Bewildering Stories

Thomas R. responds to Challenge 112

The subject is Fermín González’ poem “The Hermit” in issue 112.

For the rhymesters: What’s the rhyme scheme? Is a rhyme missing anywhere?

Mostly double rhymes, AABB,etc. However the line starting with “nights” has four lines rhyming in a row. Further a few are kind of near rhymes rather than real rhymes. Like “Scrolls” with “bows” and “delving” with “unending.”

(“Unseen” and “being” make an assonance with [i]. However, “scrolls” and “bows” (verb) have different vowels altogether: [o] and [au] respectively. — DW)

For those who’re adept at scansion: What determines the line length?

Not sure. Lines of seven syllables, or lines of five words, seem to predominate. However they’re are other variants.

(You’re right to count syllables. Octosyllabic verse is time-honored in Romance-language poetry. At least one line in the poem is an exception: “with veil’d eyes ajar by nights.” The line has only seven syllables, because “eyes” can count only as one. I probably should have caught that and told Fermín I’d change “veil’d” to “veiled” or even “veilèd.” — DW)

For the stylists: Are there any similes in the poem? No. Metaphors? Possibly... Symbols?

This is easier. The statement “like a smirky evilish gnome” is a simile. Metaphors might include “feelings turn’d alabaster.” The symbols seem, reverse to that, to be dark ones involving the moon, night, black might, and damnation. Feelings being alabaster could be a counterpoint to that, as alabaster is a kind of white, but could also further the image of spiritual or emotional sickness.

(Aha... you caught the only simile in the poem, and I’d forgotten about it. I like your idea of contrasting the darkness in most of the poem with the color white implied in “alabaster.” Might it also imply an image of feelings as hard as stone? I think you bring that up later. — DW)

For the philosophers: What does the poem seem to say?

It seems to be about an individual who cut himself off from humanity and by so doing has gone down the road of some form of madness. By trying to seek something greater than humanity, “in quest of whatever mind kinder faced then mankind,” he’s cut himself off from any sense of balance or the humane. He has become mad as he has no sense of perspective in his isolated world. Thus he lets himself live in a world of archaism full of delusions brought on by loneliness.

He also lives in a cold, stone world where his clothes are fraying and he is in decay in all senses. He exhibits both delusions of grandeur “he is the lone master” and persecution “lonely damnation.” The message seems to be that knowledge in isolation does one little good; that people shouldn’t shut themselves off from others behind stone walls. Instead, knowledge is best when sought in the world and shared with others. The best knowledge of all being in the world and most of all in its people.

However, somewhat less likely, it means just the opposite. We see little to nothing of the hermit’s own idea on all this; almost everything is the judgement of a narrator/third party. Take away those judgements and the events described seem much more benign. An old hermit, whose been a hermit forever, reaches down for a scroll and thinks on his life. That’s basically all there is in it.

Further there are indications he is not unhappy. His knowledge “raises him beyond the stars” and makes him feel like a master. “The feelings turn’d alabaster” could therefore truly mean light and beautiful, instead of sick and ghoulish. The descriptions of his actual feelings use terms that can be interpreted as happiness, even if it’s a happiness the narrator finds morally wrong. Those terms being “gloating,” “smirking,” etc. Why gloat or smirk over misery and damnation? True “aeons of mournful delving” seems to imply a certain misery. However if you are doing something for aeons you likely either like it or have become resigned to it.

“Mournful” could further imply a recognition of what he’s lost, any connection with his fellow man, not unrelenting misery about it. Nothing he’s done seems to be hurting anyone, judging from what’s written, but as a social being the narrator finds himself repulsed. Although this is implausible the hermit could simply be a happy guy who decided he’s better off pursuing knowledge without people. Perhaps because of some crippling social disorder.

(Thanks, Thomas R.! An intriguing and persuasive explication! — DW)

Copyright © 2004 by Thomas R.

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