#35 “Mnemosyne” (Trumbull Stickney)

Another lonely poem, “Mnemosyne” by Trumbull Stickney, stands at #35 in the Countdown.

“Mnemosyne” is very simple and very beautiful, which is reason enough for it to appear on a list of best poems. But it also has features that show a high degree of artistry. The rhyming of the poem is intricate. Six words that rhyme (or sort of rhyme) with “remember” are woven into the ends of the middle lines of the three-line stanzas. Meanwhile, the first and third lines of each of these stanzas present a contrasting rhyme. Individual lines, printed as one-line “stanzas,” alternate with the three-line stanzas; each of those single lines ends in “remember.”

“Mnemosyne” is the Greek word for “memory.” In Greek mythology, Mnemosyne was a goddess. She was, in fact, the mother of the Muses, nine goddesses who inspired all the world’s art. The constant refrain of “remember” in the poem is lovely in itself, but it also calls up the idea of memory, that highly provisional place where we stow everything we know about the world except for a rapidly dissolving slice of the immediate present.

One key beauty of the poem lies in the fact that there are two ways of understanding “It’s autumn in the country I remember”: two ways, if you like, of diagramming the sentence, and all the parallel sentences that serve as repetitions of that refrain.

In sense #1, “I remember” that “it’s autumn in the country.” In sense #2, it’s autumn, in “the country I remember.” Well, it’s autumn in the country either way, though in sense #1 the autumn may be a permanent state, in sense #2 more seasonal. Is the poem about the country or about the man who remembers it?

The rest of the poem is abstract, or perhaps “stylized” is a better word. “Yellow cattle browsed upon the plain” is certainly a realistic image, but it’s so stark and uses so few details that the cows are reduced to a few brushstrokes, such as we might see in a “primitive” painting. The whole effect is stark, eerie, and, as Stickney puts it, “very sombre.”

This is one of those poems that has been set to music, though long after Stickney’s time, as an art song: “Mnemosyne.”

16 responses to “#35 “Mnemosyne” (Trumbull Stickney)

  1. I loved this poem, and yes, yet another simple poem, there is just something about simplicity that has such unique beauty, even though within most of these poems involve complexity in form or rhythm or both. I found it interesting how the one-line “stanzas” keep reflecting the title or reminding the reader what the poem is about “memory”. I loved how all the single “stanza” lines talk about a negative feeling or memory in the “one-line stanza” showing isolation or sadness or loneliness.
    We discussed how some of us thought the three line stanzas reflected the single line stanza right before or after and how the three line stanzas could be describing the opposite of what is stated in the single line stanzas. I feel like the speaker describes opposite things more, not “describing” them but just “remembering” them, which makes it that much more interesting, for example using opposite words like “warm” right before “cold” and “lonely” right before “babble of our children fills my ears” and “empty” right before talking about good times with his sister. I think if this is how it is it may be to reflect how we think, our thoughts are very scattered or sometimes random.

  2. I find it very interesting that this poem was written in this particular format with the one line stanza then a three line stanza repeatedly. We discussed in class how this poem has a sad them to it. However, if we were to take out all the one line stanzas the poem doesn’t seem like a sad poem anymore. It only seems like a simple poem of a memory. Yet, even still with the one line stanzas in the poem I believe the country held some happy memories for the speaker. It’s as if the speaker has mixed feelings about the country. On one hand there are the negative memories of the country being cold, empty, lonely, dark and rainy. On the other hand he also mentions a warm wind, sun-sweetened summer-days, a lovely sister whom he sang with in the woods at night, and the babbling of children filling his ears. At first I thought this memory was from his childhood, but when I reached the stanza that references his children I realized it was not. I don’t really understand the last “three-line stanza. “ It has be wondering why the speaker believes this “country” is a burden to the earth. Hhhmmm…

  3. I think the author is talking about the memories. Part of his memory describes his sister just a tad. Autumn is a season he recalls the most. I don’t know whether his sister is alive and they are both there remembering these times and that is why, they hear “The babble of our children” or whether maybe something may have happened to her and he maybe has her children there with him and his children. Maybe he is remembering that particular season as he watches and listens to the children. Maybe that is why he seems so sad. Maybe that is why he says “And on the hearth I stare the perished ember To flames that show all starry thro’ my tears.” At the same time I wonder if there was a fire and he is standing on just the hearth. He is looking at the “cattle-tracks and fallen timber. The stumps are twisted by the tempests’ wrath.” Maybe something bad happened there. In the mountains, it can be cold, empty, lonely, dark and it can also be rainy. I do think that he knows that at one time there were special memories made there…in autumn. He is sad but yet the memories are kept close and are his for he “knew these places are my own.”

  4. I would almost say that this is my favorite poem but, we are only half way through and I know that may change. I thoroughly enjoyed this poem. As mentioned, it is extremely simplistic which makes it beautiful. I liked the way Stickney chose to write this poem; however, it is hard to tell as discussed in class if the single verses describe what is above or below them. Nevertheless, I viewed this poem as extremely sad. To me, the single verses containing the words “autumn, cold, empty, lonely, dark, and rains,” all seem to have a melancholy feel to them. I feel as though the three-lined stanzas, on their own without the lines ending in “remember” don’t seem nearly as sad. Perhaps the answer to the posed question, “Is he describing the actual country or the man?” is that he is describing the man/himself. Perhaps Stickney was a cold, empty, lonely, dark man. Maybe he is referring to a time in his past, and comparing the two: “to flames,” followed by, “it’s dark,” and “I had a sister,” and now, “it’s lonely.”
    One last thing that stood out to me about this poem was the title. As mentioned in class “Mnemosyne” means memory, and the whole poem seems to be about something that is being remembered. However, if we go with the idea that he is describing how things have changed perhaps, he is recalling the information in between, causing him to realize that its “cold, dark, and rainy,” now.

  5. firewaterboi321

    Memory. Stickney writes about a memory of where he lived. These memories are powerful images that are colored the way the seasons are colored. Memories have a richness and energy that transforms as we age. Good memories seem to have a “golden” quality as the years go by. The pleasant ones seem to fade as we try to hang on to them. The unpleasant seem to become darker and more resonant. The tension of trying to hang on to the good memories is apparent in this poem. Stickney’s use of language in this piece creates a sense of great beauty and great sadness, all at the same time. It is this blending of aesthetic joy and vivid sorrow that gives the poem such a stark beauty. The beauty of this piece is also derived from its stark imagery. Stickney does not go into very much detail, giving only a few such as “…cattle-tracks and fallen timber…” yet that somehow helped my mind see an image that Stickney may have had in his mind when he was writing. That in itself is so beautiful. The course the readers mind can travel from an abstract thought to a much more vivid and detailed picture. Like a vivid and lucid memory.

  6. This is a sad but beautiful poem. The writer thinks back on memories in the country in autumn. The way the writer describes the country makes me think it is a sad place for them. I think the authors sister is no longer living or has been gone for quite sometime. When stickney says, “the babbles of our children fills my ears, makes me believe they had children of their own who played in the country. I like the stanza of this poem because they are short and easy to ynderstand. I like this poem because it expresses a feeling about the country and is a place that will forever be a memory to the writer

  7. andreamcginley

    After hearing the background of the poet and then hearing the poem to me the poem seemed like an ode to life and how death was to come soon. I can only imagine a person laying down to die and having their life be remembered through what little time is left. The repetition and emphasis on the aspects of “the country I remember” in the poem alludes to such a thought. The speaker starts off somber in a sad remembrance of what life used to be. And after each stand alone stanza the speaker perks up the tone a little to say the good things he remembers. It is not until the last couple of stanzas that the speaker becomes full on depressed in the lines “I’d ask how came such wretchedness to cumber the earth, and I to people it alone”. The closing lines of the poem mirror the close of someone’s life – a bitter life. It seems as if it was life of someone who has yet to experience the robustness of life and can only see the bad and the good just does not matter anymore. Not only does the tone portrait this image but also the kind of language that is used. The language is simple yet effectively descriptive. I think this is the reason that I like this poem so much. Sharp and short words can suffice to get one’s point across without the need for a dictionary. I always appreciate poems that can fulfill that. The point of this poem to me is the internal conflict of coming to peace with the actions and memories of life. The wording also gives the feel for the speaker actually being a country person. It makes the poem more plausible and real to those who read it. Overall I really enjoyed this poem, not my favorite but still likable.

  8. I can’t decide if I liked just reading the poem or hearing it in a song format. I thought it was very creative how they interpreted the poem into a song. The poem reminded me of someone older sitting outside looking around and remembering what once was. Thinking about the kids when they were younger and now they’ve grown and left. Remembering spending different seasons in the country and reminiscing on the activities that brought them joy. And possibly sad because how everything has changed constantly like the seasons leaving nothing but memories and evidence of what was. I feel like the poem “left me hanging” because the last line wasn’t really a powerful ending statement. More like a cliff hanger..” It rains across the country I remember”… and your like okay and what? I mean apparently the poem is good because you don’t want it to end..especially like that. It seems to me also that the author makes a statement and in the following lines explains that statement. Like a thesis. “Its lonely in the country I remember”…Paraphrasing: because the children are no longer here their babbling is only a memory to me now. Well written and well picked awesome poem. Simple just the way I like it.

  9. While reading this poem, I found it to kind of have a sad tone to it. The poem is beautiful to listen to and easy to understand. I think that the poem is about the man or the reader’s memomry of the country; he’s writing of the memories of how he felt while visiting the country. I think that the speaker visits the country regularly and each time he does, he doesn’t have a good experience there. I mostly got a negative feeling about the country from the speaker–like the country is not a happy place. The lines thar all end with “I remember” reflects these feelings: “It’s cold abroad the country”, “It’s empty down the country”, “It’s lonely in the country”, “It’s dark about the country”, and “It rains across the country”. All these descriptions make the country sound like a sad place. Also, I would say that the song we heard in the class definitely got and understood the mood and tone of the poem; the artist in the song sounded sad.

  10. Mnemosyne is a very mellow poem that reminds me of a dreary autumn day in the country. This poem is filled with memories of a life once lived. Once lived by a young man whose heart was filled with joy that would be treasured in his heart. My first thought was a young child until he mentioned the babble of our children. He is now going down memory lane of his youth and middle age life. This poem appears to be a man in his old age thinking about the when times of the feeling of joy and laughter. Everything has changed, the surroundings of country living is no longer filled with life. It is sad when you have happy memories of a place and to revisit it to find your memories have changed. As the lady was singing the song it started out with nice melodies but closer to the end her voice was filled with anger. In spite of it all I enjoyed this poem.

  11. The poem “Mnemosyne” by Trumbull Stickney is beautifully written and I see this poem as a sad rhyme which has unseen old memories that the writer is trying to remember. The poem develops thoughts in a succession of metaphors and images. He writes about his country where he possibly grew up, and reminiscences his experience through a period of time. As the poem starts he remembers the good time, and sunny days. He talks of the “seeds” which could signify the actions or the events of history more on the note of success. As the poem develops the poem start taking a gloomy tone. The poem starts with autumn, and ends as it rains, where he glorifies the past and questions the “wretchedness” of today.

  12. This is another great poem that deserves its place on the countdown. The way Stickney forms the poem, the single line then three lines, really helps to form the concept of memories and the present. To me the single line seems to represent the current state of the country that he remembers, and the three lines actually articulating the memory. I do agree with people that the single line is connected to the three people above. With the exception of the first line, which also coincides with the three line part below it. Stephenyn’s idea about whether in the one line stanza is he describing the man or the country. I like to think he’s describing both, we as humans transform our perception based on what were feeling, and his feelings of melancholy and loneliness seemed to transfer into the state of the country. Deemuniz also raised an interesting question about the last three stanza line. How does the country become a burden to him, especially when he has such fond memories here? I really think he means it in relation to him, he feels like he’s alone in the country, the population of one, and he’s forced to take the burden of the good memories he has here, and the absence of those things in his memory now. I guess when we’re faced with that kind of burden in a place so familiar, there’s nothing we can do but remember.

  13. “Mnemosyne” is a truly unique and well written poem by Trumbull Stickney. Memory is the theme of this poem, and it is very evident throughout this work. The simplicity of this poem is what I like the best. It is much easier to dissect a poem that doesn’t bewilder. To me the structure of this poem is really good and it makes for a great read. The start seems to be on a positive track, but then it gets darker and shows the real purpose of this work of art. I feel as though the way this poem is worded and what it alludes to; is about this author dealing with going from having good memories to having to deal with the realities of life. It gets very dark and gloomy, as the ending of the poem reads “It rains across the country I remember. “ Overall a great read, this poem deserves the ranking it has been given.

  14. It seems like he is telling a story to someone about a memory that happened in his childhood that he describing a better time in his life like one of his favorite pass times. That he recalls all the memories of the country that he wants to express to someone. He is reacalling the good times and some sad times in the country. It just seems to be a simple time that he is expressing, there is just a since of calm in the poem, I really enjoyed the poem is was simple but I really ejnoyed reading it.

  15. This has been one of my favorites by far. I loved the song that went with it. The musical artist captured the bitter sweet sensation of remembering the country. The poem seems to reflect the best of both worlds. The person who is remembering in the poem seems to remember with a tear in his eye. He remembers all the good and the bad of the country. How it rains, dark and bitter. At the same time how he has a sister there in which he used to sing with. We have all looked back at where we came from at least once in our lifetime. Most of the times it is a darker, smaller and colder place than the one that we are in now thus the tears. No matter how bad the past was it is where you came from and one should be proud of that. The aurthor of the poem paints beatiful images in your head and them destoys them with a sort of sad negativity. A sentation of on and off. Never the less, the song that went with it was beatiful as well as the poem.

  16. I think the poem is describing a little bit of both. The memories he has of the country were great to him. After reading the poem over and over, I can imagine myself in a place similar to this. It’s a very visual poem. I liked how simple but striking the poem was. It tells us a lot about the speaker. Change in his life has affected him and he has become lonely. I get this feeling because he quotes, “I had a sister lovely in my sight.” He continues on to say, “It’s lonely in the country I remember.” I think time has caught up to him and is now taking away what he remembers most. And these memories he has of all this beauty are describing what he once had. Nobody likes to think of the idea of growing old and becoming weak but its part of life and all we can do at that point is look back at the good times and memories we had, and make the best of what little is left to enjoy. I feel like this is exactly what the speaker is experiencing in the poem. I really liked that the song emphasized the remembering of everything at the end by repeating all of the single line stanzas, another reason why I think the speaker has grown old and loss has made him lonely.

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