On a crisp, abundantly clear day (for a change!), I opened the car windows to listen to the corn stalks rattling in the breeze. After an unusually wet year, the fields have been too wet to bring out heavy farm equipment, like gleaners. They would get stuck in mud. So the corn stands and, finally, dries in the rapidly-cooling air.
And rustles and swishes, and produces the susurration associated with tree foliage, only louder, harsher. The November sun heightens the contrast between the grassy-looking stalks and the crowd of shadows below the strap-shaped leaves. Zea mays: one of the incredibly numerous poaceae monocots. Field corn, in this case. It surrounds two sides of the campus where I work. On windy days, I can hear it murmuring. It has a wistful sound to it, each plant crackling softly against its many neighbors.
Ascribing human emotions to non-human things is something poets often do and for which they have been occasionally excoriated (see the pathetic fallacy). It is really I, not the field corn, who’s feeling wistful. There’s no reason not to occasionally explore things such as the pathetic fallacy, anthropomorphism, or clichés in poems, though. Poems can be places for play, puns, irony, and over-the-top expressiveness…where else but in art do we have so much possibility for free rein and experiment?
With that in mind, what came to mind is a decade-old poem I played with long ago. I thought of it, located it in my files, and realized how well it suits this year’s rainy weather. It has never seen print, so this is its first public “share” to the small world of readers. Just to be wistful, and to listen to murmurings.
Awful, the sobbing breast of the nearby hill
draped in funereal rain,
moping trees with bedraggled leaves
under dolorous skies.
How coarse and crass the indigent crows
mocking day’s solemnity
over pleading calls for mercy, compassion
from the myriad finches.
Do not quench sorrow but be drenched in it,
small streamlets fast-running
down ratty embankments dull with mud.
O, morning, mourning,
lease your grief to field and gravel and
the huddled owl’s
damp-pinioned back hunched in sleep.
Be terrible and bleak,
stained with the nouns and adjectives of despair,
run down the mountain
with a mouse carcass on your swift spine,
meet the road in a reeking ditch.
Mourning morning — joyously, sadly brilliant
Thanks–it goes back to an exercise via Jan Clausen!!
So….more than a decade old (geez, time flies!)
A beautiful meditation, I love the murmuring corn and its wistfulness, and what a great poem from the files you have shared with us! Thank you for it, it’s lovely, a clever blend of the slightly tongue-in-cheek (your phrase “over-the-top-expressiveness’ is what made me think this, hope I am reading right!) but also full of very real sorrow and grief, the grief of the world creeps in…amazing how a poem can do all those things at once.
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Reminds me of a Samuel Barber song, “Must the Winter Come so Soon.”
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Saying the corn has a wistful sound to it isn’t necessarily an instance of the pathetic fallacy, it seems to me – more of an objective correlative. Which I think is a pretty fundamental part of how humans relate to the world. There’s a subtle but important difference between the two approaches, I think, the first fundamentally reductionist, the second acknowledging a relationship but preserving the other’s ontological freedom.
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