THE BEAUTIFUL LAWN SPRINKLER
by Howard NemerovWhat gives it power makes it change its mindAt each extreme, and lean its rising rainDown low, first one and then the other way;In which exchange humility and prideReverse, forgive, arise, and die again,Wherefore it holds at both ends of the dayThe rainbow in its scattering grains of spray.
I know a couple of folks who expressed opinions approaching outrage that a poet would dare write a poem to a Grecian urn; the situation these views where these views arose turned out, finally, to be one of the worst poetry discussions I ever had. The protesters, professed Marxist sorts who thought John Keats was guilty of gross objectification by subjugating Human issues to the realm of metaphor and abstraction. Absurd, I think, but I think my earnest opponents were disguising personal issues—perhaps they didn’t like having their sense of humanity even vaguely equated with a receptacle many of us would associate with being a repository for spit, urine and feces—with a vulgar political stance that was quick to criticize and condemn before it understood what was being said. That is the problem of knowing everything.
I resist demanding that the poet obey anyone’s list of do’s and don’ts. My only requirement is that the poem be interesting. Personifying allow the poet some room to imagine a man made device in non-material terms; offensive as it may seem to those who've no use for powers greater than themselves, associating a lawn sprinkler with such abstract things as democratic spirit and the great chain is a sure way to get someone to think harder on a subject and ease their burden. Every action starts in one direction and yet completes itself by returning from where it came; the rain rises and then falls again across a community of grass, humility and pride change places, a mind that is dedicated to one direction begins to see wisdom and need in areas that it might not earlier have imagined as things that mattered. I see this as about equilibrium, of things coming toward the center even as tensions seek to stray and take apart; the center grows, it adapts, it changes its premise for being in service a greater good. Individual greatness does not matter if there is nothing the brilliance is connected to and interacts with.