Friday, April 17, 2009

His Running My Running - Robert Francis


Mid-autumn late autumn
At dayfall in leaf-fall
A runner comes running.

How easy his striding
How light his footfall
His bare legs gleaming.

Alone he emerges
Emerges and passes
Alone, sufficient.

When Autumn was early
Two runners came running
Striding together

Shoulder to shoulder
Pacing each other
A perfect pairing.

Out of leaves falling
Over leaves fallen
A runner comes running

Aware of no watcher
His loneness my loneness
His running my running.

---Robert Francis

Robert Francis' His Running My Running

Lately I've become prone to hitting the snooze button once or twice each morning. This means that I eat up precious minutes with extra snippets of sleep. Twelve minutes, hit the snooze, then another twelve minutes. Before I know it the time I'd allotted to my morning run is completely gone. It's a damn shame when this happens. Scientific studies have proven that morning exercise stimulates us and improves our moods, giving us energy for the rest of the day. When I'm not lazy I roll from bed, get dressed, grab my Ipod, and lace up my running shoes. Pitch black and stiffly cold, I shake, stretch, and then launch myself into the morning, pounding one foot after the other. Running is therapeutic, allowing me to erase whatever happened before and whatever will happen later. It is time reserved strictly for myself and sometimes, when running, I feel perfectly in-sync with who I am and who I want to be. This connectedness is built upon rhythm. Just as a poet seeks out rhythm in combinations of words, so does a runner search for their natural rhythm. Robert Francis knew this well, sharing the rhythm of writing and running in his poem His Running My Running.

It's tough to read this poem and overlook the form. Francis is noted for his tight and precise poems, often driven by natural rhythms. In His Running My Running, Francis repeats not only words within the same line (Mid-autumn late autumn / At dayfall in leaf-fall), but he also creates lines with repetitive sequences of syllables and stresses (How easy his striding / How light his footfall / His bare legs gleaming). The repetition of words and phrases combines with the sporadic end rhymes to form a loose, yet concentrated structure. This structure mirrors the whole body engaged in the cycle of running: churning legs, pounding feet, heavily beating heart, contracting lungs, fuzzy head, spasming muscles. I'm not going out on any limbs here, but I believe Francis intended the poem to read like a good, long run: rising and falling repeatedly, balanced and measured, but as a whole one long breath, in then out.

In Francis' portrayal, running is not a social activity. The runner at the center of the poem “Emerges and passes / Alone, and sufficient.” In this accomplishment there is not a sense of joy, but a subtle pride. The runner doesn't seek out others, but instead settles into solitude and in this state finds satisfaction. It wasn't always this way. The poem's speaker, the lone runner, reminds us “ When Autumn was early / Two runners came running / Striding together / Shoulder to shoulder / Pacing each other / A perfect pairing.” I find it very interesting that Francis drops this “pairing” just as soon as they are introduced. They've unexpectedly been separated without explanation, yet they exist together in memory. He's created the mystery of the runner's partner and where this integral person has disappeared to, why this person has disappeared leaving our runner alone.

Ultimately, the poem returns to the lone runner “Aware of no watcher.” The poem's speaker sees so much of himself in this lone runner: “His loneness my loneness / His running my running.” Their kinship is remarkable. They share the poem's rhythm, a rhythm we previously established as emblematic of the act of running. I see how a poet could equate writing and crafting a poem to running. Both are lonely activities completed in solitude, but with the world all around you. Both bring you close to others---whether it is your audience, fans, or other poets and runners---only to pull you back to your own private world. And both activities are invigorating, stirring your consciousness so that you, alone, consider the largest issues: how far you can go, what you can sustain, all that you are capable of, and if you've made the impossible possible. Yes, poets and runners are the same breed and maybe we didn't need Robert Francis to illustrate this for us in His Running My Running, but I'm sure glad that he did.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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