Saturday, August 20, 2011

In Honor of Wallace Stevens, A Poem - "At the Battle of Yorktown"

Cornwallis surrenders at Yorktown. Painting by John Trumbull (1820)
My wife Kathleen is planning a trip to Yorktown, Virginia, to research a travel article for the San Antonio Express-News. I used to live in that area and enjoyed jogging around the Yorktown battlefield. About 30 years ago, the monument celebrated the 200th anniversary of the battle. The newspaper hosted a competition for poets to write about the battle. I submitted the poem below, and they selected it as the first place entry.

The poem was inspired by Wallace Stevens' "Domination of Black," a great poem that uses language to create hypnotic rhythms, a demonstration of poetic art you don't see very often these days. So with a respectful nod to Stevens, here is "At the Battle of Yorktown" (1981)...

By day, by the York,
The colors of spent trees
And of the falling leaves
Repeating themselves,
Dying across the field,
Waving in the wind.
Yes. And the color of old ranks
Came striding.
And I remembered the crack of the flintlocks.

The colors of the ranks
Blended with the leaves themselves,
Turning in the wind,
In the sunlit wind.
They swept over the the field,
Moving as rows and ranks
Toward walls of earth.
I thought I heard them crack - the flintlocks.
Was it a crack for the sunlight
Or for the leaves themselves,
Turning in the wind,
Turning as flames
Turn in fire,
Turning as the rows of flintlocks
Turned toward the burning earth,
Echoing the steps of the ranks,
Beating with the cracking of the flintlocks?
Or was it for the heartbeat of our ranks?

Across the field
I saw humanity gathered
Like the leaves themselves,
Moving in the wind.
Then I saw how the sun moved,
Burned over the colors of the ranks,
Far above the flashing of the flintlocks.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .

1 comment:

Sarcastic Bastard said...

That poem is gorgeous. Lucky Kathleen--what a great assignment.

Love to you both,