Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Responses to Anarchism: the Rhyme of Ravachol Needham

[From P. R. Bennett, Ducdame; a book of verses. 1912.]

The Anarchist

[A critic in the New Age suggests that modern thought can
submit no longer to the tyranny of rhyme and metre.]

Ravachol Needham was a man of letters,
Who refused to submit to the wretched fetters
That sought by rules of rhyme and scansion
To prevent his soaring soul's expansion.

He had languished long on a dismal sonnet
And wasted his eagle spirit on it,
Till the poor old bird had been imprisoned
So long that it grew depressed and wizened,
Drooped its feathers and nearly moulted,
Could stand it no longer — and then revolted.

He rent his regular rhymes asunder
And cried to Heaven in a voice of thunder:
"From now henceforth I intend to go it
As a go-as-I-jolly-well-please prose poet."
He spread his wings as he gaily rose
On the relatively free fresh winds of prose,
And revelled in the rapture of rhymeless reason,
Soaking his soul in the same for a season.

He offered to match his prose style any day
Against such masters as Mr. Bart Kennedy,
And even modelled a few of his speeches
On an English translation of a book of Nietzsche's.
But a man's no better than a servile helot if
He doesn't understand that Freedom's relative,
And Liberty's a man-destroying ogress
If she isn't prepared for continual progress.

He soon discovered that the chains of syntax
Were chafing his mind like a thousand tin-tacks.
So he set to work with tongs and hammer
And freed himself from the gyves of grammar;
He expressed his message with astonishing rapidity;
What he lost in form he gained in fluidity.

But after a time it seemed absurd
To imprison his meaning in a wooden word ;
For what are words, after all, but traps
Set by the tyranny of other chaps, —
Cages from which they refuse to free us,
Ready-made coffins for dead ideas.

So he started on a course of total abstention
From any such cut-and-dried convention,
And poured out his soul in a gorgeous brand —
New language that none could understand.

And that was the way that Ravachol Needham
Attained in the end to perfect freedom.

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