How Did I Miss This?
I didn’t watch the inauguration, I only read Joe’s speech. So that’s how I mercifully missed the poem of one Amanda Gorman, America’s first “Youth Poet Laureate.” Egad, it’s bad! It’s a free verse composition called “Over This Hill” – I think. The CNN article that provided the text forgot to provide the title!
Free verse poems don’t have regular meter, so their first advantage that leaps to mind is that they must be easier to write. You don’t have to worry about meter nor rhyme!! But in practice free verse poems are exceedingly difficult to write well. You’ve got to have an ear for melody and pattern, even if they aren’t regularly imposed you’ve still got to employ poetic and rhetorical elements.
Here’s a side-by-side of Gorman’s “Over This Hill” and Walt Whitman’s “This Compost”.
You can tell how badly in trouble Gorman is right off the bat. “When day comes we ask ourselves / where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” umm, from the sun? The day just came, the light finds us. Okay, perhaps that’s a trick and disjoint image to keep in mind strategically! But no. It’s just one in a long stream of disjoint things that follow, discordantly. Even though the title is about climbing a hill, a hill appears only in one line of the thing and randomly. She could have picked any other line. It could have been titled Wading a Sea, or seriously pick any other line.
Bad Free Verse!
Good Free Verse!
I withdraw from the still woods I loved,
I will not go now on the pastures to walk,
I will not strip the clothes from my body to meet my lover the sea,
I will not touch my flesh to the earth as to other flesh to renew me.
O how can it be that the ground itself does not sicken?
How can you be alive you growths of spring?
How can you furnish health you blood of herbs, roots, orchards, grain?
Are they not continually putting distemper’d corpses within you?
Is not every continent work’d over and over with sour dead?
Where have you disposed of their carcasses?
Those drunkards and gluttons of so many generations?
Where have you drawn off all the foul liquid and meat?
I do not see any of it upon you to-day, or perhaps I am deceiv’d,
I will run a furrow with my plough, I will press my spade through the sod and turn it up underneath,
I am sure I shall expose some of the foul meat.
Behold this compost! behold it well!
Perhaps every mite has once form’d part of a sick person—yet behold!
The grass of spring covers the prairies,
The bean bursts noiselessly through the mould in the garden,
The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward,
The apple-buds cluster together on the apple-branches,
The resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage out of its graves,
The tinge awakes over the willow-tree and the mulberry-tree,
The he-birds carol mornings and evenings while the she-birds sit on their nests,
The young of poultry break through the hatch’d eggs,
The new-born of animals appear, the calf is dropt from the cow, the colt from the mare,
Out of its little hill faithfully rise the potato’s dark green leaves,
Out of its hill rises the yellow maize-stalk, the lilacs bloom in the dooryards,
The summer growth is innocent and disdainful above all those strata of sour dead.
That the winds are really not infectious,
That this is no cheat, this transparent green-wash of the sea which is so amorous after me,
That it is safe to allow it to lick my naked body all over with its tongues,
That it will not endanger me with the fevers that have deposited themselves in it,
That all is clean forever and forever,
That the cool drink from the well tastes so good,
That blackberries are so flavorous and juicy,
That the fruits of the apple-orchard and the orange-orchard, that melons, grapes, peaches, plums, will
none of them poison me,
That when I recline on the grass I do not catch any disease,
Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what was once a catching disease.
Now I am terrified at the Earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless successions of diseas’d corpses,
It distills such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
It renews with such unwitting looks its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.