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Poem for the End of the Century

Scott Reid


Now, with vowels flung down
the river of language,
we write to one another
as we leave the second half
of the second millennium.

We celebrate the alphabet,
our old mare,
who has carried us here,
who stands beside us
on the riverbank, with reed pen
and clay tablet, with painted figure
and chiseled stone, (where perhaps
the serif began as a stroke
chipped in to finish the main stroke).

Now, as we fling ourselves
or are flung to the next era of language,
we look back on words we have written,
don our priestly robes or sackcloth,
and to that workhorse of ideas,
we wish a happy birthday.

7 September 96
Copyright © by Scott Reid

I really liked the poem,but it could have said so much more.The alphabet is the basis of language. I think to write a poem that loosely touches on this without adopting a traditionalist structure to the poem itself, sells the idea and concept cheap.Especially when the point of the poem is that it has lasted ages of man.This statement,i feel,would have been better said by beggining with a rhyme scheme and breaking it down gradually into its current form.Or it could have,as it was a short poem anyway,been worked into a sonnet. on the subject of alphabet poems have a look at this. It's the alphabet and vowels successive:All in there(c)copyright john.s.mclachlan

Act before creating,
don't end forever,
grant hope,
inspect judgement,
killing life must never offer pride,
question rights,
suffer temper,
understand victory,
working xenophobe you're zealous. Appreciate equality is our utopia. (c)copyright john.s.mclachlan
USA - Tue Feb 25 05:34:40 2003
I enjoyed the poem - a paean to the WORD. The metaphor of words as a workhorse for the carrier of ideas was not only original but well carried throughout. And while some decry the advent of the computer as destructive of the WORD it has actually served to revive writing in an age of visual (usually passive) entertainment. Sadly, the word will not survive when voice become the medium for transmitting ideas. I would have wished words eternal life at the end.
gaetana cannavo
manhasset, , ny USA - Sun Feb 4 07:04:16 2001
ahhhhhh.... I love the old grey mare.... I love celebrating and reveling in the oldness of us past fifty. Without these simple drawings, we would not be able to express our finest critiques... our nit picking with words. Great poem,,,,great reason to go into the next century, with the new and the old, stuggling for existance. From one old grey mare to an other, it was lovely this language of ours.....
Rapid City, SD USA - Fri Oct 1 18:51:40 1999
It seems both a celebration of words penned in the past, and all the future words of tomorrow. I lovely poem for poets. Only part I didn't like, was the middle stanza.
Somehow, "our old mare" didn't fit for me. I don't know, what about our "muse" or is that too cliche?
At the end "(where perhaps the serif began a a stroke chipped in to finish the main stroke)" I found the close proximity of the two "strokes" distracting.
Other than these two things, I enjoyed reading this poem. Although I cringe a bit, daring to critique an instructors poetry!
Pt Roberts, WA USA - Wed Jun 9 18:15:11 1999
poem moves nicely through it's paces. i read the poem and the critiques as well and feel that what "i" found the poem's meaning to be is one of continued change. language will continue to grow and change and has progressed in the last 50 years more then any other time in history (in it's written and spoken form) we have seen the birth of new dialects from the ghettos as well as the additions of new cultures. what was once the English language in it's written form ( based on the gregorian alphabet) is now filled with foreign words as well as sounds and phonetics. wonderfully written and i enjoyed it greatly....
richmondhill, ont canada - Mon Nov 23 16:55:20 1998
I like the image of the old mare, but those "with"s -- I think you mean the alphabet necessarily brings the need to write, but "with" sounds like the old mare herself will be doing the writing.
AR USA - Sat Sep 5 08:48:53 1998
Beautiful poem! It reminds me of how much we are hemmed in by language. In the past, language has been molded to fit the ideas of the age and, as we move into a new century and are especially concious of time, how we must continually remold language to accomodate different ideas. The first two lines are enchanting. The last two don't seen consistent with the more sober mood in the rest of the poem.
Camille Curry
Ashland, OR USA - Tue Aug 4 11:36:23 1998
First stanza, last two lines saound great, but grate, how about something like: "leaving this millennium." I somehow can't get an old mare to metamophically represent the alphabet, with her out of the picture, I swing along happily with you, and all the images you represent are themselves, done beautifully. Then, "or are flung" I stumble on, and going on I see "words we have written", and I feel "words written", and then the last two lines, I feel out of cinque. I would change, better find two that wrap it up.
John Durler
Brentwood, NY USA - Sat Aug 1 06:40:15 1998
I agree with whoever asked what the turn of this millennium has to do with celebrating the alphabet, which is thousands of years old.
I would love to see a poem celebrating the alphabet without confusing the issue this way. "we wish a happy birthday" to what? As I mentioned,the alphabet is more than two thousand years old. And changing the millennium in no way implies we are being "flung to the next era of language."
You should also note that Abecedary has only one c! Not a word you can afford to misspell...even if there are some we can let slide, sometimes.
USA - Sat Jul 18 19:34:30 1998
I am curious how old is the English alphabet. I'm terribly uneducated--is this why you specified the "second half of the second millennium"? also, "don" I think is overused. But really, a fine draft and great title!
Beth Stemple
Mystic, CT USA - Mon Jul 13 12:13:08 1998
Scott, how about changing "the river of language"to we sail the river of language. Then you could say, "write to one another/as we leave the second half of" this "millennium". Using "second" dilutes the line, I think. Then the stanza is stronger. Loved the idea of "vowels flung down" . Maybe "the serif began as a stroke" could be changed to "the serif began as a mark/chipped in to finish the main stroke)". But don't change the rest of it, although I am not too sure of what you mean by "don our priestly robes or sackcloth", the line seems to make sense. I enjoyed the idea of paying homage to the alphabet.
Barbara Ehrentreu
Bedford Hills, NY USA - Sun May 24 23:18:43 1998
Why would an arbitrary measure of time (the new millennium) mark the birthday of language? Like much of the rest of this poem, that line gave me the impression there wasn't any real thought given to this poem by the writer.
Chattanooga, TN USA - Mon Apr 6 19:29:14 1998
Scott, I like your poem and the nostalgia pervading it. Recently i've heard, at a poetry conference, that language is consumed, nothing new words can convey. I totally disagree. We have to learn, ridiscover, the meaning of words, just like little children, and make them fresh, alive for emotions which can't be forgotten. Paula
Paula Grenside
ODERZO, ITALY - Sun Apr 5 00:28:49 1998
Hi Scott, I liked the flow of this poem a lot, but it came across - to little old me - more as an old man musing than a celebration. I can almost picture him stroking his beard. And if that was the strived-for imagery, than it succeeded well. While we fling ourselves about, the old mare keeps plodding on? I guess I would have preferred a war-horse. Best, Josh.
Kitchener, ON Canada - Tue May 27 19:37:11 1997
Scott, I am at once completely captured and enchanted by the intimacy of Abeccedary. Immediately and not least by the title - a child's first syllabub made entirely of newly acquired alphabet pieces topped with a froth of sweet cream. And why not "intimacy"? It is, after all, a little gift you offer to your reader, a burnished tool that has been worn smooth and supple through many seasons of use by its master. This, the alphabet, which you lift from your workbench and remove from its leather case to offer for our inspection. How could we not be enchanted, when you put it directly into our hands and invite us to feel its curves and turnings and warmth and power; to test with our fingertips the razor-sharp edge of its scalpel blade, and to grasp its endless utility in our palms. Most of all, why would we not wish to be captured by such a personal gesture to examine this most wondrous of implements on your workbench, when you offer it as teacher as well as poet? And examine, we will. For you not only coax us to remove our own hands from our pockets and take this, this language maker, in our own palms, but to comment upon its employment as we measure the difference of your years-rubbed furrows upon its handle against the awkward span of our own palms.

You fling the opening at us (after the sleepy lullaby of title) like a gauntlet, the rushing power of language itself set before us all at once. "Vowels flung down" - not one, not personal, but a whole box of 'em into the mighty task - no time to think, no time to wade - write! But the last two lines of that burst of strength open a huge expanse of waterway - "the second half/of the second millennium." I comes to me a bit abrupt, flattens the effect - the early entry - a little to quickly - or else, does not seize hold of the millennia as fully as the latency of its power might imply. The repetition, 'second half...second millennium' stretches it out, makes us reflect. Perhaps this is good - language can do that in the midst of the most torrential events, but i would rather have 'thrown our letters/into the cataract of the third millennium' (maybe I? just a power junkie). Of course, it is 'down' that invokes the necessity of power - otherwise we could just as well be 'flunging' into a stagnant pool - all that power remaining resident within ourselves.

Second stanza, the language demonstrates it pliancy - capacity to overwhelm with power, in one instant, and reach deep for the underlying strength in the next - 'our old mare ' - wonderful way to slow it down, bring its full capacity to service - of course we don't celebrate the awesome power of it in the wild - that celebrates itself - but the mother of language for us - the birther of speech and page - that stands with close utility and reliability to our project. 'Riverbank' the pivotal term, the container, the zone of safety at the edge of that abyss of speech - riverbank where we can also sit and fish or sleep or dream. And then into our own hands - with pen, tablet, history, and origin. The epistome of reed/reid (thanx to the other commented), the personal, the accidental, the serendipitous [as aside ( ); as 'perhaps', as serif] - Our project, our venture, our hand(iwork) - beyond the roar of its awesome charge. I here, would consider 'of reed pen' rather than 'with' - to bind, to even further extend the intimacy, the connection of ourselves to the project; that may then begin to open itself into the larger channel "with painted figure" (strong and personal), "chiseled stone" (stronger, still personal),..., "main stroke" (strongest, impersonal)

...And then we plunge again - ahhh, what words can do - but with our own bodies this time - by volition (like lemmings?) or brute force (a' la' Chomsky) - but not overwhelmed; immediately compelled to tame/to control/to explain - to reflect and survey, reposition ourselves (in denial or lament - priestly or abject), the symbols and transports that make it work - and here the poem shows us some of the most intimate secrets of the workings of language itself - as well as it employs them (the poem as metalogue) - the differance of Derrida that permits us to move through one branch of meaning to another - and, of course, the utility - the service - of mare and letter - the idea of it....

All of which rises up to its full height and power - the apex, the pinnacle of achievement - the project of La Langue, itself - 'Happy Birthday!' - no, 'happy birthday.'

Wonderful. Thank you for putting that incredible device in my hand for a few moments. I'm reminded of that stellar Vonnegut story - of the message sent across the galaxy, of the use of the entirety of human history to deliver that message, of its final flash to the other end of the galaxy and of its ultimate decoded revelation - "hello."

now, can we have some syllabub and ice cream?
red slider
Sacramento, CA USA - Sat Apr 5 13:24:15 1997
Ah! With a breath in a silver wire/ We sing/ We chant/ We play our flute/ No longer the voice/ Tied to the trees/ We reach the ends of the earth/ Just to dance with a stranger/ To die for a moment in his arms/
This old horse has sprouted wings/ Flys across oceans in a moment/ Leaps in the clouds like a comet/ A single touch/ With a million and one fingers/ The heart rears up/
How truly wonderful/ The river flows on/ Swifter and wider than ever/ The dance becoming the song/ The song becoming stone/ The stone rising as a thief/ To steal away the hours/ In a glass filled with quicksand/
And with the coming wind/ The breath upon the line/ Going though the woods in a rush/ We celebrate the birth of mankind/ As he gasps at his own reflection/ Water like glass/ Transparent tongue touching cloth of minds/
Happy Birthday/ I celebrate your poem/ thankx/ R.H. Peat
Auburn, ca USA - Sat Apr 5 02:14:41 1997
What I was going to say the first time is that I like the pun on "reed pen"/"Reid pen"! I think for stupid people like me, you need to tell them to click on "Submit Query" after they write their comment, or else it won't go through.
Robert Thomas
USA - Fri Dec 13 18:13:33 1996
I will try again to send a comment!
Robert Thomas
USA - Fri Dec 13 18:10:00 1996
I always attempt to complete the writing assignments which I ask my of students.
Scott Reid
Healdsburg, CA USA - Sat Oct 5 16:09:43 1996