Morri Creech Breaks Down “Song and Complaint”

nightingale

You’re tempting, bird. We’d all like to believe
in a vast perfection—to imagine France
without the guillotine, or Adam and Eve
beneath the boughs without their underpants;
to sleep at four a.m. without the noise
of car alarms or broken glass. One time
I heard your voice and caught the scent of clover
on the night air, and the joys
of oblivion brushed my cheek. It was sublime.
Then a slammed door woke me like a hangover.

“Song and Complaint,” Morri Creech’s skeptical modern-day take on Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale,” is now on Rap Genius. The poem was first published in The Southern Review in 2010; it appears here for the first time online and features verified annotations from the author.

Irreverent as the poem is toward Keats’s nightingale (the first stanza has the speaker “pick[ing] up a chunk of gravel” to throw at it), Creech ultimately makes peace with the bird and the Romantic notions of sublimity and immortality it represents. Along the way he touches on everything from the Garden of Eden and Gettysburg to childhood dreams and cold fusion. It’s a tour de force intellectual flight that settles down to a quiet and poignant ending.

NEW: John Keats, “To Autumn”

Johnny Keats. The tragedy. The legend. The consummate Romantic. Changed English poetry before he turned twenty-five, and you didn’t. Died of consumption just as he was hitting his stride. Or, frantically hit his stride because he knew he was dying of consumption. Wrote odes to seasons, goddesses, pottery, birds. Wrote a letter to the lady he couldn’t have (because he was dying; also poor) in which he promised to “call you Venus tonight and pray, pray, pray to your star like a heathen.” Had them carve something on his tomb about his name being “writ in water,” which of course became famous, too. Predicted he’d be “among the English Poets after my death.” Was. Is.

Keats, “To Autumn”: added and partly annotated over at RG. Join in. Add annotations of your own. The man made vowels sing—made them croon, warble, and wail. Put that in there someplace.

More on Keats at The Poetry Foundation.

More on Keats at Poets.org.

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