LYRIC COMPANION Edwin Morgan “The Round”

I’ve never heard a song / like that I’ve never heard // a song like that I’ve never / heard a song like that// was it peace and goodwill / to men or was it peace // to men of good will was it / peace and goodwill to men // it’s a great song if it / was clear it’s a great song // if it was clear it’s a / great song if it was clear // we only sing divi- / dedly we only sing // dividedly we o-/ nly sing dividedly // and yet it is a round / comes out and yet it is // a round comes out and yet / it is a round comes out

POETRY July/August 2020

FRAME OF REFERENCE In this troublesome decade [the Seventies], Morgan would keep up his creative spirits with poems he called songs, giving individual voice to objects and creatures. …songs make sense, somehow, if only sung alone. They are themselves communal occasions of memory or celebration, and the act of singing in chorus can bring both text and singers alive in performance. “The Round” does this, even without a tune, and is a reminder of Morgan’s essentially optimistic approach to life and art, even in time of challenge. “We only sing divi-/ dedly, “ the poet admits, fragmenting the phrase in several ways, and yet, he asserts with increasing confidence “and yet it is //a round comes out.” JAMES MCDONEGAL, Poetry, July/August 2020, 363.

Readers of this column might be scratching their heads reading the editorial by McDonegal given above. It proliferates its own questions with talk about Morgan’s confidence not to mention the giving voice and the solitudes and communal festivities occasioned by singing the poems. One can see where he’s coming from. He got the main issues onto the page.

The poem exhibits keen interest in how lyrics come to be as verbal happenings. It follows, if I may say so, with scrupulous wit, the ins-and-outs of what we call the lyric narrative. It begins with the impact of its original fresh appearance, then slides into the equivocities of the verbal flesh. This section glides into a more dialectical concentration on the “ifs”—and there’s no verdict on clarity. And yet the “yet” of the emerging form establishes the great possibility of the porosity, the flow from occasion to oh-so contested broken wholeness which breaks open the self-divisions into something beyond our capacity of thinking. The round comes out of its own gladsome self-affirmation.

Now let’s try it again and see!

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at tom.develyn@comcast.net. D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at http://tdevelyn.com and other sites.

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