Thoughts On Rexroth

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Thoughts On Rexroth’s Prosody Essay, Research Paper Bradford Morrow Rexroth’s art works by a technique of self-effacement. His diction and line appear to be effortless, organic, inevitable, without seam. The lack of ostentation he ascribes to his pietistic background finds as its formal companion this straightforward prosody. Still, to dissect and describe how his line, ostensibly so simple on the surface, actually works would be as difficult to do as explain Williams’ variable foot: and Rexroth’s was surely a less self-consciously developed art. The longer, philosophical poems operate quite successfully within the same set of technical values as the shorter, lyrical poems. It is at least in part a function of Rexroth’s anti-elitist politics that be never veers too

far from a polished colloquial syntax–that of an experienced, unaffected, worldly man speaking. One is conducted through the seemingly spontaneous rhythms toward meaning. Like Blake, Whitman, and Lawrence, such formal directness of language functions in perfect symmetry with an embracing, mystical philosophy which thrusts the manners of that language out and away, almost into palpability. Consider the variety of cadence and verbal tone in the opening lines of "Floating": Our canoe idles in the idling current Of the tree and vine and rush enclosed Backwater of a torpid midwestern stream; Revolves slowly, and lodges in the glutted Waterlilies. We are tired of paddling. All afternoon we have climbed the weak current, Up dim meanders, through woods and pastures, Past

muddy fords where the strong smell of cattle Lay thick across the water; singing the songs Of perfect, habitual motion; ski songs, Nightherding songs, songs of the capstan walk, The levee, and the roll of the voyageurs. For all its rhythmic diversity the lines do not vary beyond nine to eleven syllables (two thirds of the passage is comprised of hendecasyllables); there are four or five stresses per line, mostly four. Yet by unstrained employment of different punctuation, enjambment, and variable balancing of syllabic stresses Rexroth invokes in the reader an actual physical feeling, the sensation of being in this idle canoe, buffeted by irregular, lazy currents, exhausted but alert. It is a remarkable achievement of form, and is carried off with effortless sanguinity. The final

four lines constitute such a balance of differing weights–the second line triadic, the third of almost equal proportions mounted on the fulcrum of that comma and balanced out from the middle by the repeated "songs, songs"–they can be compared to a Calder mobile. Similarly line-breaks are commonly intensified in Rexroth’s work by intuitively perfect serializations of the various parts of speech: California rolls into Sleepy summer, and the air Is full of the bitter sweet Smoke of the grass fires burning On the San Francisco hills. We see in the terminal positions of these opening lines of "Delia"–each of which has exactly seven syllables–movement from preposition to noun to adjective (though at first appearance "sweet" reads curiously like a

substantive, until the eye moves back to the beginning of the next line and reads "smoke"–making "sweet" adjectival) to gerundial verb to noun. Thus the various points of stress, as one moves down through the lines of the single sentence, are here accomplished less by sheer rhythm than the grammatical expectations felt in each end-word, and the consequent "weight" intuited by the reader in those words. None of these effects is possible, of course, in a verse that suppresses linear syntax. It is for this reason, as much as any other, that Rexroth abandoned the asyntactical techniques (cubist in origin) of the "half decade of foreboding—1927-1932," most of which were published in The Art of Worldly Wisdom in 1949. Although he proposed