commentary on Louis Ginsberg's "Waterfalls of Stone"
Louis Ginsberg was Allen Ginsberg's father--a poet whom the son admired deeply, but whose poetry was (to take just this example) far more traditional both formally and thematically than any that his son would produce.
Louis Ginsberg's son
A brief profile of Allen Ginsberg begins this way:Louis Ginsberg was a published poet, a high school teacher and a moderate Jewish Socialist. His wife, Naomi, was a radical Communist and irrepressible nudist who went tragically insane in early adulthood. Somewhere between the two in temperament was the Ginsberg's second son, Irwin Allen.
"Waterfalls of Stone," a modest but competent and even stimulating poem by Louis Ginsberg, is written in traditional ballad stanza--rhyming a b c b. In the first stanza we have lines ending in
stone a crest b air c rest bThe likening done in the first line is this: buildings are like waterfalls, only they're stone. Actually Ginsberg doesn't say they are
|Is it modern? Well, ask this question. Does the poem's form--its language, its stanzaic pattern, etc.--help us understand its attitude toward its subject matter?|
One of the questions you ask when reading a poem to get a sense of its involvement in modernism is: Does the poem's form--its language, its stanzaic pattern, etc.--help us understand its attitude toward its subject matter? It is arguable here that Louis Ginsberg displayed--as a matter of the poem's content--a modern sensibility. His ideas about buildings are, possibly, modern. The stone building described in the first stanza is not nearly as stable, as fixed, as permanent-seeming, as pre-modern concepts of buildings would want. Perhaps. Perhaps. But what about the form? Does the form of the poem itself convey the instability, the fluidity, the waterfall-like quality of the building described in the poem?
It clearly does not. The poem--somewhat in this respect like Moody's poem about the moors of Gloucester--verges on modern content but its unvaryingly traditional ("closed") form tends to counteract that modern sensibility. The building, as it were, of this poem is not like a waterfall of language.