9/05/2005

Poetry Analysis

I had come across an absolutely staggering poem on Belmont Club some months ago and felt a need to do a critical response. I never got around to it until today, when Wretchard linked to it again. This poem by Judyth Hill was apparently hailed by the peace movement as a thing of beauty. Here it is:
Wage peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.

Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.

Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.

Play music, memorize the words for thank you in three languages.

Learn to knit, and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief
as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish.

Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious:

Have a cup of tea and rejoice.

Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.
In short, the prescription for dealing with war and destruction is to ignore it, to visualize yourself in some homespun fairyland where good, cleansing breaths can change the world. How precious.

Aside from that, it's such mind-numbingly bad poetry I don't even know where to begin. But Ms. Hill has suffered for her art, and now it is my turn.

Breathe in… breathe out

I am a big believer in proper breathing to promote tranquility, but this is ridiculous. Even being generous and assuming that Ms. Hill is using this phrase metaphorically, still the proper response to bloodshed is not to imagine that it never happened. Continuing with the specific pairings used, we see the understandible pair of rubble and buildings, but every other pairing is unexpected and verges on the bizarre. I do not know what firemen have to do with red-winged blackbirds, nor confusion with maple trees. This whole section seems like a giant non sequitor.

Wage peace…

This phrase, once startling in its unexpectedness, is now tired and stale. Besides, one does not "wage peace." Peace is defined an absence of conflict, and thus would not be "waged" at all. Of course, this is the major flaw of the peacenik camp. They assume that if we simply struggle for peace hard enough, it can happen. There is no such thing as a necessary war, or even (gasp) an inevitable war, because love and soothing folk music will conquer all.

Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Riiiight. "If all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail." (And isn't "clean rivers" a goal, rather than a tool?) None of these "tools" are fit to do any of the hard work that the world actually needs. At the very least they could have been cucumber seeds… Reasonable people seek out the tools needed for the job at hand. They do not begin with a tool and work outward.

"…memorize the words for thank you in three languages."

I know the words for "thank you" in six languages that I can think of. It does not make me a better person.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief
as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish.


I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. The only time I have ever seen fish make a gesture, or anything remotely close, is when they are eating food or else attacking other fish. I suspect that Ms. Hill's metaphors are getting away from her.

Act as if armistice has already arrived.

No. That is the best way I know to ensure that the armistice will never arrive in truth. The way to end wars is either to win, lose or draw; in any event the choice must be made. As Berthold Brecht said, "What if they held a war and nobody came? Why, then the war would come to you."

The good thing about having ideological opponents who also tend towards the fine arts is that every so often, one of them will produce such a monumental piece of self-parody as this.

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