Howard Nemerov's "Writing"

Updated on April 17, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Howard Nemerov

Source

Introduction and Text of "Writing"

In the firsts movement of Howard Nemerov's "Writing," the speaker likens writing to various other activities that have nothing to do with writing, such as figure skating, wherein the skaters seem to be etching a scrawl across the ice.

The second movement offers a philosophical summation of the first versagraph. The speaker offers his deep appreciation for the act of writing, finding examples in nature that he can call "writing" which clearly is nothing of the kind, as in the first movement, where the speaker's affection for writing as art has led him to equate those unrelated acts, the act of ice skaters, for example, to hand-writing, as he claims that the scrapes on ice remind him of the scribbles on a page.

Writing

The cursive crawl, the squared-off characters
these by themselves delight, even without
a meaning, in a foreign language, in
Chinese, for instance, or when skaters curve
all day across the lake, scoring their white
records in ice. Being intelligible,
these winding ways with their audacities
and delicate hesitations, they become
miraculous, so intimately, out there
at the pen’s point or brush’s tip, do world
and spirit wed. The small bones of the wrist
balance against great skeletons of stars
exactly; the blind bat surveys his way
by echo alone. Still, the point of style
is character. The universe induces
a different tremor in every hand, from the
check-forger’s to that of the Emperor
Hui Tsung, who called his own calligraphy
the ‘Slender Gold.’ A nervous man
writes nervously of a nervous world, and so on.

Miraculous. It is as though the world
were a great writing. Having said so much,
let us allow there is more to the world
than writing: continental faults are not
bare convoluted fissures in the brain.
Not only must the skaters soon go home;
also the hard inscription of their skates
is scored across the open water, which long
remembers nothing, neither wind nor wake.

Interpretive Reading of Nemerov's "Writing"

Commentary

The poem, "Writing," is celebrating the speaker's joy and fascination with the artifacts of chirography, concluding with a philosophical aside.

First Movement: The Art of Delight

The cursive crawl, the squared-off characters
these by themselves delight, even without
a meaning, in a foreign language, in
Chinese, for instance, or when skaters curve
all day across the lake, scoring their white
records in ice. Being intelligible,
these winding ways with their audacities
and delicate hesitations, they become
miraculous, so intimately, out there
at the pen’s point or brush’s tip, do world
and spirit wed. The small bones of the wrist
balance against great skeletons of stars
exactly; the blind bat surveys his way
by echo alone. Still, the point of style
is character. The universe induces
a different tremor in every hand, from the
check-forger’s to that of the Emperor
Hui Tsung, who called his own calligraphy
the ‘Slender Gold.’ A nervous man
writes nervously of a nervous world, and so on.

The speaker describes the visual appeal of chirography or penmanship. He admires the "cursive crawl, the squared-off characters," which "delight" him, even if he does not know the meaning of the lines. For example, the speaker can appreciate the appearance of Chinese lettering even without knowing what the marks mean. He can also enjoy the "scoring" made by skaters on a pond who leave "their white / records in ice."

When the observer is able to understand the scrawling, the shapes and figures become "miraculous." The products of the "pen's point" and "brush's tip" bind the world and spirit together through their "audacities / and delicate hesitations." Acknowledging that the human hand with its "small bones of the wrist" is responsible for the chirographic beauty, the speaker equates that wrist with "great skeletons of stars," claiming that they balance "exactly." He asserts, "the point of style / is character."

The speaker contends that each hand that writes writes differently because "the universe induces / a different tremor in every hand." The speaker offers as examples the widely contrasting "check-forger" and the Chinese "Emperor / Hui Tsung, who called his own calligraphy / the 'Slender Gold.'" The speaker concludes that nerves are ultimately responsible for the great chirographic variations: "A nervous man / writes nervously of a nervous world, and so on." The world as well as humankind is a-jitter with this nervous energy that leads to art.

Second Movement: The Miracle of Writing

Miraculous. It is as though the world
were a great writing. Having said so much,
let us allow there is more to the world
than writing: continental faults are not
bare convoluted fissures in the brain.
Not only must the skaters soon go home;
also the hard inscription of their skates
is scored across the open water, which long
remembers nothing, neither wind nor wake.

The speaker concludes that it is all "Miraculous." He claims that it seems that the world itself is "a great writing." Such a statement, of course, offers only the view of one individual; thus, the speaker permits himself to backtrack somewhat: "let us allow there is more to the world / than writing." The speaker observes that he cannot equate the "continental faults" with the "convoluted fissure in the brain." Those two phenomena exist quite individually, one from the other. The world of miracles undoubtedly contains uniquely crafted patterns.

The skaters who leave their scratches across the face of the pond can remain out skating only so long and then must "soon go home." And the scoring their blades leave behind will disappear after the ice melts, "remember[ing] nothing, neither wind nor wake." No matter how beautiful the writing or the source of it, time and nature will erase its presence sooner or later.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

    Comments

    Submit a Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)