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The Poetry of Stuart Cummings Ripley

Introductory remarks and examples by John Scioli,
professor emeritus, American literature, Chestnut Hill University

Editor's note: While not covered in this essay, it should be noted that Ripley's major book of poetry, and most erotic, Fleur, was published in Paris in 1924, dedicated to the woman to whom he was briefly married, Fleur Beauvais.

In the early years Stuart Cummings Ripley wrote mainly for college magazines. This fledgling work was discovered in random papers found in a used bookstore. It demonstrates his penchant for the song form, something which sustained him during his long life, or some might say, haunted him when his literary fame grew through a series of successful novels, now forgotten, written between and during the WW's. I particularly like this early work by Ripley for its clever use of rhyme.
I Love You So

I love you so
You'll never know
But let it go
We're just lovers starting.

I'll go away
Our love will stay
To wait its day
We're just lovers parting.

And when all parting is done,
We'll watch our love grow,
For our love's the sun
And parting's just snow.

When I return
Our hearts will burn
And no more yearn
With love no more smarting.

An earlier owner of the book of poetry wrote the word "farting" in pencil in the margin. Obviously he disrespected the openhearted simplicity of this verse. I particularly like the image of love as the sun and parting as melting snow, with overtones of a return of springtime when the winter of separation has past.

There is also suggested and epistemological-philosophical point introduced in the words "You'll never know," which suggests metaphysical loneliness; that is, the impossibility of fully communicating oneself to another, even between those as close as lovers. A rather deceptively tender and painful line in what might be missed by the superficial reader.

There are other gems in the collection which I intend to share if this one entry meets with your acceptance. The book in which I found the above poem was very slim indeed.
There were only four poems in toto which I deemed worthy of sharing, especially in the light of Ripley's later literary oeuvres. There is also a period of darkness caused by the unwillingness of his grandson to share Ripley's later experiments with free verse. Until he releases that work to the public it will be impossible to make a thorough evaluation of the causative links with Pound, Eliot, e.e. cummings, et. al. But we can only do what we can do. With that in mind I will propose three more poems for analysis. I would, at this time, like to dedicate this monograph to Camille Paglia, whose work in poetic analysis as taught in her classes has been an inspiration to this author and to the dwindling world of readers interested in serious poetry.

Although she avoids deconstructionist propaganda, and structuralism, as Barbara Tuchman has hinted, the dominant attitudes of an age have a way of slipping into all thinkers in that age. I would just ask your indulgence if I reconstruct by accident or revert to structuralism. The one thing I can say for sure is that I have avoided nihilism like the plague.

Talk to Me

Talk to me, let me hear your voice
The sweet silver sound of your song
Which lets me know in this lonely place
That I'm not alone, I belong

I have searched long and for years
Through the gloom and tears
And you came my prisoner of love,
You drove out all my fears

Speak to me, say you love me so
Let tenderness flow through your word
It gives me joy, lifts my spirit high
The word which I've so seldom heard.

I love you, Darling, I could say,
A thousand times over again
That I love you and I always will
I love you so much I'm in pain.

The coupling of love and pain, albeit a diluted form of Liebestod, ties this work to a long tradition of suffering and sensual love dating well before the middle ages, a kind of update of Tristan and Isolde. When you add this repeated and sensuous nature of talking, speaking with the implied sense of touch and breath we are reminded of Princess Sappho on the Island of Lesbos where lyric poetry had its beginnings. Truly literature is a literatura perenna.

The mention of the word word has given a tangential meaning, an embodiment to the fleshliness of the beloved. There is no Manichean dualism implicit in this work. Perfect love drives out fear, the gloom of the long search. These are two references, which can be easily found in the King James Bible. The idea of being a prisoner brings to mind the poem written by an anonymous nun found in a letter dated from the early Middle Ages:
You are mine
I am thine
Of that you should be certain
You are locked in my heart
And the key is lost.

With these observations we see the work fanning in all directions and through all poetic time in an all-embracing love song, which we hear most melodically in the combination assonance and alliteration in the words: voice, sweet, silver sound, its, song. I can only comment: quelle richesse!

The last two entries in this monograph may or may not live up to the heights of this poem but the reader must judge for him-herself.

Slow and Tender

Slow and tender
Put your hand out touch me
My arms are awaiting, anticipating
So slow and tender
In the silence reach me
And whisper, yes,
Let me know
That you need me
On this love filled night
Like the earth and sea
Need the light so
Slow and tender
Arms embracing
Lovers tracing
Patterns from long ago
So take it slow and tender
Slow and tender make it

Slow and tender
Put your hand out touch me
My arms are awaiting, anticipating
So slow and tender
In the silence reach me
And whisper, yes,
Let me know
As water pounds
On the sandy shore
I am waiting now
At your door
So take it
Slow and tender
Slow and tender make it

Slow and tender
Put your hand out
Touch me my arms are
Awaiting, anticipating
So, slow and tender
In the silence reach me
And whisper yes,
Let me know
You're waiting now
At your door
So slow and tender
Slow and tender
Arms embracing
Lovers tracing
Patterns made so long ago

I need you
On this love filled night
As the earth and sea
Need the light
Slow and tender
Slow and tender
Slow and tender
Yeah, that's right!

Whew! What is there to say? Obviously the poem makes love. If the reader cannot feel the pounding of the waves on the shore, they are insensate, asexual and dense. The only technical observation I would like to make is the deviation from stricter patterns of his two other poems, a tease of the richness which his free verse might be, if only his grandson would open the vaults.

This monograph will end with a fitting poem, "Song of Farewell," which is the only one worthy of this work, which awaits the generosity of Ripley's grandson. Believe it or not this one individual is living proof of the power of one. He is holding, single handedly the treasures a most seminal figure in American Literature of the last century. It doesn't seem fair but ours is not to ask the reason why but to do and try our best to make up for lacunae, nothing new in the history of letters.

Song of Farewell

Oh lad and lass,
Listen well,
And deeply mark
The tale I tell.

If you are
Chance religious
You must become

Those who lead the Christers
The same are crucifiers,
Who cheat and bugger the poor
And win toujours.

Oh boys and girls
The minority
Has tyrannized
The majority

But we'll sing in hope
For return to reason
And a leader ending
Guile and treason.

This almost ballad-like poem is a late incursion into political situations. Stuart Cummings Ripley was not mean spirited, or even anti-authority but just shared a deep suspicion of large institutions, which seems to be endemic with artists of all stripes. This poem will probably fall on deaf ears because young people do not read poetry and older people are well aware of the suspicion with which government, church and state should be held. But he was at heart a romantic and helplessly idealistic. Who could blame him for trying? For the time being a voice for art, truth and unity has been silenced but not forever. Not by the world which awaits the sunshine of his creative life, but by his own. How Shakespearean, how human, how typical?


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