I have been quiet lately, but surprise, surprise, I have returned to school. I am taking a 17th Century poetry course in which I decided to analyze William Drummond’s “Song (‘Phoebus Arise’)” in terms of style and classical references. Further, I have adapted a poem of my own of the same title, “Song”, to reflect what I have learned from this unit’s readings.
There is much value in studying many forms of poetry when developing your own voice. I found this activity to be very helpful.
First, I love Drummond’s poem. A first reading reveals allusion, rhyme, rich imagery and musicality. These first few lines evoke energy, desire and color, the passion we feel when we are gifted with a new day. Drummond uses mythological references to compare a sunrise to love. In reality, the term sunrise is an over simplification. What Drummond describes is the most beautiful, passionate and glorious sunrise that The Gods could evoke. According to the annotations, “The sun, (‘Phoebus’), is invited to wake the dawn.
And paint the sable skies
With azure, white, and red;
Rouse Memnon’s mother from her Tithon’s bed
That she thy carrier may with roses spread; (5)
Phoebus, or Apollo is, among other things, the god of the sun. Like the sun, the lines paint a royal picture of the God casting roses on a golden chariot. It is an incredible portrayal of color.
Another classical reference is found in lines 24-30
Fair king, who all preserves,
But show thy blushing beams,
And thou two sweeter eyes
Shalt see than those which by Peneus’ streams
Did once thy heart surprise;
Nay, suns, which shine as clear
As thou when two thou did to Rome appear. (30)
This section refers to Daphne’s (The River Peneus was her father) eyes who was Apollo’s first love. If love is an emotion, then first love is the pinnacle of that emotion.
A voice surpassing far Amphion’s lyre,
Your stormy chiding stay;
Let Zephyr only breathe
And with her tresses play,
Kissing sometimes these purple ports of death.
The winds all silent are,
And Phœbus in his chair, (39)
Amphion’s lyre is not only beautiful, but it is the most beautiful. Zephyr, the wind, introduces vulnerability and danger, but Phoebus, the sun emerges as ruler and stronger than all the forces of nature.
I don’t refer to the entire poem, of course. But, I think there is enough here to get an idea of how Drummond responds to classical allusions.
In addition, I took my professor’s suggestion to write a poem that complements my analysis. While I don’t use rhyme, I modeled some of the imagery and color that Drummond used. I won’t compare my work to this classic poet, but it was fun to adapt this poem for this activity.
Ascend my song!
Crude renderings in sleeplessness
Speak softly of purpose.
A richly painted city.
A city I have not seen
Save for lives buried deep
beneath crimson hues and violet smoke.
To find the extreme simply appealing,
the center impossible.
Listen to the song without music.
Can you hear me?
Vibrant, off-center sculptures
stir a dormant soul.
Allow breath to exist without birth.
Send me your words as proof
of your willingness,
of the song, of the colors
and certain of my intricate beauty.
It rains for love lost.
Black clouds break free from storms;
speak openly of drops,
my tiny hands, and things unknown.
Will you love me?
Susan Ward Trestrail
Would you like to try your own?