Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Orphic Interval

I am persuaded that inside each interesting poem, there must exist some sort of pause, a deep seated harmonic lull and/or apex of quietness that serves to advance the poetic construction.

I’d like to call this respiro inside a poem an ‘orphic interval’ – for Orpheus, of course, whose lyrical poetry would tame beasts and divert the course of a river.

The proposed interval (or the quietness the precedes the birth of a metaphor) is the necessary step towards launching that frail, yet overpowering ‘hook’ that commits a poem to our memory at first glance.

If only this were true, or could be easily demonstrated, beyond some volatile empirical evidence:

"Even the sun, that more dangerous beast, has begun
his morning prowl in a spirit of negligent generosity,
… as if to say,
‘These are my wares. Yours more or less for the asking.
Of course I accept your paltry currency, your small change
   of days and hours.’"

from A Scattering, by Christopher Reid.

'as if to say' above could be in my view be construed as a proof of such an orphic interval.

“Unhastening, daylight withdraws from us its shapes
Into their central calm. Stone by stone
Your rhetoric is dispersed until the earth
Becomes once more the earth, the leaves
A sharp partition against cooling blue.”

from Farewell to Van Gogh by Charles Tomlinson.

I’d like to propose 'Becomes once more the earth' as this fragment’s orphic interval.

But clearly, I’m skating on thin ice here.

So perhaps it’s time to end this post with a few lines from a poem by Seamus Heaney:

“What are you after? You keep swerving off,
flying blind over ashpits and netting wire;
invited by the brush of a word like peignoir.”

from A Bat on the Road by Seamus Heaney.


Conrad DiDiodato said...


what an interesting idea that of the "harmonic lull" in poetry. What made you think of it?

I'd say the word 'peignoir'is the secret 'breath' in Heaney's verse: perhaps the great poet's way to make reader pause to consider the soleminity of its source in Stevens's poem "Sunday Morning" (where the "Complacencies of the peignoir" line appears)

Irina said...

Hello Conrad:

Thanks for the pointer on Wallace Stephens'poem...very nice.

I've been circling the wagons of the term "orphic interval"/aka "harmonic lull" for some time now. I thought to float it in a blog post ..:o)..

Ed Baker said...

not to stray too far off of your mark:
do you know Jack Gilbert's "Orpheus"

It is in his Views of Jeopardy (1962) book.
Dudley Fitts opens his Forward to the book with a 'bit' about this poem:
Orpheus in Greenwich Village

I am with-you

it is all about the soundings the silences

Irina said...


Thank you for your c
comment. I was not familiar with the poem, so I searched for it on the internet - and got to an interesting fragment from Orpheus in Greenwich Village

What if Orpheus,
confident in the hard-
found mastery,
should go down into Hell?
Out of the clean light down?
And then, surrounded
by the closing beasts
and readying his lyre,
should notice, suddenly,
they had no ears?

Congrats on the "Stone Girl E-pic" - quite an accomplishment & a reason to celebrate!

Ed Baker said...

that's not a fragment that's the entire piece.

ever go down into the NYC subway
say in 1965? Was a real "hell"

Jack liked my little book about The City..

it's on my site w a nice note attached from Carl Rakosi (also a Manhattanite par Excellance

as for Stone Girl ... she, for a dozen years, "used" me

now? "she" is out-there on 'her' own while I wait here for a phone call, a letter, a visit...

me-thinks that it s time for a new muse

interviewing my NEIGHBOR now as I think that she is available.

thanks for the thanks

Nora B. Peevy said...



I found your blog on FuelMyBlog. I am a 34 year old fantasy and horror author with a passion for photography and my exotic pet zoo.

I agree that there is a pause in a poem. I think it's similar to plotting a story, which we all did in school at some point. There is a rise and fall.

I used to write only poetry, but the branched out into fiction.

My blog is The Demon Stole My Pencil - all about books, my writing, and anything and everything related to writing in general.


Irina said...

Thanks for stopping by Nora - and glad to make your acquaintance!

I liked your latest article on the Writing spider - and the fanciful stablimentia.

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