(Poem #729) Accident in Art
What painter has not with a careless smutch Accomplished his despair?--one touch revealing All he had put of life, thought, vigor, feeling, Into the canvas that without that touch Showed of his love and labor just so much Raw pigment, scarce a scrap of soul concealing! What poet has not found his spirit kneeling A-sudden at the sound of such or such Strange verses staring from his manuscript, Written he knows not how, but which will sound Like trumpets down the years? So Accident Itself unmasks the likeness of Intent, And ever in blind Chance's darkest crypt The shrine-lamp of God's purposing is found.
Today's poem explores a fairly common meme - the idea that there is some small but precise element, some key stroke that renders a work of art Great, some phrase around which an entire poem crystallizes. (I remember coming up with the idea myself, when I was a kid, and wondering if there was that one perfect, magical place on a canvas where placing a single dot would create a masterpiece). It is not really true, of course - most great works of art are made great by the synthesis of their various elements, not the predominance of a keystone - but it is definitely a seductive concept. There's also an echo of the idea we saw in 'The Lost Chord' - that such a transcendent note is only ever struck by accident. Hovey takes the idea one step further, though, making explicit that what looks like happenstance is really all part of "God's purposing", and that the appearance of perfection, one 'knows not how', unmasks the 'likeness of Intent'. (Note that 'likeness' here refers to the actual image of intent, not a resemblance to it). Formwise the poem is a Petrarchan sonnet (abba abba cdeecd), divided into an octet and a sestet according to the standard pattern. The poem makes unstartling but effective use of the sonnet form, the lines flowing neatly and the progression of ideas laid out with no signs of strain or of having been forced into the structure. Biography: Hovey, Richard b. May 4, 1864, Normal, Ill., U.S. d. Feb. 24, 1900, New York City U.S. poet, translator, and dramatist. After graduating from Dartmouth in 1885, Hovey studied art and theology and in 1887 met Bliss Carman, the poet, with whom he later collaborated. Hovey lectured on aesthetics at the Farmington School of Philosophy and, for the last two years of his life, at Columbia University, where he held a post as professor of English at Barnard College. A self-conscious individual, he tried, in clothing and mannerisms, to be an American Oscar Wilde. His works consistently reflect his faith in an optimistic and vital United States. His books include Launcelot and Guenevere: A Poem in Dramas (1891); with Bliss Carman, Songs from Vagabondia (1894), More Songs from Vagabondia (1890), and Last Songs from Vagabondia (1901, posthumous); and such other works as Seaward (1893), an elegy on the poet Thomas William Parsons; Along the Trail (1898); and Taliesin, a Masque (1900). Also published posthumously was To the End of the Trail (1908). He translated eight of Maeterlinck's plays into English -- EB Links: Some more poems by Hovey: [broken link] http://www.geocities.com/~spanoudi/poems/poem-gh.html#hovey Procter's 'A Lost Chord': poem #520 A nice site on sonnets: http://www.sonnets.org/basicforms.htm -martin