Her face Her tongue Her wytt
So faier So sweete So sharpe
first bent then drewe then hitt
myne eye myne eare my harteMyn eye Myne eare My harte
to lyke to learne to love
her face her tongue her wytt
doth leade doth teache doth move Her face Her tongue Her wytt
with beames with sounde with arte
doth blynd doth charm doth knitt
myne eye myne eare my harteMyne eye Myne eare My harte
with lyfe with hope with skill
her face her tongue her witt
doth feede doth feaste doth fyllO face O tongue O wytt
with frownes with checks with smarte
wronge not vex nott wounde not
myne eye myne eare my harteThis eye This eare This harte
shall Joye shall yeald shall swear
her face her tongue her witt
to serve to truste to feare.
To start where credit is due, I first read this 16th century love lyric on Hypsarrythmia's LiveJournal page, linked from discussion of The Guardian's poem of the week selection, Sir Philip Sidney's "Certain Sonnets #30" AKA "Ring Out Your Belles." And Bravo! to The Guardian. Now and then they really fall flat with their choices, but for the most part, their "Poem of the Week" series is a fine, ongoing discussion of poetry on the Web, with very intelligent discussion, and some real discoveries to be found on the comment boards. I'm hoping to provide another such, aimed at a somewhat different audience in my "Poetry for the Nervous" series. It's long annoyed me to hear so many of modernisms's characteristics treated as 19th or 20th century inventions. No disrespect intended to Whitman or Dickinson, but whether it's Whitman's list-making or Dickinson's occasional fragmentation, you find the traces well before them in the past. British critics often look to Hardy and Hopkins and The Rhymer's Clubbers in charting the course to modernism, and Americans and Brits both look towards the movements of French poets that heaved off the "strait-jacket of the French Classical alexandrine," in Robert Graves's words. Graves goes on to say "English has worn no strait-jacket since the Age of Obsequiousness," by which he meant the age dominated by Alexander Pope. Graves is right, but he forgets that the French tradition was also shanghied into their straits, as anyone can tell with reference to no less obscure example than Villon. It always strikes me that neither set of critic tends to give non-European influence the credit it deserves. Many are all keen to rave about "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam," but they forget how much attention Fitzgerald's translation focused back on "exotic" sources. That's all topic for another day. In Britain, it's a nonce of effort to find modernist characteristics from Chaucer to Dryden, the influence of whose massive body of work was the main strap in the subsequent strait-jacket. Lewis Turco points out the line from Skelton to Hopkins (that Weblog is another wonderful and well-maintained resource for lovers of poetry.) Anyone who's seen carmina figurata, e.g. the visual experiments of Herbert and company will recognize that, barring the limits of Renaissance typesetting, they were heading straight for Concrete Poetry. Imagism can be traced all the way back to Sappho, for example, or the extravagant tropes of Provençal troubador poets, never mind the Metaphysical poets. I've heard that the checkmate of supposed 20th-century innovation is the collage style: the use of fragmentation itself as a device to complete expression and fuel emotional immediacy. I've heard that cinema and discoveries in psychology from archetypes to gestalt were prerequisites of this collage style. I've never really credited this, and I'm always pleased to find classic examples of poems squarely in recognized traditions of modernist critics which demonstrate precedence. "Her face" prefigures collage style in its fashion, including the use of layout to enhance the sense of fragmentation. Of course, since this is in the hands of a fairly skilled versifier, the layout becomes not just a visual device but an aural one as well. When I read it, the spacing has the effect of slightly promoting the iambs to spondees. I find myself struck by the sense of rhythmic incantation, and it truly heightens the tone of supplication to the lover, enhancing the literal sense. I've never had a problem with the fact that whether of ancient or truly new origins, modernism has focused unprecedented critical attention on such techniques. My problem is that so many people have taken this to mean that modernist devices should replace traditional ones, rather than complementing them. I'm hopeful that some of the 21st century reactions to modernism that I'm seeing as an editor will eventually work us towards embracing the importance of traditional technique as well as modernist consciousness. One final note on Sydney's CS #30 is that The Guardian prints it without the indentation I've seen for it. I prefer the indented version.
—Sir Arthur Gorges—"Her Face"
Ring out your belles, let mourning shewes be spread,
For love is dead:
All Love is dead, infected
With plague of deepe disdaine:
Worth as naught worth rejected,
And Faith faire scorne doth gaine.
From so ungratefull fancie,
From such a femall franzie,
From them that use men thus
Good Lord deliver us.
And thus in the remaining stanzas.