Posted by: John Looker | 25 November, 2018

Under an Ancient Sky

The music of the spheres? Maybe in our memory
or psyche there linger still small signs and souvenirs.
The passing years bestowed – century by century –
a comforting inheritance: faith soothing fears.

Man or woman – in the night, unquiet, insecure –
we’re visited by creatures from the cave, archetypes
out of the shadows, nightmares or familiar Furies
riding hard. Immured in our small rooms like anchorites

murmuring remembered prayers or mantras, undermining
doubts, we smile, put on lights. Slowly our poise reappears.
The soul or inner ear searches still for those sublime
harmonies of antique times, for music of the spheres.

 

© John Looker 2018

Cynthia Jobin once experimented with this fiendishly complex form and challenged others to have a go. I began writing some lines but didn’t complete them. Others of her WordPress friends did better and posted poems. Now, two years after her death, I’ve tinkered with my earlier draft and here’s the result.

The form, Cynthia explained to bemused followers, was an Irish Droigneach (pronounced, she told us, dray-ee-nock). Each line comprises nine to thirteen syllables, ending in a trisyllabic word (I cheated a bit here). Alternate lines should rhyme and there are at least two cross-rhymes in each couplet. There is alliteration in each line, especially between the final word and the preceding stressed word. There may be any number of quatrains but the poem should end by repeating the syllable, word, or line with which it began. 

There has to be good reason for writing in a form as punitively exacting as this. Don’t try it! 


Responses

  1. Ah, I wrote one of these John, but it took me forever. Still, I loved working out what is, as you say, fiendishly difficult mechanics. Cynthia and I talked about doing this form over the Internet before we both launched into it. She introduced me to this particular Celtic form. At the time Nick Moore, Cynthia, and I were experimenting with different sonnet forms when the Irish Droigneach came up.
    You did better than I did with my effort here. You managed to end with the same phrase or word. I got everything right but that. I have to go back to the form and try again one of these days. I hate to ignore the command in your last sentence.
    This poem is wonderful too. It seems entirely appropriate, visiting the idea of the music of the spheres. The idea is an ancient one of course, which underlies the sense of the poem, the medieval idea of proportion in the movements of the sun, moon, and stars.
    I think you’re right too, our inner self listens for this ancient music, hearing from inside the cave of our fears and insecurities. The challenge is to find our poise while still listening and feeling the proportion that arises out of celestial movements, feeling, of course, the mystery and immenseness of the universe.
    What I miss about Cynthia most is her willingness to challenge the limits of form while writing such magnificent poetry. She had the ability to make the nearly impossible seem almost classic in its directness and power. I will owe you for Song of Paper for the rest of my life, you and Deborah Bennison.
    I just love to see this from you. Bravo! Bravo!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you Tom – it’s nice to hear from you, and good to be reminded of the links you and Nick and others enjoyed with Cynthia. And as you say, she had a most ingenious talent for rising to the challenge of poetic forms. I’m glad you find the use of the form appropriate in my poem here – thank you. The musicality of it gave me ‘music’ as the starting point and led on from there.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. It has long fascinated me how poetry spans the vast distance between uncompromisingly rigid form and no form at all. An allegory for life, no?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I like that suggestion Yonason – yes!

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  3. Complex John,but excellent nevertheless.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have had my dreadful attempts at this form all over my desk since Cynthia’s poem appeared. Well done on yours, John. It works!

    Liked by 2 people

    • The hidden ingredients are black coffee and aspirin, Bruce!

      Liked by 3 people

    • Bruce, the secret is to dedicate a couple of days to the effort and then cross out most of the lines you write. I loved doing this, but didn’t do as well as either Cynthia or John.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I really like the alliteration of ‘unquiet’ & ‘insecure’ – stressed syllables beginning with same sound emphasizes rhyme of meanings.
    But in the next to the last line you have only alliteration for the ‘s’ in sublime, which gives an unnatural emphasis to an unstessed syllable.
    Overall I like the sound of the poem. “spheres … souvenirs” ++
    The Kandinskian “soul or inner ear” is fresh & one of the rare non-sarcastic uses of ‘soul’ that doesn’t disturb me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are right about the weak alliteration in the penultimate line and you’ve prompted me to rethink it. If I can improve the line I shall edit it. Thank you for your frankness – I appreciate your close reading and helpful criticism.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I came across this form many, many years ago and never knew its name. I must have missed Cynthia’s explanation and challenge (before I found her blog perhaps). I have never attempted this and am in awe at your achievement. Each re-reading brings more detail and delight – surely one of the great plusses about using complex forms.

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    • That’s very kind of you Hilary. I wouldn’t usually start by choosing a form and then trying to employ it (substance before form I say!) but this was an exception. I found that the multiplicity of rules forced me to scour the lexicon for words that would comply, and that almost drove the meaning. Quite a tussle!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I have to have a go at this.
    It would be interesting to merge this with the Villanelle to make it even stricter. Maybe it’d be best to have only one repeated line at the end of each quatrain, which would trouble you with a single trisyllabic word you’d have to find 3 other rhymes for. But I suppose a Villanelle in the quatrain rather than in terza rima, would provide some buoyancy.
    It would however give you your final line(s), of course.

    I think creating new verse forms is something I have to consider. I haven’t done it, more focusing on my motifs & tones. But I have been doing this years. When I am back in England with my Princeton Encyclopaedia of Poetry & Poetics, I will be doing a bit of this.

    & a fine effort John. If I were you I’d have kept at trying to make the trisyllables work, as the best rhyme pairing has to be “archetypes” & “anchorites” not only working at the sonic level, but performing exquisitely at the functioning level too. Are we anchored by archetypes, you bet we are.

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    • Thanks for joining in the discussion Daniel. You have certainly grasped the technical problems posed by the form. I have just heard a politician on the radio describe something as ‘challenging’, then the interviewer interpreting that as ‘impossible’. I think the combination of droigneach and villanelle might be ‘challenging’! 😄 That aside, I like your concluding remark about being anchored by archetypes – very astute! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • Check my blog this weekend as I will post my droigneach. I have it written, but I need to tamp & tame what I have. It is looking pretty good I think, but can’t hurt to sit on it till the weekend. I’d really like to know your thoughts on it, so check in this weekend. I will post something short on my process, including the original message by Cynthia, which I dug out the internet.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I will. And I think it’s rather pleasing that in the process we are all remembering Cynthia around the second anniversary of her death.

          Liked by 2 people

          • She seems to have been popular & influential. I have followed the blog she kept & will read through in time & may when I am back in England attempt to get my hands on one of her books.

            Liked by 2 people

  8. As you say, this is a fiendish form. Kudos for even diving into it let alone pulling off a piece so well written!

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  9. Sometimes I think that constraining your words to fit a specified format can drive you to do something quite unexpected, perhaps out of your comfort zone – a good idea – but this is a particularly tricky one to attempt! I always struggle with rhyme, so I admire those who can find rhymes that are subtle, like these. Perhaps the reason for this form is that it reads aloud so beautifully – if you haven’t tried that yet, do!

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    • Hello Kalila, and thank you. I believe this form is originally Gaelic, not a language I speak, and I wonder whether there are more rhyming opportunities in Gaelic. Certainly when you try to work out a droigneach you quickly discover the intense musicality of the form.
      I hope we may find new poems from you in the near future btw.

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  10. Hi John,

    I can’t help smiling over Cynthia’s challenge, the humour in it, and the way it teases us still. I’m sure you must have felt her presence somehow as you sipped black coffee in your struggle to complete ‘Under an Ancient Sky’. Sure she’d have approved your poem too as a worthy droigneach voicing our primitive wonder at the cosmos.

    Think I’ll stick to writing haibuns though!

    My very best,

    Paul

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    • Thanks Paul. How right you are about Cynthia’s humour and yes I certainly had her presence in mind as I laboured to meet her challenge! Nice to hear from you!

      Liked by 2 people

  11. A real tour de force! It’s not a form I’d come across before.

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    • Thanks Stephen. I would not normally start out by selecting a poetic form and seeing what could be done with it – that’s back to front – but as you see there were particular reasons on this occasion.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. John, I’m sure Cynthia would be smiling and nodding her head in approval of your poem. (A form I would never even attempt.) As Tom says, “Bravo!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would like to think so, Betty. Thank you!

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  13. I loved your offering here, John, sort of in honor of our dear Cynthia! Thank you for your friendship and your words.

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    • Hello Julie. It was thinking about the anniversary of Cynthia’s death that took me back to the early draft of this poem so it was posted in memory of Cynthia.

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  14. Joyeuse fête de fin d’année 2018
    Peace and Free 2019 to all
    and to you
    Merci

    Liked by 1 person

    • Merci beaucoup et joyeux Noël à vous! I look forward to seeing more of your posts in 2019. Amitiés, John

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I’m glad you ‘tinkered’, because I like your poem a lot, John. And I also wouldn’t call it tinkering when one must write creatively in such an exacting form!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. This is wonderful, John, as always. And I still remember my own drawn-out contests with this pitiless form; it was a long tinme ago now, and I blush to confess I’ve felt no great yearning to return to the field of battle. But I’m extremely glad you did, and prevailed so magnificently: an inspiring and impressive piece. N.

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