Once more he tried, before he slept,
to rule his ranks of words. They broke
from his planned choir, lolled, slouched and kept
their tone, their pitch, their meaning crude;
huddled in cliches; when pursued
turned with mock elegance to croak
his rival's tunes. They would not sing.
The scene that nagged his sleep away
flashed clear again: the local king
of verse, loose-collared and loose-lipped.
read from a sodden manuscript,
drinking with anyone who'd pay,
drunk, in the critic's favourite bar.
'Hear the voice of the bard!' he bellowed,
'Poets are lovers. Critics are
mean, solitary masturbators.
Come here, and join the warm creators.'
The critic, whom no drink had mellowed,
turned on his heel. Rough laughter scoured
his reddening neck. The poet roared
'Run home, and take that face that soured
your mother's lovely milk from spite.
Piddle on what you cannot write.'
At home alone the critic poured
gall on the poet's work in polished
careful prose. He tore apart
meaning and metaphor, demolished
diction, syntax, metre, rhyme;
called his entire works a crime
against the integrity of art,
and lay down grinning, quick, he thought,
with a great poem that would make plain
his power to all. Once more he fought
with words. Sleep came. He dreamed he turned
to a light vapour, seeped and burned
in wordless cracks where grain on grain
of matter grated; reassumed
his human shape, and called by name
each grain to sing, conducting, plumed
in lightning, their obedient choir.
Dressed as a bride for his desire
towards him, now meek, the poet came.
Light sneaked beside his bed. The birds
began their insistent questioning
of silence, and the poet's words
prompted by daylight rasped his raw
nerves, and the waking world he saw
was flat with prose and would not sing.
Gwen Harwood's Other Poems
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