Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Broken Fountain - Amy Lowell

Oblong, its jutted ends rounding into circles,
The old sunken basin lies with its flat, marble lip
An inch below the terrace tiles.
Over the stagnant water
Slide reflections:
The blue-green of coned yews;
The purple and red of trailing fuchsias
Dripping out of marble urns;
Bright squares of sky
Ribbed by the wake of a swimming beetle.
Through the blue-bronze water
Wavers the pale uncertainty of a shadow.
An arm flashes through the reflections,
A breast is outlined with leaves.
Outstretched in the quiet water
The statue of a Goddess slumbers.
But when Autumn comes
The beech leaves cover her with a golden counter-pane.

The thing I like most about Imagist poetry is how it merely presents, often in enchanting imagery, a scene, without seeking to add narrative or morality.  Here, as the title implies, lies a broken fountain, sunken from its days of glory, but still exceeding in beauty.

I'm sure we can inject a lot of morality into the scene if we wish, almost like Shelley's "Ozymandias" in which all man-made works one day turn to dust, reclaimed by nature, but I don't see any judgment in these lines.  The ruins of the fountain are beautiful, with the fountain and Goddess statue within lying enchanting, enhanced by "bright squares of sky" and covered with "a golden counter-pane."

I think moralizing the scene would be to do it a disservice.  This is a scene, almost like a panoramic photo that can somehow span seasons.  We see the summer sun reflected in water disturbed only lightly by the passing of a beetle.  The leaves lie softly, outlining the sunken statue, covering it enticingly, inviting us to look about the scene.  The fountain's ragged edges end in smooth marble circles, beautiful in its ruin.  I like to think that this is the sort of poem which lets you walk around it.  The scene is so vivid that you can create a picture in your head through which you can take a leisurely mental walk.  See, in your mind's eye the scene described.  Read the poem aloud and let the scene take root in your mind.  It's a wonderful place to be.

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