Thursday, February 7, 2019

A Poem for Anna the Prophetess

Last week-end had us celebrate Candlemas (the presentation of Jesus at the Temple) on Feb. 2 and the feast day of Saint Simeon on Feb. 3.  One of my Facebook friends posted "A Song for Simeon," the T. S. Eliot poem that imagines Simeon at the end of life, perhaps having an existential crisis, or maybe just feeling the age of his bones. 

I immediately thought about a companion poem, a song for Anna, the prophetess who is also mentioned in the Presentation at the Temple text in Luke's gospel (Luke 2:  22-38).  But until this morning, I haven't had time to play with this idea.

This morning, I wrote these lines:

In this temple of old bones and white whiskers,
I water the plants and feed the cats.
The work of a prophetess is never done.

Then I stopped, struck by the idea of a villanelle.  I find the villanelle form to be one of the most difficult.  A villanelle needs a first and third line that can be repeated and thus can stand on its own.  The lines need to end in words that can rhyme (if you want to know more, go here).

I made a change to make the rhyming easier:

In this temple of white whiskers and old bones,
I water the plants and feed the cats.
The work of a prophetess is never done.

I wrote out the villanelle structure, leaving blank lines.  I'll come back to it later.  I wanted to write the original poem that I envisioned, without struggling with the villanelle structure.  So, I flipped the page of my legal pad, and I was off and running.

I wrote a poem that juxtaposes the life of men in the temple with the women who are doing the background work:  the sweeping and the cooking, the repairing of the rips, and the tending of the children.  In the last lines, I hope I'm invoking the Advent text from Isaiah:

                       The prophetess
proclaims the good news
with every meal and all the surfaces made straight.

Here's the Isaiah text:

"A voice cries:
'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God."

Just yesterday, I was feeling more alignment with the Simeon of the Eliot poem and the exhaustion that seeps through every line.  I thought I might never write again, although I did record an inspiration in a Facebook post (A week ago, I'd have been about to go with my parents and their group of friends to the Memory Care Center to sing. Today I am getting ready for a day that will consist of mostly meetings. O.K., poet brain, get to work in the background. Perhaps you'll also want to mix in a Revolutionary War battlefield and a ship called the Hermione and maybe you want to think about Harry Potter or maybe that's too much . . .).  

What a delight to actually write a poem this morning.  And now, off to the other work that the day will usher in.

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