Friday, October 27, 2006

Samurai Song by Robert Pinsky

I’m drawn to the speaker’s relentless spirit here, and drawn to how the poem echoes and enhances that spirit. Just as the speaker evokes discipline, the poem embodies discipline on the part of the poet. It features three-line stanzas (tercets) with near-identical line lengths, and is written almost entirely in a “when…then” structure. The poet keeps the reigns tight on this poem. Additionally, the poem’s undecorated language (no strong, specific images) echoes a lifestyle that’s sparse and focused on absolutes.

Monotony is a big risk with a poem like this, considering the repetitive “when…then…” structure. Think about how redundant the poem would get if all of it were organized like the second stanza, with each line containing a complete “when…then…” thought. To combat this, Pinsky uses line breaks to keep the reader off-balance.



Samurai Song
By Robert Pinksy

When I had no roof I made
Audacity my roof. When I had
No supper my eyes dined.

When I had no eyes I listened.
When I had no ears I thought.
When I had no thought I waited.

When I had no father I made
Care my father. When I had
No mother I embraced order.

When I had no friend I made
Quiet my friend. When I had no
Enemy I opposed my body.

When I had no temple I made
My voice my temple. I have
No priest, my tongue is my choir.

When I have no means fortune
Is my means. When I have
Nothing, death will be my fortune.

Need is my tactic, detachment
Is my strategy. When I had
No lover I courted sleep.



Robert Pinsky was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, in 1940. He is the author of six books of poetry and is currently the poetry editor of the weekly Internet magazine Slate. Pinsky teaches in the graduate writing program at Boston University, and in 1997 was named the United States Poet Laureate

22 Comments:

Blogger Bax said...

When I had *no* ears?
I admit it, I spent two years as a copy editor.
;-)

2:38 PM  
Blogger LumenJax said...

When I had no time
To read poems I made
Circles my poems.

2:48 PM  
Blogger You said...

Got it bax. Thanks!

3:16 PM  
Blogger Bax said...

Lundberg, I love this poem--I'm so glad you posted it--I didn't know it until now! I put it on the wall in my office and read it often. It makes me think a bit of Simone Weil (she's my girl!) and her looking-not-eating. (She had a conversion to Christianity but decided to remain unbaptized, unable to receive Communion. She had this whole "looking, not eating" thing that reminds me of the second and third lines of the poem.)

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Pinsky came to my school and read lots of his poems to us. One of the poems was the Samurai Song. This is a great poem

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