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This is my entry this week in the mini-season of therealljidol, Exhibit B. Please read the many fine entries and check back later for a voting link. This week we had multiple topics. I chose "I think I'll never see..."

Words have power; he'd always believed that. But until it happened to him, he didn't realize just how much power.

Just after he'd written a poem about Dawn striding out to wake a dewy farm, monster footprints shook his family's modest home. He peered out his window to find the source of the noise and saw a great glowing giant, carrying birds that twittered and laughed. Out in the barn, the cows and sheep, rather than mooing and baaing as one might expect, shouted loudly, "It is day!" This nonsense was, he realized, a literal interpretation of his poem, in which he had used one of his favorite literary devices, pathetic fallacy.

Soon, more such images came to life before his eyes. The trees began pressing actual mouths to earthen breasts to drink, their branches converted to arms which raised to heaven in joyful prayer. While it had sounded lovely on paper, in person it was just a bit terrifying.

Before long, the whole landscape was abuzz: the nearby brook whispering; the sky turned into a frail blue butterfly, greeted by an admiring earth; and the distant mountain snoring like a behemoth king with a sleep disorder. Skies weeping, flowers turning their faces gratefully to the sun, squirrels playing like actual children, and all of them wondering aloud about their place in the universe. It was dreadful.

He shut his window to shut out the racket, but even that did not solve the problem. For then, the everyday objects around him came to life. Before you knew it, everything was self-aware: floors groaning, lanterns glowing serenely, and the stair creaking like squeaking mice, chasing after him as he ran upstairs.

"Do you hear it?" he called to his wife, Aline, in bed nursing their newborn son. "Do you hear how the world is alive with voices? The earth and trees shuddering to life with movement?"

A fellow poet, she merely smiled gently. "I hear it, my love. The world is blessing us as we welcome our boy. Our hearts, so recently closed with grief, can now open again to love and hope." Only 12 days previously, they had lost their 5-year-old daughter, Rose.

Vigorously, he shook his head. "No, my... love," he panted, catching himself just the moment before calling her his dove. "I mean it really is all coming to life: the trees, the earth, the very mountains rise up and walk."

Aline regarded him strangely. "It's been a troublesome two weeks, and you have barely slept. Get some rest now, and you'll feel better."

But his anxious mind would not pause long enough to allow him to sleep, so he shut himself into his study, where he knew he would find him: Martin, the ghost of a dear family friend he'd admired. Up until this day, he'd only seen him in memory's halls, but since he'd written his apparition into a poem, the specter himself appeared.

The kindly look on his ghost-friend's face soothed Joyce's anxiety. When the ghost asked him what was the matter, he gushed out the story, as rapidly as any brook he'd once mistakenly described as "babbling." But what to do now? How to remedy the illness that seemingly affected him alone?

Martin leaned on his polished walking stick and pondered. "You may not like my advice, friend." Though his face was solemn, there was a playful gleam in his eye. "As you wrote so aptly about me, you must take pleasure where you can. From the fleck of sunlight in the street to the horse, the book, the girl who smiles at you, appreciate and write what you see, my boy. What you see."

And with that he vanished in a puff of metaphor.

In his short days after this very odd encounter, Joyce took this lesson to heart. Sometimes, he still could not refrain from falling back on his old habits, but he was rudely reminded of the dangers of doing so while riding a frighteningly clamorous train through a profane countryside on his way to basic training.

Joyce had enlisted to fight in the Great War within days of the United States joining the fray. Despite his mathematical skills and college education, which guaranteed him a safe post as a commissioned officer away from the front, he volunteered for a fighting regiment. In battle after battle, he gained a reputation for coolness and bravery under fire.

After each fray, as much as his tired mind would allow, he wrote some brief prose sketches and poems, drawn primarily from the images of his fallen brothers-in-arms, with gravestones and sadness falling away into heavenly glory. This was, he realized, the most important thing he could do for his friends: to write them an afterlife he truly believed would come true, through the magic of his words.

And so, one day, as he'd gone ahead to scout for the Germans, he was not a bit surprised to find himself looking down upon a vast heavenly landscape, as vivid as anything he'd written. He walked off into the haze, leaving his body behind and marveling at all he saw.

As anyone knows who's ever heard me grouse about it, pathetic fallacy is one of my pet peeves. While effective in moderation, it is often overblown to the point of ridiculousness. A case in point, the famous poem "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer, which begins with the oft-quoted line "I think I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree." Saccharine as that line is, the poem only gets worse from there.

But as I delved into Kilmer's work and his life, I began to sympathize with this man: so young, so determined to see beauty in everything. He was only 31 when he died in battle during World War I. While I still dislike most of his poetry, I admire his earnestness, his dedication, and his sincere belief in the underlying benevolent spirit of the earth and all that resides here.

Note: I've taken some liberties with the chronology of his poems.

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( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 24th, 2013 10:06 pm (UTC)
I had no idea he had died so young. I kind of like the personification of human qualities to other living things, especially the beauty in nature.
Jun. 25th, 2013 12:07 am (UTC)
Incredibly young. I'm sure he'd be proud that his poetry is still remembered. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule regarding pathetic fallacy; some instances in ancient Japanese haiku are quite moving. Since it's too easy to falter into sentimentality, I tend to avoid it in my own poetry.
Jun. 24th, 2013 10:16 pm (UTC)
This was really interesting to read. :)
Jun. 25th, 2013 12:05 am (UTC)
Thank you! I hope you don't mean that in the sense that my high-school French teacher used to mean it. She told us that if we were tasting a new food and weren't sure if we liked it, we should say it was "interesting." Now, my husband and I like to call things "interesting... in the French teacher sense of the word."
(no subject) - x_disturbed_x - Jun. 25th, 2013 03:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 25th, 2013 12:01 am (UTC)
If words truly came to life, there would be quite a few scary sights or sounds.

began pressing actual mouths to earthen breasts to drink

lol I couldn't even image how strange that would seem. Great read.

Jun. 25th, 2013 12:04 am (UTC)
Thanks. You can credit Kilmer for that imagery; it comes directly from his poem, "Trees."

I should add that I'm grateful that none of my poems from my teens and early 20s are capable of coming to life!
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 25th, 2013 04:19 am (UTC)
I'll say! He probably corrected his friends' grammar, too.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - alycewilson - Jun. 25th, 2013 04:27 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 25th, 2013 06:31 am (UTC)
squirrels playing like actual children, and all of them wondering aloud about their place in the universe. It was dreadful.
I loved this. It reminded me less of poetry at first than of a children's book-- ANY book, practically.

And I share your opinion of Kilmer's poem. I always found it cloying.
Jun. 26th, 2013 02:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Even in my younger years -- when I loved such poets as Sara Teasdale and Rod McKuen -- I found "Trees" to be simplistic and overly sentimental.

Glad you liked that line. That was one of the first sentences I wrote, while I was still writing about an unnamed narrator. I was going for a Douglas Adams feel. :)

But I've been reading a lot of children's literature to KFP lately. He enjoys hearing from chapter books at bedtime. I suppose some of it is creeping into my own writing.
Jun. 25th, 2013 06:38 pm (UTC)
I like that he wrote everyone a nice ending. :)
Jun. 26th, 2013 02:07 pm (UTC)
He really did. If you go to the link I shared at the end, there's about 40 of his poems online. The ones about fallen soldiers nearly always end with a glimpse of heaven or even a personal meeting with Jesus himself.
Jun. 26th, 2013 03:52 am (UTC)
I loved this. :)
Jun. 26th, 2013 02:07 pm (UTC)
Somehow, I knew you would!

P.S. I sent you an e-mail ages ago trying to get your address to send you my book, which you won in Exhibit A. Please message me and tell me where to send it.
Jun. 26th, 2013 01:22 pm (UTC)
This was a very interesting read; I appreciate that you were able to cite chapter and verse with it. Though, I admit, part of me was hoping he'd vanish in a puff of synecdoche. :-) Well done.
Jun. 26th, 2013 02:03 pm (UTC)
Before I decided to attach this story to a specific, actual person, I probably would have had a fanciful ending like that. (My original idea was to have an unnamed poet suffering from the same tendencies and then, after fixing this problem, to be beset by commas.) But as I started sifting through Kilmer's work, I was amused by the number of examples I could grab that were much more creative than the typical ones (skies weeping, trees sighing) that I could come up with. Of course, his ending is not a bit laughable!
Jun. 26th, 2013 07:08 pm (UTC)
Interesting take on the topic. AW
Jun. 30th, 2013 05:32 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Jun. 27th, 2013 05:37 pm (UTC)
Huh. Like you, not into the guy's work. An interesting take on his life and a nice unexpected education to boot.
Jun. 30th, 2013 05:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks. He's definitely too sentimental for my taste. But then again, he was awfully young when he wrote those poems. The ones from his college days, he would have been a teenager, I believe.
Jun. 30th, 2013 06:26 am (UTC)
I think it's amusing that you wrote about Joyce Kilmer (whom I'd never really looked up beyond the well-known Trees poem) and I wrote about Ogden Nash, who parodied it (and whose poems I looked up on the same website)! This was very well written. :)
Jun. 30th, 2013 05:34 pm (UTC)
Great minds think alike! Glad you approve.
Jun. 30th, 2013 05:08 pm (UTC)
This was really interesting and moving <3
Jun. 30th, 2013 05:34 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks!
Jun. 30th, 2013 09:22 pm (UTC)
That is quite a sad story, although I do agree on the pathetic fallacy - I hadn't heard of this poet before, but it is true that any testimony of the life on the battlefield gave due honour to these men.
Jun. 30th, 2013 09:32 pm (UTC)
I knew that you would appreciate this piece! This would have been a much sillier piece if I hadn't decided to tie it to Kilmer, because as I said, he seems to have been a truly honorable man. He would no doubt be happy to learn that his poems about his fallen comrades are remembered, as they are through his words.
Jul. 1st, 2013 02:03 am (UTC)
I so enjoyed this, and it made me look up "pathetic fallacy" - nice work!
Jul. 2nd, 2013 12:06 am (UTC)
Full disclosure: I had to look it up myself, because I'm perpetually thinking it's "sympathetic fallacy." That term just makes more linguistic sense to me: the inanimate objects are sympathetic of human feelings, but that's a fallacy. Sadly, English rarely makes sense.

Glad you liked it! I was going to write a poetic response to the Joyce Kilmer poem, but when this idea sprung into my head, it made me laugh aloud. That always means I have to write it.
Jul. 1st, 2013 04:45 am (UTC)
While it had sounded lovely on paper, in person it was just a bit terrifying.

I love this idea! It reminds me a little bit of the point in the Chronicles of Amber where a dimensional traveler is slipped some kind of hallucinogen and starts traveling to his hallucinations.
Jul. 2nd, 2013 12:07 am (UTC)
That would be trippy! I love that concept.
( 31 comments — Leave a comment )

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