Poetic Influence No. 2: “An Eternity”

        Archibald MacLeish’s poem “An Eternity” heavily influenced my obsession with time, and the idea that the present is all that we ever get.  I addressed this concept throughout my entire collection of poetry, and specifically in my poem “The Present.”  Like MacLeish, I see the past and future as realms only reachable through the present, or now.  Without this moment, there can be no past, or future.  That being the case, both past and future flow from the ever progressing present.  Like holograms projected from the present, the past and future both exist and do not exist at the same time.  Here is how MacLeish delves into the topic:

An Eternity

by Archibald MacLeish

There is no dusk to be,
There is no dawn that was,
Only there’s now, and now,
And the wind in the grass.

Days I remember of
Now in my heart, are now;
Days that I dream will bloom
White peach bough.

Dying shall never be
Now in the windy grass;
Now under shooken leaves
Death never was.

        One of the great aspects of poetry is that like art, it can be interpreted multiple ways.  I see this poem as dealing with time, and the present, and containing a seize the day element.  Others, though, may see a poem wrestling with faith and rational comprehension.  In the second scenario, MacLeish’s poem may relate more to my poem “The Journey Concludes…” than to “The Present.”  Just like beauty, though, interpretation is in the eye of the beholder….

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Photo by Elizabeth McCullough

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Poetic Influence No. 3: The Iliad

        One of the oldest works of Western literature, Homer’s ancient Greek epic poem the Iliad has deeply influenced much of Western civilization.  So much so that a Roman consul is said to have quoted the Iliad upon the destruction of Rome’s old nemesis Carthage:

“The day shall come when sacred Troy shall fall, and King Priam and all his warrior people with him.”

        Reading a work of literature that was written more than 2,700 years ago, I’ll admit isn’t the easiest task.  What fascinates me, though, is how the Iliad relates to history.  According to the mythological founding of Rome, the Trojan hero Aeneas survived the Trojan War and went on to become the legendary father of Rome.  Of course, not before fatefully meeting up with Dido, the legendary founder and first Queen of Carthage.  Going even further, Brutus, a descendant of Aeneas, is said to be the legendary founder and first King of Britain.  This begs the question: Why do so many foundation stories link back to the Iliad?  Personally, I think it is because in many ways the Iliad and the Odyssey were equivalent to the Bible to the ancients.  The ancients knew this, and liked the idea of being linked to such important literary works.

        As you can see, I am indeed fascinated by the history of the Iliad and history in general.  So much so, I alluded to Brutus in my poem “The Number.”  As you may have noticed, I like dual meanings so Brutus of Julius Caesar fame fits as well.  I suppose even Lucius Junius Brutus, who led the revolt that expelled the last Etruscan King from Rome, would fit too.  Isn’t it wonderful how many compelling meanings can be extrapolated from one name?  I think so.  In the end, though, a poem’s meaning is always determined by the reader.  That being the case, there is no right or wrong way to read a poem.  In this case, no right or wrong Brutus to evoke.  Whether it was written by me less than a year ago, or nearly three millennia ago, the meaning of a poem is always in your hands.

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Photo by Elizabeth McCullough

Poetic Influence No. 4: “All the World’s a Stage”

        William Shakespeare’s poetic monologue  “All the World’s a Stage” from As You Like It begins with two lines that practically everyone knows today.  Those lines, of course, are:

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players”.

        I only wish I could write such memorable lines.  Of course what most people probably don’t recall is that after those two timeless lines, Shakespeare moves into an extended metaphor about the seven stages of life.  He ends the final stage with “oblivion.”  In “The Past, Present, and Future,” I delve into the three stages of time and then close with “The End of Time;” my way of bringing a close to the whole concept.  Shakespeare weaves through the path of one’s life and closes it out in the end, and my poetry weaves through time and close time out in the end.  In my poem, though, I left a little wiggle room with this line: “In the end, I suppose we’ll never know.”  As far as we have come as a species, there is still so much we just don’t know.  As a matter of fact, scientifically speaking there is much more that we don’t know than we know.  According to some estimates, 23% of the mass of the Universe is invisible, 73% of the mass of the Universe is dark energy, and the other four percent is in the atoms that make up you and me, the stars, planets, and everything else we can see.  Oh yeah, did I mention that the four percent is the stuff that we know and understand.  Anyway, I think you get the idea.  The more you know, the less you know….  That of course brings us right back to where we began, as merely players on a stage.

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Photo by Elizabeth McCullough

Poetic Influence No. 5: “The Road Not Taken”

        Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” is one of my favorite poems, as it deals with one of my favorite topics: choices.  In my mind, this poem includes three of the best lines of poetry ever written:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

        Throughout our lives we make many, many choices; perhaps, as many as there are stars in the cosmos.  I believe that it is these choices that shape us, even more so than nature and nurture.  I touched upon this idea in my poem “My Apologies.”  When looking back at the past, it is easy to blame family, friends, teachers, the government, or just about anybody for the way things turned out in our lives.  When you think about it long and hard, though, you would be hard-pressed not to come to the conclusion that your choices landed you right where you are.  Sometimes choices are easy, other times they are more difficult; either way, they are yours and yours alone to make.  For Frost, taking the path less traveled made all the difference.  Hopefully, one day I’ll look back and think choosing to write again made all the difference.  I suppose time will tell….

Influences of the Writing Process

        A blank page.  A story, a poem, even a work of nonfiction, always begins with a blank page.  A writer can, literally, write about anything.  So what turns a blank page into one filled with words?  Well, of course it is the writer, but beyond that it is the the writer’s thoughts and ideas.  Going even further, though, there must be influences.  Books, movies, music, friends, family, the list goes on and on….  I’ve always considered these influences to be my muses, which is why I dedicated “The Past, Present, and Future” to all of my muses.  As I continue the writing process of the companion novel to “The Past, Present, and Future,” I would like to spend some blog-time honoring the muses that made this project happen.  In total, I have singled out five poems, five songs, five movies, and five books that in many ways influenced me and became my muses for this project.

        Each week, for the next 20 weeks, I’ll reveal one of my muses and explain how each influenced this project.  It should be a fun journey through my mind, and my writing process.  Hopefully, it will shed light on the moment of inception.  That is, the moment this project went from a loose collection of thoughts and ideas floating through the river of consciousness in my mind to words filling up blank pages.

        Since this project began with poetry, I’ll start there.  This Saturday, I’ll begin the poetry countdown with my number five poetic influence.  I’ll then progress through the rest of my poetic influences.  Afterward, I will move through my music, film, and book influences in succession.  I’m excited to continue “The Past, Present, and Future” with this mini-project, as it will give me the opportunity to both single out my influences and explain how each contributed to my writing process.

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Photo by Elizabeth McCullough