As mentioned in a previous blog entry, I served as an AP Exam reader for English Literature this year. I happened to be reading essays on Richard Wilbur’s 1949 poem titled “The Juggler.” As I was reading essays on this topic, I thought of the modern practice of chain saw juggling. The poem includes references to figures of speech because many of the essays did. However, I confess I got some of the figures of speech, not from student essays, but from the ultimate authority which lists somewhere around 400 different figures of speech, Bullinger’s Figures of Speech in the Bible.
He stretches the starter cord
And flips open his fingers
And the saw sputters and starts with a start
And then another
And then a third saw in polysyntedon
Until three buzz saws roar like a tree full of locusts.
As the audience draws in a single breath,
He balances one saw on his nose,
Flings a second, finally, asyndetonically,
The third till all three are flying fantastically orbiting his ears.
The pair of EMTs are poised,
Praying in alliteration.
They avoid considering possibilities;
Even if he just grazed a finger—
Forget head wounds or leg stumps;
They, too, held their breaths.
It is dangerous and defiant what he does,
Juggling chain saws as if before the gates of hell,
Abandon all hope ye who falter here.
But he falters not,
And audience acclaim is awesome in its assonance
Though it is hard to hear over the sound of the saws.
The seconds seem like hours
As he hurls the saws around.
How does he do it?
Ten thousand hours, they say, to become an expert.
Think of the days and ear-protected hours it took,
And now we sit in awe and
Loose our lips and larynges
In honor, respect, and exhilaration serially
For the one who defies both nature and common sense.
After twenty cycles,
One by one he sets the saws on the cement, still buzzing.
He seizes a sawbuck and places a balsa log in its crotch.
With a single swoop he manhandles a saw
And slices the log in two,
Throwing each half to the audience where they can feel the heat
And sniff the sawdust synesthetically—
This is not smoke and mirrors,
No nesting swords piercing a lady in a box.
One by one he cuts the engine of each saw
And wipes the sweat from his forehead and face.
We applaud, urging an encore.
We are impressed and amazed in hendiadys.
Would we dare it ourselves?
Of course not!
But still we can watch and preach like the prophets:
Oh death, where is thy sting?