A GREAT RECKONING IN A LITTLE ROOM

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It could have been a little room like this—
four walls, a window, table, chair—tales
tell us he was stabbed and cursing when he died
a much regretted master of blank verse…

but that was long ago and this is now
in this little room, at this window
looking out upon the ruddy repetitions
of a blank brick wall across the way…

I count poetic feet by heart, bemoan
the calling of them, just as that Touchstone
who held a plumb line for The Bard:
“When a man’s verses cannot be read
nor a man’s good wit seconded…
it strikes a man more dead than
a great reckoning in a little room,” he said.

Even the graffitist, wily, undercover,
come by night to paint his colors on the wall
might lurk in shadowy corners come the dawn
to overhear effects of his calligraphies

or the forest with the falling tree and no one
there to hear—does it find the earthy thump
insisted by an inner ear dwelling in thought?

It all comes down to one small room
and looking out the window wondering why
why embark upon an expedition or ambition
surely doomed to disappointment or despair?

Wisdom has said: because it’s there.
Then, too, there is that falling tree…anything
to get out from under it, sound or no sound,
purely by dead reckoning, no guarantee.
.
.

45 responses »

  1. What a brilliant piece starting on high C as Brodsky says and maintaining altitude. I think the growl at the end short changed my experience of the poem as it opens itself up and me up to something beyond my limits. What thing? Somewhat!

  2. It started eerie for me … actually a sense of horror and terror … a murder … tale tell heart-esque. But then it took me away from that. No … someone deaf didn’t get crushed by the silence of the falling tree, but I’m not sure where I went. …. thus challenging me to wonder. πŸ™‚

  3. I just know this is brilliant Cynthia because your writing always is. This one has gone a little over my head though. I am reading and re-reading… but I’m lost in the forest 😊 xx (Shakespeare had never been a strong subject for me either!) *big sigh and feeling thick* πŸ˜„

    • Well, Chris, I usually keep poems like this in my “at home” archives, rather than blogging them, but I thought I’d try this one today. The last thing I want is to make anyone feel “thick”, so please don’t, that’s an order! πŸ™‚
      Just take it at face value, never mind Shakespeare..Christopher Marlowe’s demise, etc.That one speech by the character Touchstone is pretty clear in meaning. I’m sure you’ve wondered, too, when you were writing some of your poems, who was your audience, why you were doing it, would you be understood? Appreciated? Especially now that you’ve published a book, these questions might arise, as they likely do for all writers.

      • Ok I promise not to feel thick.πŸ˜„ And after reading again and looking at some comments, , I am getting the tree falling in the forest and the old adage, if no-one is there to hear,does it still make a noise, But I hadn’t joined the dots and realised the metaphor connected to the poet. Yay! I’m getting there! πŸ˜„

  4. I don’t see you in an Elizabethan tavern, Cynthia (tell me if I’m wrong though!) but, my word, this is polished and clever stuff!
    Is there an answer to the question raised? I love the way your poem provides an answer: and actually your poem is itself that escape from the falling tree. Bravo you and wow!

    • You’re not wrong about the tavern, John. There are obviously different answers for each of us, but with all the publicatin’ goin’ on in these parts lately, the question of audience has been on my mind. What you say about the poem itself as escaping the falling tree….I love it! And thanks.

  5. Ah, that question – would we write or paint if there was no one to hear or see? We cry and even talk without an audience – the tree falling? In poetry or painting there is a construction, an intention, that demands an interaction. Lovely, complex thought-provoking words.

    • Yes, that interaction, that sense of an audience is probably impossible to do without. I’ve always held that the creative act is a circuit,, broken until it connects with a reeceiver and circles back. Therein lies the delight you expressed recently at actually meeting some of your readers. I found your book. BORDER LINE, by the way , highly enjoyable. I was attracted by the topic of suicide, but also became fascinated by Slovenia, which I’d like to know more about. Kudos to you! You deserve to attract many more readers.

      • Oh thanks so much for reading Border Line. Slovenia is a wonderful country. I had a brief visit many years ago and then, after I had drafted the book, I went with my husband on a research holiday, which we both enjoyed enormously.

  6. Last night I was waddling about in Milton and Donne for an assignment I’m working on. I dabbled a bit in Shakespeare, too, often feeling clumsy and wondering what I was reading. Your poem is clear and sharp but something about it reminds me of those old masters. Certainly the message is universal. Why bother if no one is going to read us? I don’t know about others, but it’s like a cough. There’s no choice. It has to come out.

    • Hello Susanne…Waddling about in Milton and Donne and dabbling in Shakespeare are among my favorite activities; maybe some of it clings about me, or maybe I’m just very old fashioned in spirit! I’ve been to visit your site today and thoroughly enjoyed it; it’s such a treat to discover really good writing. At the risk of sounding mean, I’ll say keep coughing!

  7. Beautiful and engaging Cynthia – once again you have me reading, absorbing and thinking. The suggestive power of self-motivation comes to mind – creating is it for self or others, or both? Is there someone or an interaction at the end that becomes a reward of sorts? My satisfaction and fulfillment comes from 1) the act of creating where I can become so totally absorbed in what I’m doing that the sense of someone seeing my work never enters my mind, rather I let the piece talk to me – that’s my device for listening, and 2) from the response of knowing that someone out there in the blogging world has enjoyed what I created in my little room that’s called, my studio. Great writing on this one ~

    • I like your reckoning, Mary, and love your dedication to art. Sounds like the response of others is important but not the first and motivating consideration there, in your little room. I’m reminded of one of my dog-eared paperbacks that I return to savour about once a year..”The Art Spirit”, by Robert Henri. You’re probably familiar with, it’s such a classic. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  8. Reblogged this on Life in a flash and commented:
    Have you ever experienced a great reckoning in a small room? Have you ever stared at “ruddy repetitions” and wondered why bother? Cynthia says it superbly.

  9. Ah, once again Cynthia, you go to the essence and prompt thinking, answers and self-debate – hopefully leading to self-awareness and self-determination – regardless, or maybe because of, the sound or silence of trees, thoughts and great classical writers
    This is so good – thank you for sharing!

  10. I am completely bemused by your ability to unwind the ball of your thoughts, revealing twined concepts, my dear friend.
    You’ve shown me for a fact that the poetic mind is something special: I wish I knew how it works …
    But I enjoy it, regardless.

  11. Cynthia, the two last lines of the second last verse capture my imagination. I wonder if the room represents the body? ‘Why embark upon an expedition or ambition surely doomed to disappointment or despair?’ To me, this expresses so clearly the torment of whether to share one’s creative efforts and be vulnerable. This is how it speaks to me and I really enjoyed your thought provoking poem. Thank you! ❀

    • I had not thought of the room as the body…thank you for another insight! I especially enjoy your comment as it comes from an art slant more than a literary one; the question of vulnerability–being on visual display—seems much more pressing in art than in writing. I had not thought about that before! Thank you again! πŸ™‚

  12. “but that was long ago and this is now”
    What a perfect line of iambic pentameter which shows how the most simple of one-syllable words can evoke a deep well of nostalgia and longing.

    I have always been fascinated by the privilege of scanning poets writing about poetry and I always come away with a sense of 19th century awe about the process.

    This poem is wise and wonderful.

    • I am often amazed at how natural iambic pentameter is to the English language…and yet so many of my fellow poets tell me it is difficult to write. Maybe they “over-think” it because it’s something that was taught in school but never really understood. The short-long accent is how ordinary English is spoken, and the five-ness is just about right for the breathing of a line. Anyway, thank you, Natalie, for this lovely comment. You always bring a perspective I enjoy!

    • That image of a woodpecker makes me smile. Thank you for the little trip down memory lane today listening to Simon and Garfunkel on your posting of Homeward Bound. And thank you for these kind words about my poem!

  13. I enjoyed reflecting on this poem a lot, Cynthia. I must read ‘As you like it’- I’m afraid it is another on my shameful list of not-reads. I liked the end especially – I think you’ve done something quite interesting with that familiar line about a tree falling in a forest. The whole poem, and the comments that followed, brought to mind a poem I’ve recently read, Good Counsel (from the Ottoman) by James Mangan. He writes:
    Also Speak thy thoughts aloud
    Whoso in the glass beholdeth nothing besides his own releflection
    Bides both ignorant and proud.

    • I did not know of James Mangan, and now I’ve had a wonderful time finding him. Of course I had to get past wikipedia’s other James Mangans—the baseball player and the American eccentric author who claimed ownership of outer space in 1948.
      But James Clarence Mangan is the one you quote above….and apparently that poem is his translation from the Turkish. It seems he, too, was an eccentric, heavy drinker and opium user, and took to wearing a long cloak, green spectacles and a blond wig. It appears both James Joyce and W.B. Yeats admired his poetry. That settles it; I’m off to read him further.
      Thanks for your enjoyable comment.

  14. I’m kind of with Christine’s comment a little on this one Cynthia, it is such a thoughtful brilliant poem, but I had to read it at least three times before I began to fully understand. And now I understand much better I’m wondering why I didn’t the first time!! πŸ˜€ My excuse is I’m still very tired from my upheavals and fighting a stupid cold that doesn’t want to leave – colds do something very weird to my logic! πŸ˜‰ I’m still wondering though – the room? Is it about a famous writers room and view or just a room you know?

    It would be really sad for brilliant writing to be created and yet never seen by an audience, or anything creative or genius. But I’m sure it has happened many times and will continue to happen – only that room will be the witness of the genius and their perseverance to create something an audience (if they did happen to see it) would adore. This seems very sad on the surface, and yet it is probably just a wrong way of looking at it. Maybe everything we do matters (to us) and if others get to share the experience, that’s a bonus for them. So maybe nothing is wasted if it doesn’t have an audience?

    • I think you figured it—the question in this poem—perfectly well. The historical “little room” that Touchstone refers to in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” is supposedly a room upstairs in a tavern where Christopher Marlowe (playwright in blank verse) got involved in a fight over paying the tab for food and drink, (the reckoning) and was stabbed to death. Touchstone refers to it (the reckoning, the death) in a speech about not having one’s verses and wit appreciated. I took all this into my contemplation—in my own small room, my own reckoning, about a poet’s being heard, understood, published, etc…etc…How’s that for beating around the mulberry
      bush?
      As you say, perhaps nothing is wasted. We can always imagine an audience! πŸ™‚

      • You beat around the bush quite beautifully Cynthia!! πŸ˜€ I’m glad I asked you, I thought it might be something like that, and Christopher Marlowe strangely did come to mind. I did watch quite a lengthy programme about him some years ago, it was mainly about the possibility of him being the real writer of Shakespeare’s plays (a very controversial subject for some) so I must have retained a lot more of that information than I thought!

        • Yes, someone always seems bent on proving that Shakespeare didn’t really write Shakespeare….but at this point, what does it matter really? The English peoples have inherited the literary work itself, which is one of the finest wonders of the civilized world!

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