Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Learning to walk the Cinquain 1:
Soft Lyric, Hard Lyric

Adelaide Crapsey

Looking for short forms other than the haiku I returned to a forgotten one, the cinquain, as patented by Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914). The cinquain is a five line poem with a fixed syllable count in which the order is 2-4-6-8-2, that is to say not so much a dying fall as a sheer drop. As with the haiku the strict syllable count may be ignored but it is interesting what may be done with it.

Here are two examples of what Crapsey did with it.


How frail

Above the bulk

Of crashing water hangs,

Autumnal, evanescent, wan,

The moon.

The Warning 
Just now,
Out of the strange

Still dusk…as strange, as still…

A white moth flew. Why am I grown

So cold?

It does seem to prefigure, and is contemporary with, the Imagism of Pound, T E Hulme, AE and so on. Mostly she writes about nature and how it affects the senses, but also about time and loss.  The effect is always lyrical, of a single first-person figure situated in nature, observing it but slightly ill at ease in it. She doesn't try to place it in a world beyond the self the way William Carlos Williams did. World and self are mutual experiences.

One should always imagine saying poems aloud (why not just say them aloud?) particularly lyric poems, not flattening out but adding a little subtle extra in breath and articulation. In Niagara one should feel the slight fizz  of 'frail', its firming up in 'bulk', then follow the build from the downstroke of the heavy 'crashing' to the suspension of 'hangs' and the three adjectives all grunted, all breathless, dangling in the fourth line, the breath mounting again until, in the last line 'the moon' constitutes the 'oooo' of the sheer drop I talk of above. It is beautiful made, every part in place, and I only slightly regret the moon produced, as it were, from the pocket of the poem. The moon, the stars, the sea, the night, the waterfall…I know these things are beautiful which is precisely whatI feel we ought to resist them a little. They shouldn't come easy and I worry about them as climaxes and stage exits. That is what I mean by the soft lyric. It plays - plays very well - to the expected.

The Warning is, for me, harder lyric and more lasting. Crapsey takes a chance with 'strange' and 'still' - should we not feel the strangeness rather than be told of it? - but then she does a brave wholly productive thing, she damn well does it again, and this time with ellipsis either side. Is that just cheap creepiness? But the effect is different. It is an affirmative that puzzles at the same time.  It is just clearing space for the moth. Her ear is good again. She could have written 'flew the white moth' but having 'flew' at the end the moth's irruption into the scene is more dynamic. We have to compose ourselves after the verb with its full stop. The last question, broken over two lines, is now a genuine shudder. There is no anticipated drop in the last line, there is instead the deathly chill of the completion of the question: 'Why am I grown…'

Crapsey was only thirty-six when she died. Some of her other cinquains may be found here.

As for me I will be experimenting with cinquains to see whether they will adapt to contemporary diction and angularity of feeling . Here, once again, is the rule:

begin with two

syllables, move to four,

then six, then eight but finish with

just two.

1 comment:

Gwil W said...

Thanks George. I'll give it a try.