Seven Days of Valentines: Poem “Song for Autumn #2”

R-20101022-0077
The Ill-Assorted Couple, Albrecht Durer, 1495/1496, via the National Gallery of Art, open access

Today is Day Seven of my “Seven Days of Valentines” series on The Flummoxed, my first series for this site. It has been a blast! And I am ending on a selection I consider the best of the seven poems I used for this series.

Of course, it’s yet another poem I wrote for my wife! Are you getting tired of those? I hope not, because, as I said, I really do think this is the best one I have posted yet!

I wrote “Song for Autumn #2” as a present for my wife, much like the first “Song for Autumn,” but this one was for her birthday, although I must admit I did let it slip and showed it to her a few weeks early.

“Song for Autumn #2” began life as a poem adaptation of Bob Dylan’s track “Wedding Song” from his album Planet Waves with The Band. This is definitely one of Dylan’s lesser songs. I’m not going on the record saying it’s underrated, because I don’t think it’s great, but I’ve always enjoyed the song a lot, maybe because the composition, lyrics, and recording sound like a rough draft, like we got to see the song’s process stopped halfway. I also had planned to learn this song and play it for my wife right after we got married, but I chickened out and didn’t do it. That’s another reason I wanted to adapt the song into a poem and present it to her.

Even if “Song for Autumn #2” began life as an adaptation, it turned into something much different. Here is the experimental form I created for the poem:

  1. Five lines of blank verse.
  2. Fifty-seven lines of free verse, thirteen to sixteen syllables each line, originally written in free verse then converted to iambic meter, then converted back to a more natural-to-speech iambic meter that is iambic meter only in a way stretched in my mind to be iambic but not necessarily in reality iambic, again, leaning more toward natural-to-speech words and phrases. In this way I hoped to achieve free verse that feels vaguely iambic and thereby, hopefully, congealed, smooth, and melodic.
  3. A couplet of free verse with twelve words per line.
  4. Five more lines of blank verse.
  5. The poem itself is divided up into six parts, which, by the way, almost convinced me to instead call it “Songs for Autumn,” though I decided, in the end, to frame it as a sequel to “Song for Autumn” instead.

The fifty-seven free verse lines are based, in their rhythm, on “Wedding Song,” and many of the lines have a thematic basis in the lyrics of “Wedding Song” as well. Also, I added in references to Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116” and the traditional American folk song “If I Lose.”

“Song for Autumn #2”
By Ethan McGuire

1

When I was young, I dreamed beneath the stars
of finding one to realize my love,
which I found floating through the wisps of smoke
of fire kindling up inside my soul,
the sparks from which were fed by growing thought.

2

I knew I had to know everything of you when we met;
your laughter, it filled up my soul and warmed my heart like wine.
Our conversation knew no bounds nor drought throughout its plains;
we’d talk for hours and hours on end then do it all again.
I loved to come and intertwine my heart and mind with yours.
You introduced both light and depth into my existence.

I was a rough folk singer in ill-chosen Western shirts
with metal snaps for buttons, and they barely matched my style,
and my old Martin clacked against them, distractingly.
My lyrics meant the world to me, yes, but I sang them poorly.
Yet you, oh, you were Stevie Ray Vaughan, you’re talent great and rare,
spontaneous and skilled, full of raw vigor yet relaxed.

3

We wed upon the beach, bare feet in ivory sands.
While emerald water lapped the shores and we stood hand in hand,
I gazed into your crying eyes, your tears they flowed for joy.
I spake my promise there to you, and you spoke yours to me.
Our spirits met and embraced, while winds blew softly in
out from the sea with tender touch and bound our hands together,
together bound our lives in fact, the wind which God had sent
across the space, across the time, apparently for us;
and as our families leapt and offered praises to our ears,
we turned and pushed off in the Gulf to sail our age together.
I smelled the salt within the air there, and it thrilled my blood.

Now I am on deck, observing you with intent, contemplative.
I wonder what you’re thinking when you smile with your eyes,
but when I ask, you flash a grin and chuckle like a stream,
“Maybe I’m thinking of the sea or freedoms of the birds.”
I wrap my arms around you, tight, and kiss your auburn hair,
no closer to the puzzle of your personality.
The only thing that I can do as clouds pass ever by
(as rain and sun pace day by day, pace intermittently,
as waves against our vessel lull us to sleep or wake us yet,
as time passes but we notice not, wrapped in loving looks)
is explain how you make me feel and how you make me think.

4

Love is not love at all if it demands any changes
at the simple observation of an imperfection.
Love stares into the storm, faces it, bracing yet not retreating.
We two are one mind, one body, connection without obstruction,
and when obstructions rise, we strive together to demolish them.
We must both stand steadfastly, and we do. Grasping hands,
we turn our eyes up to the stars which God provided to our love
for navigational purposes as we seek island respites
for temporary vacations from open oceans churning.

Here we appreciate the stars, despite our own forgetfulness,
and though we travel back and forth within the stream of time —
and within that stream we see each other age, de-age, and age;
aesthetic beauty coming, going, coming, going;
one moment in my memory you’re young, the next you’re wrinkled fair —
we worry not, our love untouched, nor usually our lust,
for it has never been the simple cells of skin we love.
I love you more each day, far more than time can take away.

I love you more than money I can earn at any port
’round singing songs, or selling lyrics, or even mending nets.
I love you more than all the stars toward which we steer our ship at night.
If I don’t make another dime and clouds blot out the sky,
I am content to wrap my arms around you, fearless,
sailing the unknown, no matter the cost. Let madness melt my mind.

5

I love you more than myself, alone that will forever please me.
I love you more than love itself, you are enough for me.

6

And now I sleep beneath the yellow moon —
your breathing, sighing body here by me;
your head upon my chest; fingers entwine —
for ever since you came into my life,
the circle is complete. You are my Eve.

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