Writing in The New Yorker’s Book Bench this week, Macy Halford has curated a selection of “Six Shorts to Read During a Hurricane.” The novels, essays, and poems excerpted include Rimbaud’s “The Drunken Boat” and an amazing prose passage from Sylvia Plath, which in true Plathian style calls the New England Hurricane of 1938 “one huge Noah douche.”
As Irene bears down on the Atlantic coast, I thought I’d add a few picks of my own from the verse category. Auden wrote that “All poets adore explosions, thunderstorms, tornadoes, conflagrations, ruins, scenes of spectacular carnage,” so it’s no surprise that this topic has been a favorite among great poets of the past. Twentieth-century writers, in particular, have had fun with it. Here is Conrad Aiken in “Hatteras Calling“:
Southeast, and storm, and every weathervane
shivers and moans upon its dripping pin,
ragged on chimneys the cloud whips, the rain
howls at the flues and windows to get in…
Waves among wires, sea scudding over poles,
down every alley the magnificence of rain,
dead gutters live once more, the deep manholes
hollo in triumph a passage to the main.
Then there’s Hart Crane’s “The Hurricane,” in which Crane uses his trademark neo-Elizabethan idiom to link a furious storm with the wrath of God:
Ay! Scripture flee’th stone!
Milk-bright, Thy chisel wind
Rescindeth flesh from bone
To quivering whittlings thinned—
Swept—whistling straw! Battered,
Lord, e’en boulders now out-leap
Diametrically opposed to this excitable style is the eerie, ironic quiet of William Carlos Williams, in a lyric also called “The Hurricane.” The text is under copyright restriction but can be found over at Poets.org.
Finally, no selection of hurricane poetry would be complete without mention of King Lear’s tirade against the storm on the heath:
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, all germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!
Running outside and screaming this at Irene is not recommended, exactly, but in the event of a power outage, it may prove more therapeutic than swearing.
[Image via Wikimedia Commons.]