisky (and bone-creaky, but let's not mention that.) And even rather happy, despite knowing so many on the downward wheel--I hope they all enjoy a little sunshine and breeze and have a perfect day, free from pain.

    ***

    Around noon I will post something from a former student of mine--something curious he has done with one of my poems.

    And tomorrow I'll have a surprise guest post, highly appropriate to the season, with marvelous accompanying photographs.

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  16. Poetry breaks hearts sometimes.
    This is one of those poems, Marly. It is one of those poems because it touches upon the outlines of a life and makes that life MY life.

    You wrote -
    - ' ... so close to the image of those who practice arts that in our age are being swept away or made much, much smaller by the rise of new technologies and forms.' -

    And you know I have to disagree with that!
    A tide of change can sweep one out to sea, or far, far inland.
    New pastures, Marly. New forms, new expressions in unfamiliar guises in poetry/art/music are ahead of us.
    I LOVE the new beginnings that open up, although I too mourn the familiar and time honed ways of presenting art that I grew up with.

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  17. Oh, I don't disagree with you--times change and bring new ways to see the old. But in my field, there's a lot that's tedious and dull yet claiming to be avant garde and new.

    And sometimes there is so much gaming and computer-frittering going on in my very house that I just need to run away to a green place and stare.

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  18. shalom ,nice post got good stuff ... Thanks

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  19. Hey doing great ! very nice ... thanks for share

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.