John Frederick Nims was a poet who was both prolific (he published eight books of poetry (Famous Poets)) and well-regarded (earned such awards as the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature (Famous Poets)). The amount of poetry and the awards one receives are not marks of greatness alone, but the quality of the poetry is. Of course, one might assume that someone who is allowed to publish a great deal of poetry and receives grants and fellowships to continue writing poems is doing something right. But that does not mean that the poet is someone who readers will enjoy. NIms could have been someone that was critically, but not popularly, acclaimed; but this was not the case. John Frederick Nims was a poet, enjoyed by all those who read his poetry, who wrote a few that are still recognized as exemplary. One of which is simply titled "Love Poem." Nims' history, selections from his body of work and an analysis of the twists of "Love Poem" are all necessary to understand who this poet was, and the value he gave to American literature.
Not much is given of the history of Nims other than he was born in 1913, he wrote some poems and he won some awards. But there was one other accomplishment that he was noted for before his death in 1999. Nims tried to be a poet/educator. He received a PhD from Chicago University and soon was teaching at some of the most prestigious universities in the world. He acted as chief editor for Poetry magazine from 1978-1984 also (Famous Poets). His greatest achievement was attempting to spread his love of poetry to others.
Nims was both a writer of original poetry and a translator of other people's work. He had eight original books of poetry, and he translated five others. These efforts show the amount of time Nims spent with poetry, and that is the reason that he is seen as one of the great American poets.
His translated work included such titles as "Sappho to Valery: Poems in Translation," "The Complete Poems of Michelangelo," and "The Poems of St. John of the Cross." In "Sappho" he was trying to show the breadth of the art across time. He included such writers as Dante, Goethe, and some older works such as a piece by Plato (Nims 1971). Michelangelo was the complete renaissance man in that he dabbled in many different artistic forms. His poetry was a precursor to the romantics in that he wrote with emotion and love was a favorite theme. However, he wrote some poems about his experiences as a famous artist, such as "Fame keeps the Epitaphs Where They Lie," which are much more interesting because of their autobiographical content (Nims 1998). Another translated work was about the collected writings of St. John of the Cross. Of course, these poems have a very religious flavor, but there are those like "The Lucky Days" which show his outlook aside from religion in part (Nims 1979).
Nims own works were regarded as exemplary works of the American form. He wrote eight books of poetry, but it seems that some were more inspired than others. In "The Six-Cornered Snowflake and Other Poems," he introduced a new form. He conceived a structure, that looks like the Star of David, and wrote a poem within. There were no rhyming patterns or suggested line numbers, but the creativity of a mind always searching for something new is there (Nims 1983). His earliest works are contained in "Selected Poems" from 1944. This is the first anthology in which "Love Poem" was introduced to the general public (Nims 1944). As with many of the poems in the book, he had first published "Love Poem" in the magazine Poetry and it was rereleased in this collection.
The title is distracting because it puts an image into a person's head which is false. When someone sees the words love poem they are probably expecting something like a sonnet from Shakespeare, or something melancholy and longing from Edna St. Vincent Millay. This poem is none of those; it is more a pleasant surprise because it does not adhere to the traditional love poem.
The poem is in six stanzas that take the reader through the complex feelings that the poet has for his "dear." He leaves the reader with the impression that despite the exasperation he feels with her, he still has such devotion to her that her other traits pale in comparison. But, he does feel the need to explain why he loves someone completely who can also drive him crazy.
The first stanza starts the antithetical message by using words describing her "clumsiness" which causes everything she touches to turn into a disaster. It seems that the woman described here has never learned how to gracefully approach anything or that she is so absent-minded that she does not pay attention to the more mundane things in life. Looking at the poets words, the woman described here can be taken many ways. She cannot handle vases, china or linen (Nims 1944) because she makes a disaster of them. This means that she is either uncaring when it comes to these temporal objects, ot she has some innate clumsiness that she has not been able to overcome. Grace is not one of her gifts, and it seems that she has come to terms with that as has the author.
However, she is not clumsy in other respects. She considers people important as she is able to make the "ill-at-ease" feel comfortable when they approach her, and she cares for the person who has become unsteady because of drink (Nims 1944). The clumsiness disappears in the second stanza because Nims wants the reader to understand that this woman is not a total disaster. She is the master of the more important situations, and has all the mercy that any wayward person could desire.
Again, though, another facet of her clumsy side shows itself in stanza number three. She is a "taxi driver's terror" and seen "leaping before apoplectic street cars" (Nims 1944). She is unconcerned apparently about the way she drives or where she walks. The poet leads the reader to believe that there is an inherent inattention in her that she does not wish to correct because it will keep her mind from more important things.
She returns to grace of character in the fourth stanza because of her ability to "in traffic of wit expertly maneuver" (Nims 1944). She is adored for this characteristic and it overshadows the failings she has. Those who know her are seen fawning at her knees.
The last two stanzas further describe her ineptitude in the world with things many other would consider important, but it talks of the unimportance of this compared to who she is. The poet asks her to please "smash glasses" (Nims 1944) as long as she remains near him. He obviously notices the temporal things that she does not, but he does not care about them any more than she does. She has taught him what the more important aspects of life are. She has been his guide away from the more mundane life that everyone else leads of worrying about the small things and forgetting what is really important.
This seems a completely positive poem and one that none could mistake for its devotion; but, that would be a false assumption. The woman is shown as clumsy and disinterested in many aspects. Despite the fact that the author clearly does not care about these elements of her personality, a feminist could very easily view this in a negative light. The fact that the man does not care…