Although there are still patches of snow on the ground here in central New Jersey, the snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils are in bloom. The hyacinths are above ground, and there are leaf buds on many of the trees, including the lilac in my backyard. Mornings dawn to bird songs—the twittering and chattering in marked contrast to winter’s silence. There’s an ineffable softness in the air (even though it’s still cold outside) that seems to be lifted by fragrances about to come. So much of what seems magical about springtime is measured by the return of things that have been absent. That thought struck me when, earlier today, I discovered the following poem by thirteenth century mystical poet Jelaluddin Rumi.
The Music We Are
Did you hear that winter is over? The basil
and the carnations cannot control their
laughter. The nightingale, back from his
wandering, has been made singing master
over the birds. The trees reach out their
congratulations. The soul goes dancing
through the king's doorway. Anemones blush
because they have seen the rose naked.
Spring, the only fair judge, walks in the
courtroom, and several December thieves steal
away. Last year's miracles will soon be
forgotten. New creatures whirl in from non-
existence, galaxies scattered around their
feet. Have you met them? Do you hear the
bud of Jesus crooning in the cradle? A single
narcissus flower has been appointed Inspector
of Kingdoms. A feast is set. Listen: the
wind is pouring wine! Love used to hide
inside images: no more! The orchard hangs
out its lanterns. The dead come stumbling by
in shrouds. Nothing can stay bound or be
imprisoned. You say, “End this poem here,
and wait for what's next.” I will. Poems
are rough notations for the music we are.
I thought this might be a good week to write about changing seasons. I do know that for some blog readers the seasonal change right now is just the opposite of what I’m experiencing (spring here and autumn for you). Whether your new season is spring or autumn, the challenge is for you to translate the sights, sounds, smells, and impressions of your new season into written language—that is, into a poem.
1. Begin with a list in which you note some things about the changing season that are meaningful to you.
2. Begin thinking in terms of images (especially nature images).
3. List some images that pertain to light or darkness, to sounds unique to the new season, and to anything that you relate specifically to the season you’re leaving and the season you’re entering. Watch out for clichéd images. Examine your proposed images carefully and note any phrases or lines that seem familiar or general. Work to create images that are striking and fresh—distinctive and different. Think in terms of similes, metaphors, and other types of figurative language, and how you can use these to enhance your images.
4. After listing for a while, read what you’ve written and sift through to see what might work together to make a poem.
5. Begin your poem as Rumi began his by noting that the previous season is over.
6. Using Rumi’s poem as a model, begin writing your own poem.
1. Emphasize awareness in your poem (sensory awareness in particular—work through your senses).
2. Observe the usual caveats (what I call my “high five”):
A. Avoid the passive voice.
B. Eliminate “ing” endings wherever you can.
C. Limit use of adjectives.
D. Avoid prepositional phrases when you can.
E. Get rid of articles (a, an, the) as much as possible.
3. Be aware of the complexities in our relationship to, within, and outside of the natural world.
4. Be generous with caesuras (pauses). Allow the unspoken silences of the poem their equal time. Sometimes the best part of the poem is what is left unsaid. You can create pauses with dashes, parentheses, spacing, and line breaks.
5. Make connections. Create revelations. And ... bring your poem to closure with an unexpected dismount.