Autumn Aubades

Mike Keith
Jan 2006

 

 

The five poems below are all anagrams of each other, formed from the same set of 624 letters. There is also a secondary constraint which influences their construction; this is described in detail below, after the poems.
 

Autumn Aubades

[1]

On a grey country road they stand
discussing trifles
under nineteen flimsy branches
of a scrawny birch,
impotently loitering.

You louse! says one with sarcasm.
Performers? Ah! says old Estrago, commenting
on personal spite unmasked,
unfit piety, and retrograde fears.

Twilight:
lowly mankind in his decline,
Theater of Unsettling Dreams,
cachet and cliche both the worse for wear:
impoverished stranger and homeless sojourner,
frail chaser of exotic things,
always deceived beneath the ultimate metaphor of truth.

Might we think? they wonder aloud.
Lamentation's voice arises,
bleating loud its olden song
of the Short Way.

Flame-parched, haunted and worthless, they retreat,
to escape from His vicious abandon,
to tumble toward the knife-edge pain.

Ils ne bougent pas.

[2]

What if you, mindlessly raking silt and pasture
Suddenly hear a verse of your Mother's song wafted on the wind,
Catch her glimmering eye, still bed-cased but achingly glad?
  And if you don't?
  Accept. Pretend.

What if summertime whims melt to reason,
Syllogisms or nation-favoring themes leave wholly,
And loneliness, her immovable censor, besets no more?
  And if not?
  Accept. Pretend.

What if executioners forsake shadowy obligations to Islam and tyranny,
Heroics' adherents courageously use idealism, the chosen guide-arm,
Therewith finely rooted-on but enclosed in honor?
  And if not?
  Accept. Pretend.

What if a feather-whitish light jarring the sky
Turns out to be harmless? (Not an aggressor's weapon: rather,
The outbreak of peace, or the star Sirius.)
  And if it isn't?
  Accept. Pretend.

[3]

Grass seeds lying in permanent crags coyly open,
Cormorants sweep amid leafy lotus rings;
  A boy wakes

Long afternoons, summer trees up in the forest;
Concentric bands spring and spread
  from sunflower heart

Dusk on the path: mystic firefly dances and glitters;
A man's silhouette, eerie color-sprinkled hand,
  blood in the mouth

Handwritten embrace, worst thoughts, tedium within;
Lines on the highway, motels, restaurants:
  Itinerant veracity

Moody soul in exotic cafe wants a change of clothes;
Nation where truth hourly defers to might:
  Impoverished paradise

Migration by day urges on new idea, to leave fate its usual injury;
The ice comes hard on his heel -
  A new shipwreck

Behold, floating aft, a dead lobster.
Irony-defiant, he endeavors to the last
  (Come, belated flight)

[4]

As lyrics from a half-remembered tune
Go meaningless travails and transient times
Into the thin fall air, and past the moon,
Discharged by cosmic-luck-appeasing rhymes.
Confronted by its ever-rude display,
Constrained by anguished moonlight, plague and tears,
We curse at fate, who, scuttling away,
Extorted thrills from twice-forgotten years.
Forestalling one's inhuman tone stripped fast,
We clothe our voice in Psyche's heartache-song.
Raise wine to wealth, to coarse unbridled youth,
A maiden's oath and new-found memory.
Unthinking when we olden precepts lost,
Years hardened as the bitter Irish silt,
Transforming plan to heart of woe embossed,
Securely on its core, with knighthood's guilt.
  At eve I think of our most-blessÚd end:
  A joyful heart, a cheery home, a friend.

[5]

With cruel ordinates and weary abscissas,
  like a monologue of pent-up thought,
His fractured, immoving cube-world
  determines habit, tensely prefacing tragedy with
  anthems to the faithless man
(disenchanted as he is modern),
  a cool theory-poem of litanies more dense than ethereal.

Upon his child-like brow sits plainly
  one thought yet not formed:
Old exits and new entrances, forming and dissolving,
  their automated thrum steady and stochastic.
Projectors paint lines (so angular, bleak)
  on the bulkheads of reality,
  everywhere empty images with cryptic intent,
  foreshadowed fury of...who?

Tangerine light rays,
  slice of dawn once seen eternal,
  wages of absurd hysteria,
Overt drudgery strains after noble thoughts
  of places, corners, laminations.

Nascentes Morimur.


In addition to being an anagram, each poem also contains instructions for constructing a simple cartoon relating to its theme.  The rules for building each cartoon are as follows:

(1) Cartoons are composed of lines, human figures, and speech bubbles placed on a 20x20 coordinate plane with (0,0) in the lower left.

(2) The "value" of a word is defined as the letter sum of the word (with A=1, B=2, etc.) modulo 20 (i.e., the remainder when the letter sum is divided by 20).

(3) A ten-letter word means to draw a line.  The values of the next four words immediately following the 10-letter word represent four numbers (x1, y1, x2, y2) and signify that the line goes from the point (x1,y1) to the point (x2,y2).

(4) A twelve-letter word denotes a figure/speech-bubble pair.  The value of the next word (the one after the 12-letter word) gives the X position at which to place the figure (the Y position is always 0), and the evenness or oddness of the last letter in that word (using A=1, B=2, etc.) says whether to face the figure left (if odd) or right (if even).  For the contents of the speech bubble, begin with the first letter of the next word (i.e., the second word after the 12-letter word).  Take that letter, the 7th letter after it in the text, the 7th letter after that, and so on.

For example, in the final poem the sequence

determines habit tensely prefacing tragedy

starts with a 10-letter word and thus represents a line.  Taking the letter sum mod 20 of the other four words gives

(determines) 0 0 19 0

So this represents a line from (0,0) to (19,0) - namely, a horizontal line at the bottom of the frame. 

The 12-letter word foreshadowed indicates a figure.  The following word (fury) has value 10, so the figure is located at X=10; the last letter of fury, Y, is odd, so the figure faces left.  Taking every 7th letter of the succeeding text gives the contents of the speech bubble ("Only one way out"):

of...who? Tangerine light rays, slice of dawn once seen eternal,
wages of absurd hysteria, Overt drudgery strains...

Here are the poems again with the resulting cartoon shown next to its corresponding poem.  Each 10-letter word (beginning a five-word line sequence) is shown in blue, each 12-letter word (beginning a sequence of words for a figure and speech bubble) in purple, and all the "data words" and speech-bubble letters are shown in red.

[1]

On a grey country road they stand
discussing trifles
under nineteen flimsy
branches
of a scrawny birch,
impotently loitering.

You louse! says one with sarcasm.
Performers? Ah! says old Estrago, commenting
on personal spite unmasked,
unfit piety, and retrograde fears.

Twilight:
lowly mankind in his decline,
Theater of Unsettling Dreams,
cachet and cliche
both the worse for wear:
impoverished stranger and homeless sojourner,
frail chaser of exotic things,
always deceived beneath the ultimate metaphor of truth.

Might we think? they wonder aloud.
Lamentation's voice arises,
bleating loud its olden song
of the Short Way.

Flame-parched, haunted and worthless, they retreat
to escape from His vicious abandon,
to tumble toward the knife-edge pain.

Ils ne bougent pas.

[2]

What if you, mindlessly raking silt and pasture
Suddenly hear a verse of your Mother's song wafted on the wind,
Catch her glimmering eye, still bed-cased but achingly glad?
  And if you don't?
  Accept. Pretend.

What if summertime whims melt to reason,
Syllogisms or nation-favoring themes leave wholly,
And loneliness, her immovable censor, besets no more?
  And if not?
  Accept. Pretend.

What if executioners forsake shadowy obligations to Islam and tyranny,
Heroics' adherents courageously use idealism, the chosen guide-arm,
Therewith finely rooted-on but enclosed in honor?
  And if not?
  Accept. Pretend.

What if a feather-whitish light jarring the sky
Turns out to be harmless? (Not an aggressor's weapon: rather,
The outbreak
of peace, or the star Sirius.)
  And if it isn't?
  Accept. Pretend.

[3]

Grass seeds lying in permanent crags coyly open,
Cormorants sweep amid leafy lotus rings;
  A boy wakes

Long afternoons, summer trees up in the forest;
Concentric bands spring and spread
  from sunflower heart

Dusk on the path: mystic firefly dances and glitters;
A man's silhouette, eerie color-sprinkled hand,
  blood in the mouth

Handwritten embrace, worst thoughts, tedium within;
Lines on the highway, motels, restaurants:
  Itinerant veracity

Moody soul in exotic cafe wants a change of clothes;
Nation where truth hourly defers to might:
  Impoverished paradise

M
igration by day urges on new idea, to leave fate its usual injury;
The ice comes hard on his heel -
  A new shipwreck

Behold, floating aft, a dead lobster.
Irony-defiant, he endeavors to the last
  (Come, belated flight)

[4]

As lyrics from a half-remembered tune
Go meaningless travails
and transient times
Into the thin fall air, and past the moon,
Discharged by cosmic-luck-appeasing rhymes.
Confronted by its ever-rude display,
Constrained by anguished moonlight, plague and tears,
We curse at fate, who, scuttling away,
Extorted thrills from twice-forgotten years.
Forestalling one's inhuman tone stripped fast,
We clothe our voice in Psyche's heartache-song.
Raise wine to wealth, to coarse unbridled youth,
A maiden's oath and new-found memory.
Unthinking
when we olden precepts lost,
Years hardened as the bitter Irish silt,
Transforming plan to heart of woe embossed,
Securely on its core, with knighthood's guilt.
  At eve I think of our most-blessÚd end:
  A joyful heart, a cheery home, a friend.

[5]

With cruel ordinates and weary abscissas,
  like a monologue of pent-up thought,
His fractured, immoving cube-world
  determines habit, tensely prefacing tragedy with
  anthems to the faithless man
(disenchanted as he is modern),
  a cool theory-poem of litanies more dense than ethereal.

Upon his child-like brow sits plainly
  one thought yet not formed:
Old exits and new entrances, forming and dissolving,
  their automated thrum steady and stochastic.
Projectors paint lines (so angular, bleak)
  on the bulkheads of reality,
  everywhere empty images with cryptic intent,
  foreshadowed fury of...who?

Tangerine light rays,
  slice of dawn once seen eternal,
  wages of absurd hysteria,
Overt drudgery strains after noble thoughts
  of places, corners, laminations.

Nascentes Morimur.