Sunday, December 7, 2014
Poem of the Day: "Gallows Song" by James Frederick William Rowe
The Songs of Eretz Poetry Review Poem of the Day for December 7, 2014 is "Gallows Song" by James Frederick William Rowe. Mr. Rowe was the subject of the July 2014 (Volume 1, Issue 7) Songs of Eretz Poetry E-zine special featured poet issue, where additional poems by this poet and his biography may be found http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/p/e-zine_4.html.
Necessity - the bitter lie!
"It was not I!"
For all I've done
You shall not hear me cry
Ever has my will been free
Never once trapped in duress
Nor have I once been compelled
In my failure or success
All those things you've said I've done
I've done and far more besides
Believe me not? Then cut me
Up and check my black insides
There is honesty in gore
The viscera never lie
I've no stomach to regale
Tales when the gallows draws nigh
I'll foul myself soon enough
So no lies shall foul my tongue
Fitting for stealing horses
That I'll end my life in dung
But now: My requested meal
The last kindness of my life
A sly thought: I'll cheat the noose
With this sharp and straight steak knife
How amusing it would be
But ingratitude is black
And I'll be damned to be known
For an utter lack of tact
Besides, this meat needs eating
And this liquor must be quaffed
And when the plate was empty
I raised high my cup and laughed:
All my sins have come to pass
And the chickens home to roost
So I toast my due desserts
With this glass of green Chartreuse
And then I'll hang
The tightening rope shall be my song
And there is no music in those notes
Poet’s Notes: I enjoy writing about characters and settings of by-gone years. Thus, it suited my taste to write a poem about a man hanging for an anachronistic crime that is no longer a capital offense. "Gallows Song" stemmed from an initial inspiration that offered me only the first and penultimate stanzas. Composing the rest required pulling my muse by the hair. Several revisions were required. All in all, it was a tedious write, but one that produced a poem of which I am quite proud.
Throughout the poem, the condemned appears resigned to his fate with a sort of sardonic stoicism, as well as a candor borne from out his impending death. The speaker in this poem has no reason to flatter others. This is crucially important to the aesthetics of the poem--I think any other tone would not have worked.
"Gallows Song" opens with a stanza that deviates from the predominant second-line rhymed quatrain format of most of the poem. I think that creative decision set the poem off on the right foot, giving it a musical quality that drops into a nice rhythm once the quatrains are introduced.
The final stanza breaks both the rhyme scheme and the quatrain format in order, as the stanza states, to reflect the distinctly unmusical sound of the tightening rope--I can think of few things less musical than a hanging. The abrupt dissonance of this last stanza speaks both to that, as well as the fact that the speaker’s life is being cut short, even as the poem is interrupted by the shift. Thus, the poem ends with a shock not unlike the gallows trap door being released; reminding the reader that it remains a song about an execution and a man's forthcoming death. Accordingly, the final stanza is the most important one of all.
Editor’s Note: One of the most interesting and unique ways that poetry may communicate information is by the form of the poem. The white space may contain more information, more emotion, more of a story than the text. Mr. Rowe’s deliberate omission of the final line of the last stanza is a brilliant example of this technique.