Who might you be otherwise?

“I was reflecting, in the first place,” replied Dantès, “upon the enormous degree of intelligence and ability you must have employed to reach the high perfection to which you have attained. What would you not have accomplished if you had been free?”

[The abbé replies] “Possibly nothing at all; the overflow of my brain would probably, in a state of freedom, have evaporated in a thousand follies; misfortune is needed to bring to light the treasures of the human intellect. Compression is needed to explode gunpowder. Captivity has brought my mental faculties to a focus; and you are well aware that from the collision of clouds electricity is produced—from electricity, lightning, from lightning, illumination.”

– from The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, Vol. 1, Ch. 17, “The Abbé’s Chamber”


True or false?

Writing 201: Poetry, Weekend Potluck

One of my favorite poems, of which there are dozens, is “Beethoven, Opus 111” by Amy Clampitt.

The poem appears in Clampitt’s original anthology, The Kingfisher (Knopf, 1983), and in the posthumous The Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt (Knopf, 1999), which is edited with a foreword by my former poetry professor, Mary Jo Salter, 1997.

In her own “opus” of sorts, Clampitt draws thematic parallels between her father’s farm-bound efforts from her childhood and Beethoven’s compositional work on his opus from Piano Sonata No. 32. The dual spectacle of protagonist passion, fury, frenzy, obstinacy, and the journey of creation/destruction blend with a deeply personal recollection of Clampitt’s father.

Adding her mastery of rhythm, alliteration, internal rhyme, and other sonic devices to unusual word choice, varied allusions, startling use of enjambment coupled with thematic transitions, and circumnavigating phrasal refrains, Clampitt pays tribute to Beethoven’s musical form and artistry while presenting her own.

Prefaced by a quotation from Osip Mandelstam on which the poem builds, and spanning a total of 117 relatively short but densely packed lines, the piece merits reading and re-reading and reading about. In response to coming to view the work as a slice of poetic genius, I have added the poem’s first published home, The Kingfisher, to my Goodreads to-read list.

My first introduction to Clampitt and “Beethoven, Opus 111” came in college with my 4th edition copy of The Norton Anthology of Poetry, also co-edited by Salter, who used it in at least one of my poetry courses, as I recall.

Other, more well-known and beloved poems of Amy Clampitt’s featured there include “Beach Glass” and “The Sun Underfoot Among the Sundews.” As I am a bird lover, her avian poems “The Cormorant in Its Element” and “Syrinx” delight me just as much as the other two, but “Beethoven,” as usual, wins top prize–so far.