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Sonnetto Poesia Vol 3 no 3 2004
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Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Ad Lyram"
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The Summer 2004 issue of SONNETTO POESIA is a shining example of the rarest meeting of like-minded poetic geniuses, in the persons of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) and the three contemporary poets, Richard Doiron and Gerry Keith of Canada, and Esther Cameron of the United States.  Almost from the outset, it became apparent to me that here were four poets whose powerful and emotionally expressive imaginations shone keenly focussed rays on our troubled world.

We hearken back to none other than that most admirable of poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), one of the truly stellar geniuses of the First Romantic Age, and author of one of the world's most influential literary critical works ever written, The Biographia Literaria (1817), a monumental masterpiece of Western criticism and a tour de force of poetico-philosophical thought such as the world has rarely ever seen before or since, with the possible exception of Percy Bysshe Shelley's, The Defence of Poetry, Part the First (1821). Both of these massive outpourings of poetic and critical genius have left their indelible marks on all subsequent critics of English poetry ever since Coleridge's and Shelley's era, now two centuries past.

We now are on the threshold of the Third Millennium, which I boldly assert is also the birth of second Neo-Romantic Era of English Poetry (the first having spanned approximately the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, under the auspices of such shining lights as Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon of the United Kingdom, and Edna Saint-Vincent Millay and Robert Hillyer of the United States). Much of the poetry of the Twentieth Century, above all in the United States, was characterized by a black sense of despair and angst, often labelled as "alienation", that psychic vacuum which seemed to permeate so much of the World's literature.

But the pendulum always swings back. Just as the First Romantic Era (ca. 1770-1840) was the visible manifestation of a distinct backlash against the all-too often dry and brittle Reason of the Enlightenment, under the auspices of such Neo-Classical poets as John Dryden and Alexander Pope, so also is the ever-swelling tide of Neo-Romantic poetry now sweeping the world a profound and sorely needed response to the all but universal sense of despair that was the hallmark of the literature of the last century. This is not to say that humanity's deep-rooted sense of despair at the horrors of the 20th. Century and the terrors of the early 21st. Century do not loom largely in the world consciousness. They definitively do. Yet, in spite of this seemingly impassible conundrum and the looming spectre of the annihilation of civilzation, feeble as it is and as we know it, in spite of all, there is a Light that is shining through the poetry of our Age. This Light is in its infancy, and may yet be snuffed out. But I for one am a person, and a poet, of profound faith in the powers of the Universe to overwhelm our human foibles, and lift our spirits out of the mire they have been stymied in since time immemorial. Will humankind live to repeat the same stupid errors over and over and over, and get away with it? I hardly think so. Will, Gaia, our planet, the Earth and Nature permit us to indulge in our follies for much longer? I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions. Mine are clear.

So also, would it appear, are the meditations and aspirations of all the poets who have contributed to this issue of SONNETTO POESIA. To my mind, there is no such thing as a "dead poet". The utter majesty and the sheer magic of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's greatest poems, such as "Ad Lyram", published here, and his terrifyingly haunting, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", ring like a tolling knell through the ages. I am at once reminded of John Donne's equally trenchant commentary, from his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII:

Nunc lento sonitu dicunt, morieris.

Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.

Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me and see my state may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that... passim... all mankind is of one author and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another. As therefore the bell that rings a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.... passim... The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee... passim... for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it... passim... if by this consideration of another's dangers I take mine own into contemplation and so secure myself by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

John Donne (1572-1631)

To read the entire devotion, please CLICK on this link:

John Donne, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII

 
As a fellow poet, what strikes me most about the several sonnets and two quatrain verses published in the current issue of SONNETTO POESIA is their remarkable stylistic and thematic congruity, considering that Samuel Taylor Coleridge composed his AD LYRAM in 1795 at the tender age of 23, while the three modern poets published here all seem to mirror forth upon the world from within their own psyches concerns and anxieties strikingly reminiscent of those raised by Coleridge in so much of his finest poetry, let alone in his AD LYRAM.   More than any single poem in this issue, Gerald Keith's, "The Fool Aground" an uncanny echo of Coleridge's equally haunting, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", an echo which rings down through two Centuries to reach us at the outset of the 21st. Century.
 
Yet this is not a matter of mere serendipity.  It is no mere happenstance that so many of the earliest Romantics, most notably John Keats, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and especially Percy Bysshe Shelley, were deeply concerned about the urgent moral and ethical issues of their day, whether in the guise of flagrant political corruption or tyranny, or in the rallying cry for political freedoms and for lasting peace.  
 
Here again, our Neo-Romantic early Third Millennium poets are all haunted by fears and anxieties running at least as deep as those Samuel Taylor Coleridge had to confront almost continually throughout his trying life.  Theirs is that profoundly human longing for peace in the world.  Not even the most virulent Wars of the 19th. through 21st. Centuries, including, notwithstanding, the current conflict in Iraq, can have quenched our deep human thirst for freedom from bondage.
 
While it can be arguably demonstrated that Gerald Keith's Vision on the one hand is intensely personal and and wrenchingly intimate, I even would venture, almost Coleridgean, the hopes and aspirations expressed by both Richard Doiron of Canada and Esther Cameron of the United States are on a more universal plane.   Without exception, all 3 of our latter-day poets have chosen to focus sharply on this diliemma, each from his or her own unique perspective.
 
Gerald Keith's nigtmarish prophetic vision verges on the precipice of a sense of impending personal tragedy.   Esther Cameron's vision is, naturally enough, a heartfelt expression of her profound faith in the wellspring of God as He has guided her people, the Jewish nation, throughout the ages.   Richard Doiron's speaks from the generous perspective of a Christian devotee, in light of his Catholic birthright as a French Canadian.   Yet all 3 poets speak to my own spirit in clarion voices reaching right through to my own imagation's depths, as I sincerely hope they can to yours.
 
However you slice the cake, it seems that we, humankind, as populous and as vitally diverse as we have become at the turn of this new century and a new millennium, really do stand at the end of precipice.   The question is, do we simply leap off and dash ourselves against the gale-swept waves, as we have since time immemorial, or do we finally learn, however tentatively, to take to our hang gliders, however flimsy and scary they may be, and learn to fly?    It is all up to us, humanity as a whole, to embrace hope, peace, love and life rather than despair, war, mutual hatred and death, our historically fated lot.
 
Are we at last, as a race, finally coming even close to leaving our childhood behind and entering adolescence?   Will we ever learn to become responsible for ourselves, for one another, and for the welfare of the world, its animals, plants, its ecosystem, Gaia herself ?   I for one know not, but I do prophesy, for I too am a poet. 
 
John Donne uttered the very same prophecy almost 400 years ago, who said:
 
...all mankind is of one author and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several translators...
 
I could not have said it better myself.
 
all Rights Reserved by Richard Vallance, June 15 2004
 

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