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Danse Russe
by William Carlos Williams

If when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,-
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely,
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!”
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,-

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

The Dance
by Wendell Berry

I would have each couple turn,
join and unjoin, be lost
in the greater turning
of other couples, woven
in the circle of a dance,
the song of long time flowing

over them, so they may return,
turn again in to themselves
out of desire greater than their own,
belonging to all, to each,
to the dance, and to the song
that moves them through the night.

What is fidelity? To what
does it hold? The point
of departure, or the turning road
that is departure and absence
and the way home? What we are
and what we were once

are far estranged. For those
who would not change, time
is infidelity. But we are married
until death, and are betrothed
to change. By silence, so,
I learn my song. I earn

my sunny fields by absence, once
and to come. And I love you
as I love the dance that brings you
out of the multitude
in which you come and go.
Love changes, and in change is true.


typing prompt

I am, like Emily Dickinson, not a dancer. We certainly are not like the trained ballet dancers in the Impressionist paintings of Degas or Matisse's dancers.

As Emily wrote:

I cannot dance upon my Toes
No Man instructed me—
But oftentimes, among my mind,
A Glee possesseth me,

That had I Ballet knowledge—
Would put itself abroad
In Pirouette to blanch a Troupe—
Or lay a Prima, mad...

Perhaps, Emily and I are more like the dancer in "Danse Russe" by William Carlos Williams. who waits until his household is asleep

and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,-
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself

I can't quite imagine Emily dancing naked around her room, though I hope she did sometimes, but even non-dancers sometimes get lost in "the dance."

Was Williams thinking about the Ballets Russes, an avant-garde dance company of the time and its principal dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky? Nijinsky did not follow traditional ballet technique and often danced half-naked. In his Faun costume for the dance he created to Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune he was known to make gestures of orgasm to a scarf and it was a scandal on several continents.

The poem is, for me, a simple dance of freedom and joy that one can have in the privacy of one's own place. (That doesn't mean the poem hasn't been interpreted quite differently by others - check out this post.)

But "the dance" does not even have to be about dancing.

We use the verb dance to mean "to leap or skip in excitement or joy." We sometimes describe animals or even objects as dancing, as with the mating dances of birds or a toy sailboats dancing on the water.

Figuratively, when we put off or don't address something directly, it might be said that we  "dance around an issue." To use another dance term, it might be said that in that situation we "sidestep" an issue.

The noun "dance" is an important part of many rituals and ceremonies from proms to weddings.

The American NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament is called "The Big Dance."

The Dance of the Planets is a phrase used sometimes in this late spring season when Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury all appear to be right next to each other in the evening sky. Over a period of time, they seem to rotate and change positions, like dancers, with each other.

In "The Dance by Wendell Berry, I think the poet combines the literal and figurative dances.

He begins with the literal:

I would have each couple turn,
join and unjoin, be lost
in the greater turning
of other couples, woven
in the circle of a dance,
the song of long time flowing

but then turns figuratively to asking

What is fidelity? To what
does it hold? The point
of departure, or the turning road
that is departure and absence
and the way home? What we are
and what we were once

Our writing prompt this month is simply "the dance" in any of its literal or figurative or verb or noun forms.

Deadline for submissions is June 30, 2018


POETS ONLINE offers you the opportunity to submit your poetic response to this current prompt. All submissions that address this prompt will be read and considered for posting on this site. Before your first submission, you should read some poems in our archive to get a sense of the types of responses people have had to previous prompts. We will only consider poems that are in response to this current writing prompt.