Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sylvia Rising

Sylvia Rising

History on her rosy northern skin

had traced with pain the crossed, fine

lines of vain attempts and vanished

tears, of long endured days and years and deaths

that marked her like a line of graves

waiting for the art within her charge.

Through too few years she bore the charge

of creation; from her fragile bones and skin,

and from her mingling with that grave

poetic man, the mixture of her own fine

poet’s blood with mud made life from death

and dreams that from her heart would vanish

only as the storied, vanished

bird that falls beneath the charge

of purifying fire and defies its death

to leave the self and rise within new skin,

all loss and pain ground down to fine

thin ash that blows across the useless grave.

With art unconquered by the grave

attained, she spins the words of never vanished

heart; beyond the veil of night on strong, fine

winds, she sends her poet’s charge:

Be fire that frees these words of their fine skin

and burns them to the ashes of a death

that is a rising up, the death of death.

With spirit breath, she mocks the wished-for grave,

and putting on a pure new feathered skin,

soars forth upon the wings of her vanished,

but unvanquished heart, from which the charge

of beating with too fine

a beat – hoping with too fine

a hope to find the pall of death

no longer is her calling or her charge.

Her spirit heart takes flight beyond the grave,

bearing through the cast of this dark night the vanished

hopes and dreams of verse and skin,

delivering the poet’s charge beyond the grave,

to mingle with us in a living fire and vanish

from her death into this fine new skin.


  1. Congrats Karen for the two online poems, they really are both lovely.By strange synchronicity the second one 'Consider the Lillies' would for me have been an apposite reflection of the garage!Anyways, Plath it is and what a great job you've done,a skillful sestina no less.I looked it up but got totally confused, so well done to you!There are some beautiful and well crafted lines in here too ,Karen.Like

    'that marked her like a line of graves'

    But my favourite stanza was this...

    'only as the storied, vanished

    bird that falls beneath the charge

    of purifying fire and defies its death

    to leave the self and rise within new skin,

    all loss and pain ground down to fine

    thin ash that blows across the useless grave.'

    A fine poem that warrants a few readings.Tankzx ye Karen.

    Ps the words in italics, are they yours or Sylvias? Lovely either way!

  2. I bow down and kiss the ground, as Rumi says there are a hundred ways to do so, that you are the poet you are. With skill so beautiful, you paint the old woman writing poetry like an old knight. Why do you read my drivel when you can write like this? Oh, but wait, this about you, not me, and I bow down to you.

  3. Karen, we seem to be of like minds, for I, too, chose the phoenix approach to this poem. Your words are divine! I love this!

  4. You call this a weak attempt?? This is one of the finest adaptations of the sestina I've seen in a while, coupled with an excellent theme and beautiful, appropriate image... there are so many terms of phrase in here I love. "Rosy northern skin", "art unconquered by the grave", "vanished but unvanquished heart", and on and on. A wonderful paean to a poet who died too young. Love it. :)

    (Also, I hadn't seen this TFE thing till now... investigation underway...)

  5. I like this bit
    "the mixture of her own fine
    poet’s blood with mud made life from death".
    Clean and dirty all at once.

  6. "...also my first weak attempt at writing a sestina."

    Karen...methinks you underestimate yourself as a writer of sestinas. This is fantastic - especially the closing tercet, which flows so naturally from the entire thought and theme of the poem - and is anything but contrived.

    I can't think of ANYTHING that you have ever tried, that you didn't master on the first or (maybe)second attempt.

    Fabulous lyricism and enchanting emotional expression throughout. Kudos

  7. TFE - Thank you for your kind words on all. The words are all mine, only imagined to be hers. I hope there is some sense from this; it makes perfect sense to me, but then, I'm reading my own mind! Anyway, I loved the challenge and the thinking I had to do as a result of the bus tour.

    Chris - You're funny! You win all the awards, gal! Let's pat us both on the virtual backs and just celebrate that we can do this. You're a doll! xoxo

    joseph - Thank you! Coming from you, the king of poetic form, I take this as high praise, indeed. You've made my day.

    Rachel - Thanks for stopping by. Maybe we'll be seatmates? I'll try to keep the mud away if you promise to sing. :-D

    K. - You've always been a great cheerleader and friend, so what did I expect you to say? Much appreciated, anyway, even if you are still holding my hand after nearly 40 years.

  8. Jeane Iris - Thanks for the compliment. Your poem is excellently rendered. I love the variation on the same theme.

  9. oh, i could go on and on. 'a rising up, the death of death'. loved that

  10. I've never tried this poetry form. Well-crafted and held me rapt, Karen.
    This is my blog address

  11. Wow, beautiful sestina, Karen. I especially like your opening line. I did a similar take on Plath, only being reborn, as Venus.

  12. Karen - I really like this answer to TFE's challenge - haven't visited before byt hello anyway. I think this has been the most interesting challenge to date.

  13. Really well done--you keep a great flow going without & the sestina form makes sense all the way thru--this would be good under any circumstances, but the fact that it's your first sestina is very impressive!

  14. I had to look up sestina in wikipedia-- wow, you are quite a sculptor, creating such a beautiful form from an interesting structure!

    Beautiful picture, too. Phoenixes always grab my attention; I was born and raised in a town called Phoenixville.

  15. Weak? No way! It's beautiful. I agree with John's comment above...the lovely flow is the first thing that jumps out. It's very thought provoking, and I will spend the next half hour reading and re-reading those lines, taking them apart, rolling around in all that music and! I especially love the second stanza. I'm impressed that it's your first try. Wonderful!

  16. Brava! The sestina is not an easy form to conquer and you have bravely challenged her and won!
    I like stanzas 1 and 3 the best, but love the way you utilized the words within the forced structure of the final lines.

  17. Art unconquered by the grave...that is what keeps ringing through my mind.

  18. I concurr with Poetikat re what she says about the sestina.

    My favourite line was
    "delivering the poet’s charge beyond the grave"

    Working on this project really made me (and I'm sure, everyone) aware of just what a high-voltage charge that is in this case.

  19. Lovely work Karen, and though the sestina is such a crafted form you have shone meaning through it, which is the art. The third stanza was outstanding, I thought, and the final tercet is natural and a summation - and that's not easy! Fine, fine piece of writing, I reckon!

  20. Swiss - Thank you. I'm still thinking about your take on your relationship with Sylvia - ted or no ted. Great stuff!

    Uiscebot - Welcome, and thanks.

    gel - I'm glad to introduce you to the form. I felt that since we had two weeks for this challenge, I should give it a go; of course, I adapted the form to make it a near-sestina. Oh, well. It was fun, anyway.

    willow - Hello, and thank you. I really liked your take on the rebirth - I remember the cigarette imagery - so unexpected and appropriate!

    Weaver - Welcome! I have looked into your site a few times, but I may not have commented. I, too, enjoyed the multitude of responses this challenge evoked. I hope you'll come back - maybe for the next TFE bus ride!

    John - You actually introduced me to the form with your Bishop poem. Of course, in looking at the form, I see that I've adulterated it, but that's okay, rules were made to be broken. Right? Thanks for both the introduction and the kind words.

    Aine - The phonenix has always held my fancy, too. Rising from the ashes is a great metaphor for so much of what we must do to survive in life. Thanks for your comment.

    Julie - Thanks. I can just picture you rolling around in a pile of words - a great image that I totally understand. I'd like to get down like an old dog on my back and wiggle my body into little clouds of words. Have you ever looked at a dog's face when he does that? Such pleasure! (Now, Julie - you're the only person I could say this to who wouldn't think I'm crazy or be offended by it!) Let's smile, and scratch, and wiggle around in words! :-D

    Kat - Thank you! You introduced me to the TFE with your blog, so thanks for that, too. You've been a great blogfriend, and I always appreciate hearing from you.

    jason - to rise again from those ashes - unvanquished; that's the idea!

    Dominic - Thank you for that comment - high voltage for us all.

    Argent - Welcome, and thanks.

    Titus - This was my first attempt at a sestina, but it was such fun to work on the "craft" of the art, that I may try it again. Thank you for your comments.

  21. Karen, thank you for dropping by The Turtle and saying such lovely things about my poem. Now, coming here and reading your sestina, all I can do is join the chorus of praise. Your poem is so beautiful, I feel privileged to read it.

  22. i also had to look up "sestina", and even having done so, couldn't tell you what it is, except that it seems to be a highly ordered blend of poetry and sudoku.

    what's amazing is how the poem lives within the structure - i don't know if it's because of or in spite of it - but i see the words swirling and reconstructing like the ash of the phoenix - reinventing themselves - and i wish that sylvia could have done the same instead of halting at "all loss and pain ground down to fine / thin ash that blows across the useless grave." (wonderful)

    and congrats on gangway and bolts - much deserved!

  23. Before I say anything else let me say that I loved this tribute to Plath, even though she ranks no where near the top of my personal influences.

    That said:

    I found the sestina very well done in form until the final tercet

    "delivering the poet’s charge beyond the grave,

    to mingle with us in a living fire and vanish

    from her death into this fine new skin."

    You can of course break the form if you choose but you adhered to it throughout the first 6 sestets but in the final line of the tercet you use death, fine, and skin.

    I suggest, if you did not do this intentionally, that in the second line you put fine where you have fire. Conforming to the 6 words used throughout and not diminishing the intent of the tercet.

    *shrug* I don't so them so I may be taking unearned liberty in critiquing yours.

    Weak attempt? pshaw.

  24. How wonderfully this poem flows, Karen, how quietly yet full of power…
    This is no weak attempt but an accomplishment of skill and beauty that fills my soul with indescribable nostalgia and pleasure…

  25. Sandra Leigh - Thanks for stopping by here and for your kind words about this one. I'm glad to get to know you, and I hope to read more of your work at Turtle.

    joaquin - I just learned about the form myself, and apparently, I've mushed it a bit, but gosh, I had fun trying. Thanks for the nice things you always say,(...and, by the way, I suck at Sudoko)!

    TWM - I do appreciate the critique, and I'm going to have to go back to study the structure a little more. I thought that as long as I ended the lines with certain words, I could put the others anywhere within ifthere were two in each line. I'll take a look, but now the "message" of the tercet feels so right to me that I'm not sure if I can re-do without losing that meaning. I do know that it seems I'm never finished with a poem, so revise I will! Thanks for the info.

    Vesper - Thanks for that! I am pleased to hear that this brings forth those emotions. You're a great friend and supporter.

  26. Hello Karen~ your first attempt at a sestina (which is difficult on many levels, btw) is excellent. i think our first sestina is always closest to our hearts too, even if we consider them weak. thoroughly enjoyed this one. have a great day.

  27. Congrats on writing your first sestina. I would not call it a weak attempt at all. It was lovely.

  28. Karen...again I rarely use form anymore so my critique is of little value. the truth of it is "rules are made to be broken" even in the Sestina rule breaking is fine. again this is not a wee small weak effort, it is a work of compassionate passion.

    No one who writes poetry is ever finished. Whitman revised Leaves of Grass at least 16 times. ha ha ha ha I am not THAT anal.

  29. Michelle - I really liked playing with the form, so I may try it again, but the mood will have to strike! Thanks for your encouragement.

    writerwoman - Thanks for stopping by and for your comments.

    TWM - Of course your critique has value to me! This is my only writing group, and while I know we encourage one another, constructive advice is always welcome. I'm laughing over your last comment; somehow I never figured you for anal, my friend! ;-)

  30. I once assigned both a sestina and a villanelle to a class of children ranging from ten to fourteen and they loved them, both the reading and the attempt to write their own. Having said that I've never tried either myself. This is a beautiful and a brave piece.

  31. Righto i am not anal at all. I have a comma posse though that is all over me. who would think a simple semi colon in the wrong place would wind up as a months long reminder of my use of pu,n't"at"io;;;;:n

  32. Hi Karen,
    this is really good and very clever, kudos. It's surprisingly not repretitive but has the effect of building, which I really enjoyed.
    I met that grave man once, served him in a hotel restaurant when I was but a lass. He was asking me about farming (one of many jobs) and I was flustered and kept thinking 'Why are you talking to me? you're the poet laureat!' Life is strange.

    Great work as always, well done.)

  33. mairi - Do Not Go Gentle is one of my all-time favorite poems, but I haven't the courage yet to try the villanelle. It was probably just ignorance that prompted me to write this one - I didn't know what I was getting into! Anyway, it was fun, and I will try it again, I know. Thanks for your encouragement.

    TWM - I am an ex-bounty hunter, myself. I wish I had a nickel for every comma I've circled in my day! In poetry, though, we can suspend as many rules as we wish, so you can always pretend it was purposeful!

    Sarah - Thank you. You met Ted? Oh, my gosh! You should turn that experience into a poem!

  34. Oh this is amazing, Karen. I love all of it, so I cannot point out a particular line.
    I've read so many of the books written about Sylvia and Ted Hughes that this work of yours culminates the life, the art of Sylvia, the poet, so sad and so eloquent.

    Beautiful, beautiful writing!