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December 19, 2008

Poetry Conversations III and IV

A recap on a sporadic subplot contained within The Next Chapter:

1: Shelagh saw fit to convert me to her secret cult known as "people who buy books of poetry", an eccentric subset of the population (roughly 1% of Canadians took part in cult activities last year), significantly outnumbered by those who believe Elvis Presley may still be alive.

2: Doubly motivated by Shelagh's challenge and the words of Octavio Paz, who suggests that society's very survival rests on people appreciating poems, I went to a bookstore, asked for a book of poetry, and discovered that the bookseller was himself an experimental poet, Kyle Buckley. Reading his book made me see the point of Paz's image of poetry as a kind of architecture - a bridge between people.


3: Under a tree, surrounded by pigeons, I encountered another experimental poet, Margaret Christakos. Her poems ruined the idea that poetry is architecture, because they're much more like music - they play upon the internal workings the person reading them. I told Shelagh they made me feel like a piano, or a set of tubular bells. Shelagh reacted politely.

So, now:

This week, perhaps in a bid to get me off the experimental poets, Shelagh asked me to dig up Canadian poems suitable for Christmastime. I found various 19th-century poets whose experiments entailed fitting their experience of pioneering into a catchy rhyme scheme. This apparently counted as entertainment before the advent of more exciting things, such as radio programs.

Many of these poets now reside in the Canadian Poetry Archive, which is searchable by keyword. Missing from the archive, however, is Susanna Moodie's first ever Canadian poem. It happens to be suitable for all wintry festivals:

The Sleigh Bells: A Canadian Song
by Susanna Moodie

’Tis merry to hear, at evening time,
By the blazing hearth the sleigh-bells chime;
To know the bounding steeds bring near
The loved one to our bosoms dear.
Ah, lightly we spring the fire to raise,
Till the rafters glow with the ruddy blaze;
Those merry sleigh-bells, our hearts keep time
Responsive to their fairy chime.
Ding-dong, ding-dong, o’er vale and hill,
Their welcome notes are trembling still.

’Tis he, and blithely the gay bells sound,
As his sleigh glides over the frozen ground;
Hark! He has pass’d the dark pine wood,
He crosses now the ice-bound flood,
And hails the light at the open door
That tells his toilsome journey’s o’er.
The merry sleigh-bells! My fond heart swells
And trobs to hear the welcome bells;
Ding-dong, ding-dong, o’er ice and snow,
A voice of gladness, on they go.

Our hut is small, and rude our cheer,
But love has spread the banquet here;
And childhood springs to be caress’d
By our beloved and welcome guest.
With a smiling brow his tale he tells,
The urchins ring the merry sleigh-bells;
The merry sleigh-bells, with shout and song
They drag the noisy string along;
Ding-dong, ding-dong, the father’s come
The gay bells ring his welcome home.

From the cedar swamp the gaunt wolves howl,
From the oak loud whoops the felon owl;
The snow-storm sweeps in thunder past,
The forest creaks beneath the blast;
No more I list, with boding fear,
The sleigh-bells distant chime to hear.
The merry sleigh-bells with soothing power
Shed gladness on the evening hour.
Ding-dong, ding-dong, what rapture swells
The music of those joyous bells!


Thank-you to all the chilly volunteers on the streets of Toronto who lent their rousing voices to our rendition of this poem. In the meantime, I'm told that poets do more than experiment and entertain. According to a famous poet called Shelley, they also legislate, unacknowledged. At a time of parliamentary uncertainty, I'm now investigating what sort of legislation they're currently working on.

Posted by The Next Chapter at 10:21 PM
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