Monday, April 04, 2011

Poetic genre: Aubade


For National Poetry Month, I am writing and sharing samples from different poetic forms and genres. I like putting myself inside new walls to find something new in the world, and in myself.

Today's choice is the aubade, which is a love song of the morning. (A serenade is an evening love song.) An aubade could be welcoming the morning, or lamenting it, as when lovers part. There are no rules of form; it's a genre for a theme and is not a structure.

A perfectly gorgeous aubade was written by Philip Larkin. It's rather hard to say if it is an aubade to life, or to death. The text is here. His deep and lovely reading of it is here. If you do not especially enjoy reading poetry, do try listening to it. When you hear his voice, rich and clear, you understand that poetry is meant to be heard.

I am posting a beautiful aubade love song by Kenneth Patchen, a poet who also wrote poems about unbeautiful things (like murder, which I've linked below his photo at the bottom of the post). My poem has elements of both a love song and a lament, on the order of Larkin's, about a thought that has haunted me: that our children at conception and birth are given no choice about what we might assume is "the gift" of life.

L'enfant Malade, by Eugène Anatole Carrière


What have we done, my love, in the sigh of night
when heat from our bodies pressed
the window’s black—
an oil lamp, an irresistible yellow thumb of fire?
Our skin like wings of moths, beating
to get inside the damp. We begin a new life, fluttering
in the dark bean of my belly.

Our desire begets our desire:
A child, first flight into the family tree,
bouncing, bobbing on the boughs of glee.

But what of her desire? She grants
no permission for this heaviest coat
at the highest height.
We’ll push her out, to fly!
She’ll wake up in the gray room of dawn, and fight—
with a wail for milk, and then she will sleep,
and get up to strive again, soon enough
with the sound of coins dropping
into the well of work and wishes.

She will crave what makes her live,
yearning even for the human race,
her skin beating, like ours,
hot in the last sigh of night.
Then like me she will walk out in dawn’s silver-gray,
following the jay’s howl from the woods,
turning at a pine, as I do now,
to stumble onto a scatter of blue feathers
torn by a hawk, and feel her life.

Listen to a podcast of my poem here.

 Woman Leaning on a Table, 1893, Eugène Anatole Carrière

And here is the aubade love song by Kenneth Patchen.

As We Are So Wonderfully Done with Each Other
by Kenneth Patchen

As we are so wonderfully done with each other
We can walk into our separate sleep
On floors of music where the milkwhite cloak of childhood lies

O my lady, my fairest dear, my sweetest, loveliest one
Your lips have splashed my dull house with the speech of flowers
My hands are hallowed where they touched over your
soft curving.

It is good to be weary from that brilliant work
It is being God to feel your breathing under me

A waterglass on the bureau fills with morning . . .
Don’t let anyone in to wake us.

~ from The Collected Poems of Kenneth Patchen, copyright © 1942 by Kenneth Patchen.

Booker Ervin (1930-1970), left,
tenor saxophone player, with
Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972), poet;
Patchen often read his poems
accompanied by jazz;
Listen to one here.
Listen to Booker Ervin
play "Stolen Moments" here.
Moments stolen in the morning
are the best, in my opinion.


Susan said...

Oh. My. That first stanza is probably the most sensual and erotic piece of poetry I have ever read. The poem is one of your best. Ever. I do believe you have mastered the form, my dear. Brava!

A Cuban In London said...

You know what really caught me from the word go in Patchen's poem? His subtlety. 'wonderfully done with each other', 'Your lips have splashed my dull house with the speech of flowers' and 'It is good to be weary from that brilliant wor' (did sexual exhaustion ever sound so romantic and yet so sensual at the same time?)

Many thanks for this brilliant post. Aubade, from the French 'aube' (similar to our Spanish 'alba', actually) is one of the lesser-known poetic forms. It's great of you to raise awareness of it. I'm off to read that Patchen's piece again. It's sublime.

Greetings from London.

A Cuban In London said...

'work', I meant 'work'. Sorry. :-)

Greetings from London.

Stratoz said...

thanks for introducing me to something new this morning. Listening to Stolen Moments as I respond. Have you got a sestina up your sleeve?

deb colarossi said...

I've read your work only for now....
Ruth you are leaving me more and more wordless, breathless ,
and yet inspired and wanting and alive.

I am not qualified to give any sort of advice or take or anything but my own response, my desire to return here again and again and be moved and touched and empowered and awed.

My comments will never be anything less than genuine , but never more than my frame of reference or schooling or studying...

what I lack in contribution to the discussions , I humbly offer in the gratitude that my stolen moments are more often than not made better by you.

deb colarossi said...

as a small aside, I used to voice that very thing for the longest time.... I didn't ask to be born.

Margaret said...

Your poem is so smooth, so flowing from the soul. I've been working with structured poems for practice, but this style really is my favorite. I love the end - the feathers littering the ground... such danger out there - but that is a part of life. From beginning to end, I am mesmerized...

Pauline said...

etherees, aubades - who knew? I will spend the day with poetry batting around in my head. This was an inspirational post - thanks!

Brendan said...

What makes your aubade so special is that it embraces so much more than the lover, so often the single focus of love poetry. You expand the horizon to include the child of this union, who has a strange, special critique of the island of two:

But what of her desire? She grants
no permission for this heaviest coat
at the highest height. ...

She'll have her own history of love, backgrounded, for better and ill, by this first-light, origin-poem's awareness. Finding love there, and its real possibility of smash-up. A wide mother's heart singing here. - Brendan

erin said...

oh my god, ruth, i have to stop at your poem and hold you. that is all. hold you and your daughter and we will have hands full of feathers knowing there is no more to do. an incredibly beautiful poem. and already, with this first one, you teach me so much. to think there can be a style without form? see? i'd never have known.


Arti said...

You know I love all these, Ruth... your posts are poetry. But all the more inspiring as I read the poems here and your baby poem/photos. Now aubade is a good image. When my son was a teenager, he had a piano teacher who played in a chamber group with the name Aubade. Just points to the synch. of nature and beauty found in the creative arts, be it in words or music.

Friko said...

beautiful, all of it.

ds said...

Sometimes when confronted with pure beauty, one can only bow. I bow.

aubade a love song to the morning--the "last sigh of night"
(I bow again.)

Barb said...

I've never heard of aubade before, so besides enjoying your poetry, I've learned something new. The progression from birth to death in your poem was striking - the abruptness of death (and the awareness of it) made me think.

Miss Jane said...

This embraces a wide circle from the wonderful description of the light against the dark, and the conception and birth of a child, who comes to the same place as you at the pine, a witness to a death. Wow.

Vagabonde said...

I saw the word Aubade on your post and thought you were writing in French. I went to Google translate to see how aubade translates into English and it does not. Strange. Aubade comes from the word “aube” which translates into the word “dawn.” As you said an “aubade” in French is usually a musical piece played under the window of a lover, early in the morning. It is also a poem depicting the separation of lovers, at dawn. It is full of romanticism and love. Your poem is very nice. But I have to stop as I think a tornado is coming close. I need to shut down my laptop. No romance, plain reality.

Terresa said...

"an irresistible yellow thumb of fire" - Oh, Ruth, what a poet's voice you have here! Also in the last two lines - of the blue feathers, torn by a hawk, feeling her life.

This is beautiful, what an introduction to a soaring month of poetry!

Ruth said...

Thank you, dear Susie. Don't know what else to say.

Ruth said...

A Cuban in London, I do love Patchen's restraint in this poem, and all that is implied in that wonderful line you quoted about that brilliant work. I really appreciate the spontaneity in Patchen's writing. Thank you for your good comment.

Ruth said...

Stratoz, perhaps you will now create a stained glass sun called Aubade . . .

Sestina? I don't know if I have the mental capacity for it at the moment. :-) Maybe it will come easier once the writing begins. I wonder why you ask . . . ?

Ruth said...

Deb, what more could I possibly want?

Ruth said...

Thank you, Margaret. Funny you say that about the form (or lack of it) of this poem. I had tried it in more structured stanzas, and I didn't like it that way at all. I'm amazed at how shape matters very much. The visual affects how I read it, and how I feel about it.

Ruth said...

Pauline, thanks so much, I am gratified that you found inspiration here today.

Ruth said...

Brendan, thanks a bunch. As I mentioned to you at your place, your recent posts have had an impact on this place I find myself in for writing. I am swimming in the sea of childbirth and what it means for the future of my own children. Your posts about Angie have met me right in that sea. Sometimes I wonder at our courage to have children. But it is an irresistible instinct for most of us.

Ruth said...

Erin, that is the best response. What else can we do, but hold each other in this life? I hold you back, with our kids in the middle in spirit.

Ruth said...

Arti, truly poetry is song. I, too, love the connection between musical genres and poetic ones. Thank you for your kindness, my friend.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Friko.

Stratoz said...

stained glass Aubade... now you got me thinking.

as for the sestina... back in the day Mosaic Woman was a poet and was given the assignment to write one (MFA student at the time). If I remember correctly she was the only member of the class to get one down on paper.

Marcie said...

Always something new to learn when I come here. Absolutely beautifully written poetry. I'm speechless!

Lynda Lehmann said...

An enlightening post and a truly readable and inspiring poem!

I've been here to your blog only a few times but so far, I've been amazed and humbled, as well, by your amazing poetic voice.

freefalling said...

That's a beautiful painting, Ruth (Woman Leaning on a Table).
I've never seen it before.

"bouncing, bobbing on the boughs of glee" - I like this thought.

I can't listen to you read your poems - I find it too confronting.
I put it off for ages and then I listened to one about 2 months ago.
It touches this really sad, hidden part of me.
One day...

Ruth said...

ds, bless you.

(I bow to you.)

Ruth said...

Barb, thanks for your response to my poem and the aubade form. I think even just the word aubade is very beautiful, not to speak of morning . . .

Ruth said...

Miss Jane, I'm so grateful for your kind and thoughtful comment. Thank you. Have a beautiful day.

Ruth said...

Vagabonde, oh such a fright, the tornado! I hope there was no damage by you. We saw in the news last night that some perished and great damage was done.

I am glad there is no equivalent word in English for aubade. I would not use it if there were, for I believe it could not be as beautiful.

Ruth said...

Thanks so much, Terresa. It's a treat to share this special month with you.

Ruth said...

Stratoz, see? Sestinas are daunting! Good for the Mosaic Woman, she rose to the challenge.

I'll watch for a stained glass aubade, in good time.

Ruth said...

Marcie, you are kind, thank you.

Ruth said...

Lynda, well I am humbled by your dear comment. Thank you so much.

Ruth said...

Letty, isn't that painting so lovely? What a technique, just mesmerizing.

About you not being able to listen to me read my poems, I receive that with your tender heart, and I protect the sad, hidden part of you. xoxo

Jeanie said...

First, because I am catching up and reading backwards, I didn't realize it was National Poetry Month. I don't know a good deal about poetry -- I am going to learn a lot!

Of all the poems I've read on your blog, the one you wrote here I, I think, my favorite. What an evocative and eloquent story of a life beginning.

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

A very powerful poem, Ruth. Though I know it is surely the product of much work, on reading it (and hearing it) I get the sense it came to you whole, as is, in that instant when you "stumble onto a scatter of blue feathers" torn by the hawk. In that screamingly clear transcendent moment you seemingly anticipate the coming moment when your daughter will feel her life.

There is so much wonderful imagery here, lile the yellow thumb of the oil lamp's flame, but what most impresses me is the recurring use of bird and flight-associated images throughout — from the wings and fluttering in the first stanza, to the "bouncing, bobbing on the boughs of glee" in the second; the third stanza has fly and flight; and then the last brings the howling denouement of the jay ripped apart by the hawk. From the gleeful bouncing on the bough, to the scatter of feathers (in the ground;)) — a harrowing end, yet at the same time a new beginning (just as the night's last sigh brings the dawn); sated, the hawk lives on, the child comes to feel her life. What will she make of it? A gift? A crime? Both?

That moment when you stumble on the feathers and realize all of this is truly a stop-time moment.

And what can I say about Oliver Nelson's 'Stolen Moments"? One of my all-time favorite songs. I have always associated it with a dedicatory quote I read at the beginning of a book at a used bookstore some 30 years ago. I can remember neither the author of the quote, nor the book it prefaced. But I have never forgotten the words: "moments stolen from the wings of fleeting time".

I think your poem has accomplished that same kind of winged time larceny.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, how warm and good I feel, that you think this is your favorite poem of mine. These have been intense days of living in this beginning of life stuff. I don't know where it's coming from, but I'm just letting it be. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Dear Lorenzo, I am listening to "Stolen Moments" as I write this. It is one of my all time favorite songs too, and I've known it such a short time. It is a baby favorite, born of my new-found love of jazz.

When I found the connection between the aubade, Patchen and "Stolen Moments" it was at the peak of intense feeling in this poem-movement. I was overwhelmed on the weekend away just before writing this, with this thought that our children are not given a choice to be born. How selfishly we come together as couples. Irresistibly we are drawn to one another. The life cycle begins, and this child who will be born has to find her own grace to face the challenges that lie ahead, in the constraints and cycles of time, yes, so fleeting.

Then I listen to the music, and I know that there is no way to stop this cycle of life. We are drawn into love that in no way can be denied — for our partners, our children, for all the world that lies before us in communion and community. We know there will be pain, and we trust that our love will keep on redeeming us.

Thank you, once again, for a close reading of my poem, one more instance when it seems to be reborn through your eyes, ears and words.