Silent Films

World War I soldiers
no longer cut barbed wire
and bound across no-man’s-land
with the jerky motions of marionettes.

Crowds lining ocean liner railings
aren’t doves about to leap
from their perches, white handkerchief
wings flapping maniacally.

Royal wedding processions
and state funerals
do not view as Keystone Kop affairs,
double-time frenetic farce.

These are all now slowed
to smooth, human motions
as they were first seen—
the awkward grace of the living.

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19 thoughts on “Silent Films

  1. Crowds lining ocean liner railings
    aren’t doves about to leap
    from their perches, white handkerchief
    wings flapping maniacally.

    This was my favorite stanza in a smooth, well executed poem. Thank you.

  2. I’ve been waiting for someone to contrast the fast-paced movements in silent films to those in real life. You went above and beyond what I could have ever imagined.

    Each and every stanza ended with a spectacular image – jerky motions of marionettes, white handkerchief wings flapping maniacally, and double-time frenetic farce. (the alliteration serves the pace well.)

    and the whole last stanza “slowed to smooth” – wow. but the last line is the most breath-taking. ” the awkward grace of the living”

    I really enjoyed this, Matt, thank you.

  3. As a kid watching the old silents, I always wondered why the movements seemed so speeded up and jerky. Years later, I learned the reason: contemporary equipment couldn’t properly regulate the speed of the old movies correctly. When that got fixed – they became “movies” again. It wasn’t their fault – but ours.

    Wonderful poem, Matt.

  4. I like the contrasts of the images then and now… These lines are the hallmark of silent movies:

    These are all now slowed
    to smooth, human motions
    as they were first seen—
    the awkward grace of the living.

  5. Lovely. Especially the awkward grace of the living. Beautiful prose and yes, you captured the movement between the old and new so well. We forget because the film jumps or flickers, it wasn’t really like ‘that’ in real life. A great write to the prompt.

  6. Perfect package of image used to illustrate idea. That sped-up frenetic quality of the old films always seemed to lend a strange otherworldly importance to things, along with the exaggerated acting, all as dreamlike as your progression through this piece. Realism just doesn’t hit the same spot in the mind.

  7. I’m old enough to remember these newsreels that preceded movies when we went to the theater. But what came to mind immediately was the brusque, choppy movements of Hitler and his minions…even though I was born during that war. Excellent job of construing memories and images.

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