December 14, 2010

Poetry is Everywhere (Part II)

        I was reading something recently where a critic was complaining about the poetry in fantasy novels.  He asserted that it was pretty much all bad and would be better left out.  Admittedly there is probably more poetry in fantasy than most other genres, and plenty of it is pretty bad, too, but I want to defend the role that poetry plays in world creation.  Poetry is everywhere.  A world without any poetry - no songs, no proverbs, no children's rhymes - would be a world without life.  In fantasy we're immersing ourselves in entirely new worlds, and that means every detail is a tool for getting to know a new place and culture.  Yes, really bad poetry can jar me out of the fantasy mood instead of pulling me deeper in, but real worlds are full of little snippets of weak poetry, so why should imaginary worlds not have their share of weak poetry, too?  And a poem that truly deepens the spirit of a novel can draw me in more viscerally than almost anything else.
        I've already sung my praises of Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky," so I'll say here how well the poem captures the spirit of Alice's world through the looking glass, where everything is an intriguing blend of ridiculous and familiar and strange.  I remember, too, how enchanted I was by Tolkien's
                Far over the misty mountains cold
                To dungeons deep and caverns old…
A poem like that will no doubt never be featured in New Yorker magazine or awarded any prizes by prestigious literary journals.  But when I was a child and first read "Far over the misty mountains," the longing in the poem seemed to echo my own longing for the mystery, wonder, and adventure that I found in fantasy.  It evoked everything that was magical and brought it deep inside my heart... In what way is that not good poetry?  (On the other hand, I didn't much like the "Chip the glasses and crack the plates!" song, but you can't expect to like everything in an entire world!)
        When I was a bit older LeGuin's interesting book Always Coming Home inspired me with the idea of the ordinary bits and pieces of imaginary cultures.  Always Coming Home is not a novel but an imagined anthropologist's collection of texts, including stories, songs, poems, children's rhymes, and descriptions of rituals, artifacts and traditions.  I've been collecting bits and pieces of my own imaginary cultures ever since, with a special emphasis on their rhymes, songs, and other poems.
        So yes, there's a lot of bad poetry in this world and a lot of bad poetry in the worlds of fantasy.  But poetry is everywhere, and who could ever believe in a world without it?

        It's foolhardy to offer any of my own poems here, since inevitably some people will think they stink, but I'm going to go out on a limb and conclude with two poems from my Otherworld series.  The idea is that they should each have a different flavor because they represent two different cultures - and that they should help draw a reader into another world.
        First is a poem in the book I'm working on now (titled Ruin of Ancient Powers.)  It's a lullaby from the Tungoldroleth, the elves of the northern mountains.
          All shall be well, for the high moon glows,
And all shall be well tonight.
Bright fire yet burns, sweet water yet flows,
And all shall be well tonight.
The dusk-winged bats dance under the stars
And all shall be well tonight,
While the worn day wraps the night to its scars,
And all shall be well tonight.
What tomorrow holds shall come in its time,
And all shall be well tonight,
Until out of its darkness the dawn shall climb,
Fresh from the healing night,
And all shall be well tonight.

        And for comparison, another lullaby, this one from the Sinbal tribespeople who live between the ocean and the great desert of the Dubaad Lands.  It appears in the second book of the series, Sleeping Legends Lie.
I am here.
God is with us.
He will hold you close as the river holds the minnow.
He will set you free as the earth frees the sparrow.
And while you wait
for the gifts of God,
I am here.

[Pictures: Nasturtium, rubber block print by AEGN, 2006;
Xenops!, rubber block print by AEGN, 2009.]


Nan said...

Juliana of Norwich would approve the first, and what child would not delightedly drift off to sleep with the second? Thanks for sharing these!

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Thanks, Nan!

Nan said...

I also love "Xenops"!