The heartbreaking oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the serious threat it poses to marine life on Louisiana and Mississippi's barrier islands recalled David Middleton's fine poem "Beyond the Chandeleurs," the title work in a virtuouso collection published by LSU Press in 1990.
The collection richly displays Middleton's mastery of the classical poetic techniques of rhyme and meter. Middleton writes on a range of subjects, from the profound to the quotidian, showing a traditional belief in poetry's suitability for a variety of subjects of human communication.
The collection looks at a number of Louisiana places, suffused with a stong love and understanding of the state's northern and southern parts. Northern and Southern Louisiana are seen as cultural opposites, but Middleton finds their shared values while respecting their uniqueness.
The poem "Beyond the Chandeleurs" is colored by a complex understanding of the islands,a gulf estuary and the nesting place for marine birds, now threated by a floating smear of oil. Middleton looks back at the French explorers' arrival at the islands, and their ecological, cultural and historical treasures. The poem's subtitle shows the islands' heritage and their irreplaceable value: "islands reached and named by Iberville, 2 February 1699."
The poem goes on to trace the ancient origin of the islands, their colonial history, and their sacredness for us today. To show the poem's excellence, here is the second stanza:
"And now, three hundred years from Iberville
This frigid winter dawn the very day
Whose name he gave those shores toward which we sail,
We cross the sound to find the Chandeleurs
So luminous in moonlight, crescent dunes,
Bleak beaches without islands, miles from land,
Forever washed by waves that crash across
Their narrow breadth, channeling in the sand.
And as we pass by slowly, south-southwest,
We see in mingled gleams of moon and sun
Bubbling over the salt in windblown foam
The play of shape and chaos, our true home."