Piazza Piece by John Crowe Ransom

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Poetry is a condensed form of language. It says very much in very few words. The ways that make possible this “linguistic economy” are many. Let us take John Crowe Ransom’s “Piazza Piece” for example and see the various ways in which the poet has managed to enrich his meaning. Here is the text of the poem: Piazza Piece --I am a gentleman in a dustcoat trying To make you hear. Your ears are soft and small And listen to an old man not at all; They want the young men’s whispering and sighing. But see the roses on your trellis dying And hear the spectral singing of the moon; For I must have my lovely lady soon, I am a gentleman in a dustcoat trying. --I am a lady young in beauty waiting Until my truelove comes, and then we kiss. But what grey man among the vines is this Whose words are dry and faint as in a dream? Back from my trellis, Sir, before I scream! I am a lady young in beauty waiting. This is obviously a sonnet, a Petrarchan sonnet. It is “Petrachan” not only in form (an octave plus a sestet) but also in content (dealing with the subject of love). By choosing the time-honored form (sonnet) to treat the old-fashioned theme (love), Ransom successfully brings us back to the ancient time when “courtly love” prevailed as a literary convention in the West. If the poem’s form suggests remoteness in time, its title suggests remoteness in place. The word “piazza” denotes a porch or veranda in Southern U.S. where Ransom was born. But it also denotes an open square or public place in a city or town of Italy. From the poem’s text (esp. l. 5 & 1. 13), we may conclude that the former meaning is more pertinent than the latter. Nevertheless, the Italian-sounding word can never fail to strike int... ... middle of paper ... ...ocking tone but serious import, its spectral elderly suitor but human young belle, its suggested remoteness but realized immediacy in time and place, its simple language but complex ideas, etc., as two opposing forces or “conflict structures” to constitute the poem’s totality of meaning. Notes 1. Cf. Edmund Waller’s “Go, lovely rose,” in which a beautiful lady is also compared to (or even identified with) a rose. 2. The use of thyme or sound repetition usually lightens the tone of speech. That is why many English serious poems are written in blank verse, a form avoiding the use of rhyme. 3. Tension is a term originally used in a particular sense by Allen Tate, who together with Ransom and others are the advocates of the so-called New Criticism . The term has now come to mean any “conflict structures” which have helped to give shape and unity to a work.

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