May 20, 2008

The intensity which I wanted

(Painting by Felix Nussbaum).

I had been bothered by a secret weariness
with meter and regular stanzas
grown a little stale. The smooth lines and rhymes
seemed to me affected, a false stress on words and syllables--
fake flowers
in the streets in which I walked.
And yet I found prose
without the burst of song and sudden dancing--
without the intensity which I wanted.
The brand-new verse some Americans were beginning to write--
after the French "free verse," perhaps,
or the irregular rhythms of Walt Whitman,
the English translations of the Hebrew Bible
and, earlier yet, teh rough verse of the Anglo-Saxons--
seemed to me, when I first read it,
not cut to patterns, however cleverly,
nor poured into ready molds,
but words and phrases flowing as the thought;
to be read just as common speech
but for the stopping at the turn of each line--and
and this like a rest in music or a turn in the dance.
(I found it no criticism that to read such verse as prose
was to have a kind of prose,
for that was not to read it as was written.)
--Charles Reznikoff, "Early History of a Writer"