Sunday, January 06, 2008

Waves of Land

Update June 2011: I found the poem!! I have edited it below for accuracy to the original version, though I happily note I was spot on for the first half, and in order to give proper credit to the author. Added lines are in color.

College Freshman English. Required, even of science majors. Though I was initially reluctant, it turned out to be the moment when literature (after some dismal high school experiences) finally made sense. The Norton Anthology, though grueling, was an eye-opener. John Gardner’s How Does a Poem Mean? became a Rosetta stone, inspiring a lifelong love of poetry that might otherwise have died with childhood. But one poem, not in any book, stands out in my memory.

Google found “about 386,000” results when I asked it for snake poems. found only 86 snake poems, a more manageable list. As I scanned the latter results, I missed Dickinson’s “narrow fellow,” though it must have been there. Finally, after honing my search skills on key phrases, Google reported that:

Your search - "raspberry vines and air" - did not match any documents

Google? Stumped? If it weren’t so firmly entrenched in my memory, I’d think I imagined this poem. Fortunately I can remember much of it, though the couplets are undoubtedly out of order in my head, except the first and last. It is a parody of a familiar poem, but executed with far more grace of technique and clarity of metaphor.

I think that I shall never make
A poem sinuous as a snake:
A snake that can us mammals mock
Whenas he moves upon a rock;

Whose muscular and graceful strength
Dwells in the one dimension, length;
Who has no radiating limb
And yet on waves of land can swim;

Who can, from raspberry vines and air
Devise himself a rocking chair;
Who worships silent in the sun;
Who has no projects to be done;

Who thinks no thought, who makes no sound
Preferring to remain profound;

Who though from dust he scarce can rise,
Appropriates man’s paradise.

I strive, like Adam, every spring
To conjure that elusive thing
An Eden, with my hoe and rake
The serpent only God can make.

—Donald Babcock

Why this poem? Why today? See the following post. And if you know this poem or its author, please let me know! Thank you, Mr. Babcock, for the years of enjoyment knowing this poem has given me.


Anonymous said...

Hello, I think I know this poem also. I think you got most of it right, but memory of it is slightly different.

Instead of "Dwells in the one demsion, length", I remember it as "Lies in the one dimension, length"

Instead of "Who can, from raspberry vines and air,
Devise himself a rocking chair." I remember it as " ... can CONSTRUCT himself a rocking chair."

Instead of "Who though from ground he scarce can rise
Appropriates man’s paradise." I remember it as "Who though from DUST he sacarce can rise...".

Instead of "I strive like Adam every spring
To conjure that elusive thing:" I remember it as "...THIS elusive thing"

Instead of "An Eden with my hoe and rake
The serpent only God can make." I remember it as "... A serpent.." not "The".

Pretty minor differences. I memorized this poem about 20 years ago because I liked it so much. No guarantee that I have it exactly right. I just did a Google search also and can find no mention of it. AMAZING!! I don't remember the author nor the book I read it in. Sorry.

Sally said...

Anon-- THANK YOU so much for sharing/confirming my fond memory of this poem. Where did you go to college? I have half a hunch that a professor wrote it to help us learn the difference between poetry and half-baked metaphor... but maybe your confirmation two decades later suggests otherwise.

And I've little doubt your corrections are valid-- after all, it's been almost 40 years! Although memory fails, I'm happy to hear someone else loves this poem. Please write again...