Poetry: George Meredith

Meredith is best known as the author of such novels as The Ordeal of Richard Feverel and The Egoist, but he was also, at his best, a fine poet.  Unfortunately, much of his poetry is more like fiction in verse.

Dirge in the Woods
A wind sways the pines,
         And below
Not a breath of wild air;
Still as the mosses that glow
On the flooring and over the lines
Of the roots here and there.
The pine-tree drops its dead;
They are quiet, as under the sea.
Overhead, overhead
Rushes life in a race,
As the clouds the clouds chase;
         And we go,
And we drop like the fruits of the tree,
         Even we,
         Even so.
Lucifer in Starlight
On a starred night Prince Lucifer uprose.
Tired of his dark dominion swung the fiend
Above the rolling ball in cloud part screened,
Where sinners hugged their spectre of repose.
Poor prey to his hot fit of pride were those.
And now upon his western wing he leaned,
Now his huge bulk o'er Afric's sands careened,
Now the black planet shadowed Arctic snows.
Soaring through wider zones that pricked his scars
With memory of the old revolt from Awe,
He reached a middle height, and at the stars,
Which are the brain of heaven, he looked, and sank.
Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank,
The army of unalterable law.

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

2 Responses

  1. Vince Cornell says:

    Delightful although not very cheery. I really liked the “as the clouds the clouds chase” – is there a reason for the odd structuring of the lines in the first poem? Is it just for fun? Does it follow any kind of established construct? There doesn’t seem to be a pattern, at least in the first several lines, of syllables/beats per line – or am I wrong? I read it like this:

    A wind sways the pines,
    And below not a breath of wild air;

    Is that correct?

  2. Thomas Fleming says:

    I suppose it is what the English would call a “Pindarick ode,” which derives from an old misunderstanding that Pindar wrote in verses unfettered by the usual rules, when, in fact, he wrote in very complex forms. English odes have rhyme but the lines are uneven. This formless form was popular in the late 17th century and was kept alive by the Romantics, e.g. Keats and Shelley. Here, Meredith is eating his cake and having it, by imitating the ode but using it with a sort of conversational rhythm.