Place and Setting in Poetry
As writers of poetry, I believe we have the opportunity to allow readers to travel places they have never been, to revisit places that are familiar or to share experiences they may never have, thus evoking memories or heightening awareness.
Today, I’d like to consider how we, as poets (or writers of prose) use setting or a sense of place as a poetic device:
• Setting as CHARACTER:
There are a number of examples in fiction in which a setting assumes the importance of a character. A few that come to mind for me include Thornfield Manor in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the two mansions in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, the California Central Valley in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath, the Monterey Peninsula in his novel Cannery Row, and the Long Island Sound in F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
In the world of poetry, Dylan Thomas gives us a glimpse of himself as a child in his poem Fern Hill, in which he describes his childhood visits to his Aunt Annie’s farm in Carmarthenshire:
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.
And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.
All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.
And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.
And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
Dylan Thomas, 1945
Setting as MOOD or ATMOSPHERE:
Setting can also be a means of creating atmosphere. In this regard, it helps me to consider the visual art of cinema. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Steven King’s The Shining both feature isolated locations, contrasts of light and darkness, as well as weather, to create a sense of eeriness, even horror. Compare these to the movie Under the Tuscan Skies in which sunshine and vineyards, a crumbling (then restored) villa, and sweeping countryside set the scene for a story of independence, love and freedom.
In the world of poetry, the Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova, created an atmosphere of grief and hopelessness in her poem, Requiem, which recounts the years of Yezhov’s terror when she spent each day in prison lines in Leningrad with hundreds of other women, all of whom awaited news of loved ones who were political prisoners. There was never a response from prison officials, only the notification of an execution or condemnation to a labor camp in Siberia. Here’s a short excerpt of that poem’s dedication:
Mountains bend before that grief,
The great river does not stream,
But the bolts of jails are heavy and strong,
And behind them there are “dungeon holes”,
Deadly sadness and mortal pain.
Tender breezes blow for someone else;
Someone else is pampered by gentle sunset;
We know nothing; we are the same…
Excerpt “Requiem” 1957
Setting as CULTURE
Poetry about place can also give a glimpse into the culture of a particular place or take us back in time to another era.
John McCrae’s poem In Flander’s Field transports us to burial grounds of WWI soldiers who were killed in action, while Carl Sandburg’s Chicago offers a detailed glimpse into the city of Chicago and its personality in the early 1920’s.
Setting as an IMMERSION IN NATURE
So many poems gift us with an escape into the world of nature. Consider a just few of these poets: Kipling, Frost, Wordsworth, Wittman, Millay, Hopkins, Lowell, Kenyon, Basho…the list goes on an on. If this were a book and we weren’t anxious to get on with the prompt, I would love to share more examples.
Your Setting TOOL KIT
A number of the tools we already turn to are especially relevant in creating a sense of place. Here are just a few of them:
- Awareness of detail: use the five senses
- Turn to simile and metaphor
- That oft-repeated adage: Show, don’t tell
- Incorporate cadence, rhythm, sound
For today’s prompt, I invite you to write a poem that focuses of one of the roles that setting plays in Poetry: setting as a character, setting that creates a mood, a sense of place that highlights the culture of a country or people or epoch, setting as an escape into nature. Other ideas include place as a story or a projection into the future and setting as a travelogue. Take us somewhere new, if you please.
Many of us write with a great awareness of place. For this week, I challenge you to come up with something new if you have the time. If not, we welcome whatever you choose to share.
• Write your poem;
• Post it on your website or blog;
• Access Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post and add your name and the direct URL of your post as indicated;
• Come back to the pub and visit the works of your fellow pub-crawlers, especially those who have taken the time to comment on your work.
• Have fun.
Here’s an idea: take a few moments to add links to some of your favorite place poems by well-known authors in the comment section of this post. And how about inviting another poet-blogger who may not be familiar with dVerse to join us at the Pub?!
For dVerse Poet’s Pub Meeting the Bar, I’m Victoria C. Slotto.
On a personal note, I’d like to invite you to an on-line book launch for my novel, Winter is Past that will take place July 8th and 9th on my Facebook Author Page (Victoria C. Slotto, Author) and Website. Several randomly selected participants will have a chance to win either a signed print copy or e-book 100%-off coupon for the novel. I hope you’ll be able to make it and ask you to spread the word to your followers and fellow bloggers. Thank you.
Photo Credits: To the best of my knowledge all photos are my property, in the public domain or available for free use via Wikipedia. No copyright infringement is intended and any image will be removed if requested. vcs