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I haven’t taken any classes in writing poetry, so I’ve been experimenting on my own with different voices and styles, just to see what happens. While experimenting, I wrote this poem about Ophelia’s drowning in the voices of the servants who may have found her. I was also reading Charles Frazier’s Thirteen Moons at the time, so I intended to make the voice 19th century southern American.

Ophelia Found

 

We found Miss Ophelia

drowned in the river

sunup this morning

checking fish traps we was

drowned by her choices she was

            Happens with no mother to see to a young’un.

Yes.

 

Stones clutched in her hands

stones lading her bodice

that fine thin gown a-hers

binding up her legs

pale like a baby bird they was

tried to fly too soon

            Better she should’ve put a stone enwomb.

Yes.

 

Pulled her out from the water

laid her down soft on the bank

sent the boy to tell ma’am

whilst I made her clean as I could

carried her up to the house

            Cleaned up as much as you could I’m sure.

Yes.

 

We piled her stones in a little cairn

aside the river

stones she chose herself

to mark the place

moved the traps upstream

Did you tell ma’am about the stones?

No.

 

©Copyright 2009 Pat Edwards

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Working on my poem about stones and choices, my mind went tripping down the road of Ophelia and her drowning. I had to pull out the dumbbell-size Riverside compilation and re-read that part of Hamlet. In school I took a seminar that read the folios, but that’s been more than (cough!) twenty five years ago. Re-reading the Shakespeare made me think I might write this poem in iambic pentameter, but I got past that foolish thought quickly.

Millais' well-known Ophelia

Millais' well-known Ophelia

When the queen tells Laertes about Ophelia’s death she blames it on a combination of Ophelia’s girlish foolishness picking flowers and climbing trees when a malicious tree branch wouldn’t hold her, so she fell into the river. This was certainly a way to ensure she was buried in hallowed ground, as suicide was a sin. In the next scene, the clowns as gravediggers talk about how the rich get away with shading and spinning the truth, and the poor can’t. Of course, what’s not talked about and scholars have targeted, is whether it was murder and was Ophelia pregnant. Shakespeare gives hints with Hamlet’s treatment of Ophelia, the queen’s elaborate story, etc.

What’s missing, too, is a scene with the servant(s) who found her, pulled her body out of the river, and carried her back to the castle. I plan to build the poem on these characters and the off-stage action in the great tradition of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. I should be so skilled!