Michael Boughn

Michael Boughn: On "Madonna of the Evening Flowers"

Amy Lowell, on the other hand, erred in the opposite direction. Misunderstanding the transparency of H.D.’s poems, she apparently thought that speech itself was all that was needed to make a poem:

All day long I have been working, Now I am tired. I call: "Where are you?" But there is only the oak-tree rustling in the wind. The house is very quiet, The sun shines on your books, On your scissors and thimble just put down, But you are not there. Suddenly I am lonely: Where are you? I go about searching.

While these lines could be scanned for stresses, their essential formlessness is obvious even without those details. If language, like Gaudier-Brzeska's stone, is inherently shapely,

this poem provides an example of what happens when the poet mistakes the stone itself for the shape, when the "free" of free verse is taken too literally and line breaks are substituted for prosodic intelligence. The flat, uninteresting outpouring of words that results has provided the conservative prosodist with all the ammunition he has needed to argue that language is a relative phonetic haphazard unless confined in an imposed, regularized system.

Amy Lowell's poem embodies an attempt to escape the dislocations and elaborations of nineteenth-century verse structure by relying almost solely on regular sentences which are the basis of ordinary speech. Regularity introduces a kind of simplicity and straight-forwardness that is a hallmark of modernist verse. In the case of Lowell's poem, however, unrelenting regularity leads not to transparency but to unintentional artificiality and boredom. With the exception of line seven, each line is a more or less complete grammatical statement, syntactically identical with all the others, including the subordinate clauses in lines four and eight. Each line limply falls toward its inevitable grammatical ending, dragging the reader along.