CARRUTH ON HIS LANGUAGE.

Hayden Carruth, as I’ve said before (hi, Moira!), is one of my favorite American poets; tonight I was reading my wife a poem of his called “Vermont” (1975, available in Collected Longer Poems) and came across these lines (towards the end), which I thought I’d share with y’all:

What is the difference, now at last, between
the contemporary and the archaic? I
say “drawed” for “drew” and “deef” for “deaf” and still
use “shall” and “shan’t” in ordinary conversation
like any good Vermonter, and sometimes too
I write “thou” for “you.” So am I therefore
dead? That will come soon enough. Meanwhile
my language is mine, I insist on it,
a living language as long as it is spoken
by living men and women naturally,
as long as it is used.


OK, I can’t resist quoting the ending as well:

The name of our green mountain is from French,
but sometimes, ungallicly, we twist it, saying
Vêrmont with the stress up front. We intend
no harm and only characteristic disrespect.
Once when I heard it I was struck by how
the name might be divided differently,
Vermont, the Worm of Being. We are torn
here in this place that is our now between
its beauty and its depravity. The beauty
is mostly old, our mountains and our farms,
and the depravity is mostly new.
We don’t hate it exactly, being not
the hate-conceiving kind, but we despair.
God, we despair! — Vermont’s protracted gloom,
our end-of-the-winter desolation, April
in our cold hearts. From this we make ourselves,
remake ourselves each moment, stronger, harder,
with our own beauty. Yes, our great green mountain
is the worm of being, long and irregular,
twined lengthwise through our state, our place, our now.
Meanwhile we dream of other sunnier places.
Myself, I’m going down next month to look
at a house I know of in New Mexico.

Comments

  1. Since I’m not a native English speaker would it be possible for you to explain to me why this should be called poetry? What is a prose then?
    It reads as a column in a newspaper.
    Seriously, if you reformat a little bit fancier your blog will it become poetry?

  2. J: This Wikipedia article might be of interest.

  3. I enjoyed the poem by the way (though I live in the Upper Valley, which straddles the Vermont-New Hampshire border, so that might affect my affection).

  4. That’s not even free verse, it’s your basic iambic pentameter. Perhaps this Wikipedia article would be a good starting place. J, do you only have rhymed verse in your native language?

  5. Tatyana says:

    Or this.

  6. ben wolfson says:

    “but sometimes, ungallicly, we twist it, saying” is iambic pentameter?

  7. How embarrassing. Serves me right for not paying attention. I read the poem and got swept off with j’s objections (one’s you usually see against free verse).

  8. A few of the lines are iambic pentamter, but I think it might work better as a prose poem. The rhythms are too slack and inconsistent. That just my judgment call.

  9. “The meter of a poem is determined by the predominant metrical foot, and by the number of feet per line that predominates in the poem.” [my emphasis]

  10. Perhaps you don’t consider Frost’s lines iambic pentameter either? I find this a very strange argument. If iambic pentameter has to be da-DA-da-DA-da-DA-da-DA-da-DA in every line, it hardly exists and isn’t worth using. Make it new, Ez said, and that’s what Carruth is engaged in, as any poet must.

  11. ben wolfson says:

    It’s not an argument at all. You said it’s iambic pentameter, I thought that meant that every line would consist of five iambs. You can see how that would confuse me.

  12. Ah. Well, a useful rule of thumb is that the longer the poem, the more liberties the poet will take, because there’s a greater need for variety. Shakespeare’s plays are (largely) in i.p., but plenty of lines resist scanning, and Lear’s famous “Never, never, never, never, never” is exactly backward. The line isn’t i.p. on its own, but in context it’s read as distorted i.p. Hope this helps.

  13. See this article to get an idea of how much poets can play around, and work their wiles on, “simple” iambic pentameter.
    A good way of looking at it is this: iambic pentameter is the rule, but exceptions are welcomed and make every poem (in that meter or any other) more interesting.
    LH is right-on with the Frost reference.
    As for the poem itself, I’m less enamored of it, but for other reasons. I heartily approve of the sentiment, though.

  14. I realize I’m jumping in very late, but…
    Good Lord, what about the content of the poem? As a Vermonter, I have to say it rings so true with love and awareness of the “native” langauge, as well as containing poignant commentary on one’s relationship to language as it changes and dies. Sometimes we quibble so much with questions of form and meter that we, uh, miss the point of the words.
    And anyone who has been privileged to hear Carruth read aloud would never say his poems are really prose.

  15. Yes! There’s a marvelous CD called Hayden Carruth (Listener’s Guide Series), from Copper Canyon Press, that I urge everyone to listen to — the man reads poetry with an attention to both meter and meaning that is very rare these days, and has a wonderful reading voice to boot.

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