NABOKV-L post 0014094, Sat, 18 Nov 2006 19:03:34 -0500

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Re: Monroe, merits of Shade's poem
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Thanks to Jim Twigg for pointing to the Monroe essay. The essay
has many merits, but its analysis of Shade's poem is, to me,
wrong-headed. On page three he examines these lines:

Then as now
I walked at my own risk: whipped by the bough,
Tripped by the stump. Asthmatic, lame and fat,
I never bounced a ball or swung a bat.
(ll. 127-130)

Monroe argues that the first phrase is authentic because it avoids
"poetic diction" and borrows the rhythms of "ordinary conversation."
After that, however, "the sincerity breaks down in a deluge of
artificiality as Shade gropes for a parallelism: "whipped by the
bough / Tripped by the stump" stands in sharp contrast to the
conversational style that precedes it." Monroe is offended by
the internal rhyme and the repetition of rhythm and grammar, both
of which create "a suspicion that the speaker is not so much a
struggling wayfarer as a playful maker of rhymes, perhaps even
an artful deceiver like Humbert Humbert in Lolita." He then attacks
the final couplet for its "too-neat rhyme" and straight iambic
rhythm, even suggesting that "fat" is introduced simply to rhyme
with "bat"--a remarkable claim given the degree to which Shade
blames his own appearance for Hazel's situation.

There is so much bunk here, it's hard to know where to start. I
suppose the claim to which I most object is this notion that if
the language in a poem is in any way more musical than that of
prose, it is somehow artificial. Monroe thinks that "I walked
at my own risk" is "prose-like," and therefore authentic, but
even here he fails to pick up on how the anapestic skip of "at
my own" is picked up in "by the bough" at the end of the line;
and the W sound in walked is picked up by whipped. The whole
thing is poetry. To try to say that this half line is prosey
and authentic while that half line is too poetic and artificial
is a parlor game. What's more, Monroe completely misses the
allusion to Frost's "Birches" ("Some boy too far from town to
learn baseball" and "one eye weeping / From a twig's having
lashed across it open."). Lastly, to castigate Shade for resolving
into the iambic after so many caesurae in the previous lines
is simply laughable. He is writing, after all, in iambic
pentameter. It has to show up once in a while.

Shade's poem may not be great (though I sometimes think it is),
but we shouldn't require it to be something (prose) which it is
not. To do so is to criticize, say, a frog for not being a horse.

Matthew Roth

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