For Tuesday, July 26, 2016:
“I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out.”
Oh yes, I have done this! More than once. One poem in particular, though, stands out. Here’s the poem, written many, many years ago:
The trains of misty, foggy nights
entice my thoughts to go along.
Each night they call to me
of where they’re going
and of where they’ve been.
Each night the whistles cry,
and then the silence
holds the echoes
for me to hear again.
I wonder: is there one inside
and wonders, as they pass,
if there is one alone out there
and wonders too?
Poetry is hard to punctuate because it’s so subjective and based, usually, on the writer’s speaking style and breathing patterns. But sometimes punctuation can make a point or guide us in a direction by its very presence or absence. I think this is one reason some people have a hard time with Emily Dickinson’s poetry. Her famous dashes can be hard to translate to our modern ear: where do I stop, where do I pause, when do I slow down as I read?
‘Communion’ is one of those poems that comes along rarely, at least for me. I could almost see the whole of it at once in my mind’s eye as I transferred it to the page (it helped that it’s short). In the 25-30 years since that night, I haven’t changed a word, I haven’t changed the order of anything. That, too, is rare for me. I usually change something the next few times I work on a poem.
But every single time (almost) that I look at it, I try to decide if that blasted comma should stay in or be deleted. It makes a difference, too, if I’m just reading it to myself or if I plan to read it aloud somewhere. (Hint: it is – or isn’t – in the second stanza.)
I’m at the point now where I think this might be a good candidate for no punctuation at all. That way the reader can make his or her own decision and I can finally let it go.