Like a silent war film…

 bright.jpeg

“No sense of direction”

I have always admired
Those who are sure
Which turning to take,
Who need no guide
Even in war
When thunders shake
The torn terrain,
When battalions of shrill
Stars all desert
And the derelict moon
Goes over the hill:
Eyes chained by the night
They find their way back
As if it were daylight.
Then, on peaceful walks
Over strange wooded ground,
They will find the right track,
Know which of the forks
Will lead to the inn
I would never have found;
For I lack their gift,
Possess almost no
Sense of direction.
And yet I owe
a debt to this lack,
A debt so vast
No reparation
Can ever be made,
For it led me away
From the road I sought
Which would carry me to –
I mistakenly thought –
My true destination:
It made me stray
To this lucky path
That ran like a fuse
And brought me to you

And love’s bright, soundless
Detonation.

Vernon Scannell 

Unable to leave this poem orphaned like some frog specimen in formaldehyde, I had to say something meaningful about it, however simple.

What I like about this poem are 2 things. It’s really a love poem and secondly, the last line is simply electric. And any feature of language that can continue to produce such strong reactions must be worth thinking hard about. Not Love’s feast or joyous abundance but a “bright soundless detonation.” What an expansive, visual line this is! Imagine Vernon Scannell, in his 30’s, awaiting his revelation of love amongst the ruins, though he eventually deserted the British Army in North Africa.

There’s also another thing to note about movement in poetry. I think the right word is cadence. Cadence means the movement of words that lilt, sidestep, flit over and finally settle into something meaningful. Cadence makes room for the theme of displacement in “No Sense of Direction”; It can also make room for interruption and resolution. For example, the middle lines sound laborious and fatigued, the right way lost indeed and the speaker envying those who navigate easily:

They find their way back

As if it were daylight.

   Then, on peaceful walks

Over strange wooded ground,

They will find the right track,

Know which of the forks

Will lead to the inn

But if these lines are fatigued and measured, they do stand in contrast to the breathless, short-winded gasp of the last few:It made me stray/ To this lucky path / That ran like a fuse / And brought me to you”. The lines are cadenced in the way a soldier suddenly realizes a fuse will reach its inevitable destination, and the ending is imaginatively spectacular.
A take-away point then? Cadence not only makes things memorable; it seems to vouch for them. It confirms; it persuades; it is part of the rhetoric of belief, and we readers are brought into a joyous moment of complicity with the speaker.

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