I’m pretty much going through my introduction to poetry textbook one poem at a time, but it’s enlightening (a reminder of all that learning I did once upon a time). This second poem as with yesterday was under the sub-heading of Lyric poetry. It was my impression that lyric poetry was synonymous with epic poetry (i.e. the Iliad and the Odyssey), but instead the textbook states “a rough definition” of “a short poem expressing the thoughts and feelings of a single speaker.” A look on-line and I get pretty much the same definition, [it] “expresses intense personal emotion in the manner of a song,” according to the Britannica Encyclopedia online. Wikipedia is even less specific and just refers to it as a poem that expresses the poet’s feelings.
So, let me back up a bit. In the textbook, a lyric was once defined as a poem that was sung accompanied by a lyre (an ancient Greek instrument), so my assumption that the form is ancient and Greek is not wrong, just the length and the subject of the form. It is traditionally short and meant to encompass the feelings of the composer, thus the many hundreds and thousands of love songs composed over the years (though perhaps a love song could thought to be a ballad, but I think those are perhaps longer in form and more of a story than just an expression of a feeling).
I still stand by my belief that even a lyric is more than just writing about one’s feelings, because keep in mind “feelings” is only a rough definition of the form. It is also used “to describe an object or recall an experience” and sometimes used as commentary. And it’s used by contemporary poets to “voice opinions or complicated feelings – poems that no reader would dream of trying to sing.” In fact, both poems chosen by the book to illustrate lyric poems could not be mistaken for a love song or an extract from someone’s private journals (where the droning on of emotion could become quite lyrical indeed though not necessarily enticing for any audience to partake).
by Marianne Moore
emerges daintily, the skunk-
don’t laugh-insylvan black and white chipmunk
regalia. The inky thing
adaptively whited with glistening
goat-fur, is wood-warden. In his
ermined well-cuttlefish-inked wool, he is
determination’s totem. Out-
lawed? His sweet face and powerful feet go about
in chieftain’s coat of Chilkat cloth.
He is his own protection from the moth.
noble little warrior. That
otter-skin on it, the living pole-cat
smothers anything that stings. Well, –
this same weasel’s playful and his weasel
associates are too. Only
Wood-weasels shall associate with me.
The lack of capitalization is intentional. It was how the poem was published. I had to look up Chilkat which is a place in Alaska though apparently it’s river runs as far South as British Columbia which makes sense since it is the Southeastern part of Alaska. A Chilkat cloth is a Native American blanket which is actually particular to our region (I’m writing from the Pacific Northwest, particularly Seattle) and when I brought it up online, found a picture that I’ve seen many times before since I was
a girl (the large triangular cloth covered in Native totem faces).
I like this poem a lot, it feels very Wind in the Willows, but obviously it is not. The creatures are their own person and their own champion and upon reading any Native folklore you become familiar with all of the Native creature personalities, how tricky Raven is, how easily lead astray Rabbit is.
How this is a lyric, I can’t say. It is about an object (or a creature in this case), but it doesn’t feel emotionally inspired unless she is finding a very expressive way to emote her admiration or perhaps the Wood-weasel expresses what she actually feels; his interactions with nature depict her own or how she wishes to interact with it.