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Tomlinson’s poems not only vividly evoke a world but very often describe our own visible world with an articulacy and precision we associate with science rather than poetry. The relation between the lyric and movement per se, as in Their Voices Rang, becomes more evident in poems that record motion. The poem replicates this motion by modulating between iambic and trochaic feet and maintaining a liveliness and spontaneity through slant rhymes in the middle, end and beginning of a short, 4-beat line. In an interview for The Paris Review magazine, Tomlinson spoke about this kind of line.

“I was embodying Donald Davie’s description of syntax as “articulate energy”—and underscoring it with rhyme and half-rhyme. There is the clarity and constancy of a four-beat line that also records motion and change, and rhyme plays its unexpected part in the reconciliation (frequently to be canceled) of those opposites. But the underlying factor is that of a fluid but lucid line that continually encounters things and then moves on.[1]

There are many poems that can be cited as examples. My choice of The Gossamers is driven by the fact that apart from embodying Tomlinson’s aesthetic of movement, it is also a superb example of how Tomlinson’s idea of perception informs his poetry.

The Gossamers

Autumn. A haze is gold

By definition. This one lit

The thread of gossamers

That webbed across it

Out of shadow and again

Through rocking spaces which the sun

Claimed in the leafage. Now

I saw for what they were

These glitterings in grass, on air,

Of certainties that ride and plot

The currents in their tenuous stride

And, as they flow, must touch

Each blade and, touching, know

Its green resistance. Undefined

The haze of autumn in the mind

Is gold, is glaze[2].

Rhyme, though understated, is crucial to the working of The Gossamers. Note that terminal rhyme is rarer than medial or medial-terminal rhyme. We have ‘lit/it,’ ‘again/sun,’ ‘were/air’ and ‘undefined/mind’ in the first category and ‘autumn/definition,’ ‘thread/webbed,’ ‘which/leafage,’ ‘ride/stride,’ ‘flow/know’ and ‘haze/glaze’ in the second.  The last three pairs, though, must be differentiated, since they are all full, medial-terminal rhymes. Medial rhyme works here as it always does, to quicken the pace of the line, and along with the length of the line is used to control the speed of the poem. Compare, for instance, the choppy beginning (first four lines) and ending (last three lines) of the poem to the relaxed middle (end of line seven to nine), which allows time and breath for the taking in of the realisation without creating loud resonances. End rhyme—which is rare in Tomlinson’s work—here eschewed acquires the meaning of perception being shown as process and not event. The poem suggests the idea that observation does not occur in units of syntax (which leads to enjambment) and seeing is a process: looking at gossamers, or anything for that matter, involves light reflecting from them, reaching our eyes, hitting the retina and triggering nerve impulses that lead to the brain, where they are recognised as gossamers. Similarly, the ‘haze’ outside the mind and the ‘haze’ inside are not simultaneous, and so the end of the line cannot be simultaneous with sound reinforcing sense. The last end rhyme ‘undefined/mind’ becomes a striking exception to this rule. It stands out more definitively than ‘Autumn/definition’ in the assertive beginning or ‘were/air’ in the realisation that occurs in the middle. “The haze of autumn” webbed with gossamers is similar to the mind: it is both seen and seen through, both opaque and transparent, and therefore undefined. The same opaque-transparent quality of the mind means that in the gossamers we see the mind (and the mind is all process) and at the same time we see the gossamers as the mind shows.


[1] Charles Tomlinson, interviewed by Willard Spiegelman, The Art of Poetry No. 78, The Paris Review, 1998.

[2] NCP, pp 99-100.

[3] For my discussion on rhyme, I have used John Lennard’s The Poetry Handbook, second edition (Indian), Oxford University Press, 2005.

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