Friday, July 22, 2005
Midnight depths conceal old scar-marked flanks: dread tales incised in flesh,
Legends writ of battles, titans deadly locked to writhe and thresh,
Struggles far from mortal sight and soundless as the dreams of death —
Rising then leviathan again, to worlds of sun and breath,
Lolling, rolling, regal on the swelling wave in lazy sleep,
Dark-eyed Cetus dreams about pursuits nine hundred fathoms deep.
I alike chase phantoms, frightful forms, as restlessly I doze:
Dreamy reveries as thought descends to wear old Neptune's clothes.
Diving down to plumb the depths of torpid mind, where darkness rules,
Combats dire beneath the waves of talk and art — the sea of fools —
Star-crossed I am cursed to seek the ghastly kraken in his lair,
Eight-armed monster, emblem of my darkest fears and dread despair.
Desperate fights in fitful rest, beyond the realm of eye and ear,
Seeking treasured ambergris, a wisdom dark, despite my fear;
Outward naught to see, my skin unscarred, to wake and rise again,
Thorough shaken, as my ken rejoins the sunlit world of men ...
Dims the sun once more upon the wave, and downward drags the night,
Cruelly it commands me keep the awful silence of my plight.
Steel me, fading twilight — drive away these fears! and make me brave:
Downward sink I yet again, to lightless depth and monster's cave.
© 2005 Jeffrey Hull
This poem is ostensibly about bad dreams and the struggle to understand them. It is also a study in style, as when sometime an oil painter might want to try his hand at watercolors.
The meter is an old one, "fifteener." Fifteen syllables per line, consisting of 7 trochaic feet (DUH duh), ending in an extra stressed syllable. It is the meter of one of Tennyson's famous poems, Locksley Hall.
The rhyme scheme is AABBCC ... which is the common form of "heroic couplets" (rhyming lines of iambic pentameter).
The poem additionally refers to the kraken, a mythical beast in Norse mythology and sea lore that was also the subject of one of Tennyson's famous poems.
The long lines and archaic diction (the range of vocabulary used in writing) were specifically chosen to heighten the slow, dreamy character of the poem in accord with its subject matter. The ponderous, long lines suggest the slow rolling of the great sperm whale, resting on the surface after a great struggle with the giant squid half a mile down. The search in dreams for the "ambergris" of insights hidden in dreams, however terrible they might be. The protagonist of the poem is tortured by bad dreams, but struggles to wrest meaning from them - even as he dreads another night of terror.