The Hearkening Eye
Hildegarde Flanner had lived in what she called the “Western Earth” for fifty years when this collection was published in 1979. She began writing in the nineteen twenties and states in her introduction, “It was not necessary to go to Paris to write poetry.” Her verse is replete with the cadences and landscape of the West. Flanner’s poetry has both urban and contemporary themes, but its main emphasis lies with Earth—cicadas, valley weeds, sassafras and Judas trees. Flanner’s imagery takes the reader beyond the surface of description. Her rhymes take a closer view that nudges the reader into the realm of the metaphysical.
The full text of Hildegarde Flanner’s The Hearkening Eye is stored at Albertson Library at Boise State University, and can be downloaded here. You may also purchase a copy of the book.
Eve of Elegy
The last cicada prays for love
This bright November night,
Singing alone to his own song
The quavering gospel of delight
With which he late persuaded
The delicate mob of pearly kin,
The music-shaken mystics
Who tremoloed to him.
Sing on, you widowed melody,
With sweet obsessed voice
A music that should mourn its dead
(Where pathos dangles on the twig),
But stutters with hope and joy instead.
Sing on, so solitaire, so wed.
One listener will praise
The blameless errors of your ways,
Since music at this hour of night
Love that has no meeting,
Faith that has no choice,
Copyright © 1979 by Hildegarde Flanner
The author statement below is taken from the preface of the book, written as a letter to the Ahsahta Press editors.
I have been writing poetry for more than fifty years. In half a century I should have accomplished, in all ways, more than I have. But I have at least shed some of the wrong reasons for writing, those exhilarating, tempting runs of imagery and lyrical impulse in which the mind of a young poet was caught like a charmed fish in a stream. Yet altogether, it was a good time in which to begin to be conscious, back there in the Twenties. It was not necessary to go to Paris in order to want to write poetry. For me, at least, it was necessary only to be aware of visible things against which there was no rebellion. The seen world of growing things, for instance, was a tremendous stimulus, it was not yet known to he endangered. Nor were, as yet, the most famous and coercive poetic influences of our time strong enough to shame the young poet out of his own shy sense of art. Our Father in Hopkins was not one to do that.
From romantic abstractions, possibly effective of their kind, but windy and regal, I moved eventually toward a smaller, stronger focus, perhaps on similar themes, but the closer view could then be labeled as nudging the metaphysical, and hence more acceptable. The worm's eye view, the pebble's eye view, not forgetting God's eye view, you understand, for my earlier poetry contains religious writing which I miss now, since it was an ardent expression of my youth. There is no substitute for faith, gentlemen, certainly not the cold assurance that, along with comets, satellites, and the trampled moon, we have some place in the universe. Still, I could hope for my poems that if the split between faith and unfaith is not quite clean it leaves no litter around, no false exaltedness of emotional refuse to orbit overhead or underfoot.
Here I must pause and say, with some nervousness, that to extract the poems of nature from the rest of my verse is not easy, and if accomplished, much reduces the area to which these comments maybe sensibly applied, or from which evidence may be gathered. However, a little scrutiny, as I have hinted, may turn up an identifiable and pervading—dare I say style?—which might be observed as a singleness in pursuit of several meanings. (There! I have chased the doe out of the orchard but the fawn got left behind.)
SInce the form of these poems tends to be lyrical and a lyric is, if tied down for definition, a typographic entity. I am sorry that these poems are not more adventuresomely, inventively, and oddly lyrical. I admire the idiosyncrasy of any reliable fresh and peculiar form and find it lacking here, although I detect nothing stale or chosenly reminiscent (Many experiments in form and rhythm lie in my desk.) Chiefly what a poet starts with is amorphous, however potent. It must be concentrated, even made solid although pliant, given a good shake to slough off what is trailing loose, and surely gotten off the ground, not with hot air. God forbid and not (at its peril) with wings. but with a glad, c!ose-to-sickening lift within itself. The mechanism of this lift is a lyrical mechanism. If my poetry fails to suggest, even faintly, these interesting problems of the written and the-about-to-be-written word, neither any one else nor I ought to be talking about it, for it would not deserve such close and gabby consideration as it is being given.
My poetry has urban and contemporary concerns but its main emphasis does lie with earth. With earch and love. However, the few poems of love collected here are present because of their environment. For fifty years I have lived close to the western earth and the most life for my poetry is drawn from that source or recognizably related. The promise of earth and the fate of earth, stated or unstated, are at the centre of these poems. If they have any strength it is honest because it is the strength of stone unadorned or adorned only by dry lichen, and if they have music it is what fell into them listening to the wind and waiting on the rain. A mystical sense of identity with the earth is implicit here in observation and in pleasure of details rather than in preachment or invocation. A mystical sense of identity seems to me utterly important whether one is writing of the Pacific Ocean or an empty tin cup. Identity is for the poet what knowledge is for the scientist.
Some of these poems are early or, more exactly, hark back to my childhood, as "Letter to an Old Home." May I say I am partial to this one? It is close to the experience it deals with, it takes hold of it and does not let go or so I believe. Since it is usual for one commenting to pick out a poem here or there, let me continue. May I recommend "On a Hill" to the reader? A sturdy poem full of the western day. Also "Smith Brothers' Lumber Shed," which by a severe listener will be found given to guile. I like it. Then finally to mention a recent poem, "Moon Poem," which begins with the moon as I often see it, rising just beyond the woods very close to my home. In this poem something strange happened, something frightening, in fact, for the clear light of the moon turned into the light of dread that illuminates mankind in our time. I had not foreseen that this would occur where for many years I had watched the one beautiful sight, a white radiance rising through André's black trees. In conclusion may I suggest that it is permitted to the cicada to mourn and rejoice at the same time in "Eve of Elegy," but the poem itself tries to make a choice.