Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ernest Hemingway’s Poetry

sucks. Where his fiction feeds off of his simple sentence structure and a plethora of verbs, his poetry oscillates between too many and not enough details. “Mitrailliatrice” is considered his best, and the opening three lines are good:

The mills of the gods grind slowly
But this mill
Chatters in mechanical staccato

but the rest of the poem sinks quickly.

“Along with Youth” has some wonderful images and great words, which is unusual for Hemingway, but this poem lacks unity. The chronology is too sparse to hold it together. Reading this one backwards makes it passable though.

What is wrong with his poetry is a senseless sensationalism indicative of his early career, all too obtuse end rhymes, and too much repetition. The words at the end of the lines in “Riparto d’Assalto” are: floor, floor, stiff, sore, whore, whore, whore, ride, side, cold, cold, hides, rides, ride, side, died. There is a lot of internal rhyme in that piece as well. It gets extremely monotonous.

“Montparnasse” is the poem that comes closest to passing muster:

There are never any suicides in the quarter among people one knows
No successful suicides.
A Chinese boy kills himself and is dead.
(they continue to place his mail in the letter rack at the Dome)
A Norwegian boy kills himself and is dead.
(no one knows where the other Norwegian boy has gone)
They find a model dead
alone in bed and very dead.
(it made almost unbearable trouble for the concierge)
Sweet oil, the white of eggs, mustard and water, soap suds
and stomach pumps rescue the people one knows.
Every afternoon the people one knows can be found at the café.

Sure, parts of it are horrible - "They find a model dead / alone in bed and very dead" – but this is better than the rest of them. Trust me. This poem is held together by the three portraits: the Chinese, the Norwegian, and the model. Just for good measure, Hem throws in a failed attempt at the end. The contrast is the only thing that got me here. It was interesting. But most of his poems follow the lack of quality idealized in “The Earnest Liberal’s Lament:”

I know monks masturbate at night,
That pet cats screw,
That some girls bite,
And yet
What can I do
To set things right?

The trite end rhyme, the sensational nature, and the weakness of some lines – “And yet” – make this poem truly, truly horrific.

No comments: