Tag Archives: Robert Graves

“Be Clear, My Throat!” — The Story of Kamal, by Zireaux

I'm going to tell you the story of Kamal...

I’m going to tell you the story of Kamal…

My dearest followers, friends, subscribers, re-tweeters, and most of all, my good readers and listeners:

I’m going to tell you the story of Kamal — one of the great stories of modern American literature. I’m going to tell it through a combination of clear, explanatory text and rollicking, evocative verse, in a much abridged version of the original (the first book alone is told in 5,472 lines of structured rhyme).

It’s a story I know you’ll want to hear.

I begin with you, my small and most loyal following of readers. But of course, for Kamal to succeed — for the story to live on — it will require more readers as we go. Which means, if you’re enjoying the story, kindly request other good readers like yourself to join Immortalmuse.com as “followers” (or enter the email address in the left sidebar, or request to register here) so they can participate in the story as well. Users can unregister at any time if the story is not engaging (but it will be engaging, trust me).

I dedicate this telling of Kamal

to M.

…and to my father

Voltaire at 70. Engraving from 1843 edition of his Philosophical Dictionary.

Voltaire at 70. Engraving from 1843 edition of his Philosophical Dictionary.

In the opening stanzas, the narrator — whose name is Arcady — describes his determination to tell the story of Kamal no matter what. Even if he, Arcady, is unknown to the world, or lacks the poetic skills, or the artistic angst, or even if he sings off-key or gets his words wrong. Even if he’s past his poetic prime. Because nothing is more important in his life than the story he’s about to tell…

I – echem – be clear, unthrottled throat! –
I do not seek to hail the Muse of Epics.
I’ll sing this tale even if my notes
should make dogs howl and editors dyspeptic
and readers seize the DVD player’s remote
to watch more handsome heralds in action
(A-list artists like Lucas or Jackson,
whose instruments are loud and long
and far more profitable than any song
I could pipe!). Because my story’s ripe!
I cannot wait for that perfect type
of angel! I’ll settle for a spirit more modest
– a muse for a poet who’ll never find a goddess.

Depiction of Russian firing squad, 1849. ‘No firing squad (concoctor, it, / of Dostoyevsky’s doctorate).’ Dostoyevsky was condemned to death, lined up to be shot, and at the last minute, issued a reprieve — an event which perhaps gave birth to the intellectual.

Never? O surely I could search the Net
for inspiration – ‘scarlet AND lips,’ etcetera,
a yearning Humbert ‘Googling’ his lost nymphet
(nymphomaniacs, most cyber Jet Setters are!).
But what if heaven’s website tried to get
my own details? I’d frighten off the Sirens!
They want deformities, like Byron’s
foot, or synesthesia in childhood,
the taking of drugs and lovers like Wilde would
and friends at The New Yorker! I’ve never
been published. I’ve never been told I was clever
by courting agents. I’m married, happy and rich.
A life too tame for muses to bewitch.

A life devoid of those credentials
which writers require – the Yale-at-sea
which Melville had; or that essential
diploma of wit – the jail degree
which made Voltaire so consequential.
No war. No firing squad (concoctor, it,
of Dostoyevsky’s doctorate).
I’ve never even smoked! My name,
Arcady, itself evokes the tame
suburban streets and shade-smeared grass
which I, like Virgil’s hero, alas,
would one day flee – O what a claim! I sought
to find a richer Bucolic. Aeneas I’m not.

Robert Graves

The poet, Robert von Ranke Graves (1895 – 1985): ‘Is it true what Robert Graves once said, / that any poet over thirty’s dead?”

But hear me out – I near my autumn years!
The sun shines low upon the sea, which heaves
beneath its silver breastplate. A south wind clears
out summer’s comfort and chills the yellowed leaves
that hang like badges on trees – those brigadiers
who’ve never fought wars, but hearing
the rattle of distant canons, and fearing
their forces won’t respond to commands
untested by battle, would rather stand
tall and be slaughtered than be retired!
Perhaps my ‘sell by’ date’s expired?
Is it true what Robert Graves once said,
that any poet over thirty’s dead?

And was I ever fresh? I was! Like Spring
I was! I swear that no one’s felt more loyal
passion for her Highness Beauty! To sing
until she wept! To kiss her pink and royal
cheek! To hold her hand, two wedding rings
enfolded in our fingers! I knew,
however, these visions wouldn’t come true.
I was like the peasant who –
though well attired – must jump to view
the Princess from behind the throng.
My dress was right. My lineage wrong.
Her carriage crushed my roses. A Moses or Milton
I’m not – but nor will I sing for Paris Hilton!

Lord Byron Paris Hilton

Lord Byron (1788–1824): “. . . I’d frighten off the Sirens! / They want deformities, like Byron’s / foot . . .” Paris Hilton (born 1981): ‘A Moses or Milton / I’m not – but nor will I sing for Paris Hilton . . .’

Yet look – my story’s bucking in its chute!
My hero on its back regardless! Dare I
leave imagination bard-less and mute
just because immortal maidens care not
for a star-less suitor of scar-less repute
– and the kind of life, in truth, like an ad
for life insurance? Adventures I’ve had
in youth were mostly on computers,
or televisions (those deadpan tutors).
Professional parents; the sort who wish
their Jewish brood were less Jewish.
Their parents worked hard so we could have it all.
I thank them. Now let me introduce Kamal . . .

See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One



Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux

Tuesday Poem: “Dreams” by Edgar Allan Poe

Thomas Stothard's Tempest, c 1799

Thomas Stothard's 'Tempest' (c 1799). Says Prospero: "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep."

“Dreams” was selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem).

Zireaux is also this week’s editor of the Tuesday Poem blog, on which he discusses the poetry of “Kath and Kim” (Jane Turner and Gina Riley).

Edgar Allan Poe

Oh! that my young life were a lasting dream!
My spirit not awak’ning, till the beam
Of an Eternity should bring the morrow.
Yes! tho’ that long dream were of hopeless sorrow.
‘Twere better than the cold reality
Of waking life, to him whose heart must be,
And hath been still, upon the lovely earth,
A chaos of deep passion, from his birth.
But should it be — that dream eternally
Continuing — as dreams have been to me
In my young boyhood — should it thus be giv’n
‘Twere folly still to hope for higher Heav’n.
For I have revell’d when the sun was bright
In the summer sky, in dreams of living light.
And loveliness, — have left my very heart
In climes of my imaginings apart
From mine own home, with beings that have been
Of mine own thought — what more could I have seen?

‘Twas once — and only once — and the wild hour
From my remembrance shall not pass — some pow’r
Or spell had bound me — ‘twas the chilly wind
Came o’er me in the night, and left behind
Its image on my spirit — or the moon
Shone on my slumbers in her lofty noon
Too coldly — or the stars — howe’er it was
That dream was as that night-wind — let it pass.
I have been happy, tho’ in a dream.
I have been happy — and I love the theme:
Dreams! in their vivid colouring of life
As in that fleeting, shadowy, misty strife
Of semblance with reality which brings
To the delirious eye, more lovely things
Of Paradise and Love — and all our own!
Than young Hope in his sunniest hour hath known.


Edgar Allan Poe

A Chaos of Passions: Edgar Allan Poe. Portrait by Oscar Halling, c 1860s, after an 1849 daguerreotype.

Zireaux’s comments on this poem
“Is it true what Robert Graves once said / that every poet over thirty’s dead?”

Any work by Poe deserves a careful handling (snap and snap of the blue nitrile gloves), but especially this poem, a piece of juvenilia, composed with all the flexible fancies and daring dismounts of a lithe and limber brain.

Edgar was 18 when he wrote it.

Many more times he’d attempt to capture this unique species of dream, in essays, poetry, short stories: Not sleeping dreams, not Freudian dreams, or Proustian time-traveling remembrances; not hallucinations of hope, or preacher visions sung from the Capitol’s Mall; or Disney dreams, or the fantasies of aspiring pop-stars; not pipe-dreams, prophecies, visions, trances, mirages, hypnotic dreams, psychedelic dreams, laudenum-induced comas, the Dreamtimes of prehistory, visitations from Morpheus or Sibyl, glossolalia, or a hello from a hologrammic TuPoe with a trillion views on YouTube (“Yo whassup Tuesday Poets!”).

Fancies, daydreams, reveries — Poe would settle, at last, on “fancies,” but even that, he insists, was just a word plucked at random to capture a “shadow of a shadow.” (“A dream itself is but a shadow,” says Hamlet).

“Dreams” is often dismissed as an immature work, and it’s true, the poem is no “Raven”, no “Ulalume” (see my comments on “Ulalume”), no “Bells” or “Annabel Lee.” But when we gently cut through the poem’s husk (Eternity, Paradise, Love, Hope, High Heaven), peel back the fleshy endosperm (all that “living light” and “loveliness”), we not only find the germ of poetic genius, but one of the most important discoveries ever made by an English language poet.

I don’t just mean the fine observation — see it there, in lines 4 through 8 — that for a person of passion, even the saddest dreams are more pleasurable than waking life. Enchanting, yes, but Coleridge had distilled the same elixir 40 years earlier (notice, by the way, the Coleridgian cast of moonlight that shimmers across lines 23-24).

Poe’s vision is much more radical than that. As his dreamer marvels in line 18, the most critical element of such dreams, it turns out, is that they are “of mine own thought.” They are “all our own!”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

A pilot dreamer: Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944)

The dreamer, then, isn’t possessed. The dreamer possesses. The Raven on which the dreamer flies, flapping its black wings of Time (same dark wings that swoop through H.G. Wells‘s phantasm), belongs to its rider. A pilot, then, is this dreamer, with compass to consult, instruments of accuracy — airspeed, altitude, pitch — and there’s Saint-Exupery buzzing over the Sahara in his Brueget biplane (oneiric angels splattering against his windscreen).

Freedom through form, fancy as precision, music as mathematical formula, mutation through logic, a brilliantly bridled madness — this is Poe. And this was young Edger, his “chaos of passions” expressed in rhyme, carefully constructed meter (note the mimicking meter of lines one and four in “Dreams”), his “wild hour,” his being “bound” in a spell, a vivid colouring in a moonlit slumber for a delirious eye.

This, to me (slap and slap, gloves removed, flourished, tossed in bin), is the miracle of all great poetry. Not the passion alone, but the structure, the precision, the dreamy chaos held in absolute control.
Published as part of the Tuesday Poetry group.

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