Monday, March 28, 2005

Poem of the Week 3/28/2005: Song for the Last Act

Song for the Last Act

Now that I have your face by heart, I look
Less as its features than its darkening frame
Where quince and melon, yellow as young flame,
Lie with quilled dahlias and the shepherd's crook.
Beyond, a garden. There, in insolent ease
The lead and marble figures watch the show
Of yet another summer loath to go
Although the scythes hang in the apple trees.

Now that I have your face by heart, I look.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read
In the black chords upon a dulling page
Music that is not meant for music's cage,
Whose emblems mix with words that shake and bleed.
The staves are shuttled over with a stark
Unprinted silence. In a double dream
I must spell out the storm, the running stream.
The beat's too swift. The notes shift in the dark.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see
The wharves with their great ships and architraves;
The rigging and the cargo and the slaves
On a strange beach under a broken sky.
O not departure, but a voyage done!
The bales stand on the stone; the anchor weeps
Its red rust downward, and the long vine creeps
Beside the salt herb, in the lengthening sun.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.

Louise Bogan

Hello all! I usually choose the PotW based on either my mood or something that has happened within the week that makes me think of a certain poem, but this week was a little different. I wanted to find either an Easter poem or a beach poem (because it's easter, or at least it was yesterday, and I was at the beach this weekend), but none felt right. So, in my random reading looking for a poem that was "right," I instead found one that is dense and interesting. When I first went through the poem, I thought that the speaker was talking about a lover. Reading it like that, it makes almost no sense. Why, now that she knows her lover, would there be so many images of darkness, of falling apart, of geography? Well, I suppose that she could be likening him to all of those things, his face casting a pall over her views of the world, but if we take the poem to be either a nation or some kind of political (or even, perhaps, Southern aristocratic) construction, everything sort of falls into place. The wealth, shown in the gardens of the 1st stanza, is "insolent" and about to enter autumn, a representation of "the last act." It feels almost as if the money has fallen in to vice, or is soon to do so.

Then, too, Bogan deconstructs the archetypal vision we have of music as something light and laughing. This music is not even sung, it is read, expressed in "unprinted silence." That is, the silence does not come from the music, a sort of creation, being printed. Print is silent. The silence comes from it either not being sung (literal silence) or it having lost all meaning. Not being able to express an idea is akin to silence, no? The above rather akward phrase, though, brings up another aspect of the poem. Evident throughout are the things that Bogan is not doing. She is not portraying music or gardens typically. The images are nearly impressionstic at some points; Bogan consciously hops from object to object without much grace. In Hemingway, this kind of "economy of language" (a phrase we talked about in class) actually details the picture more, but here the images seem almost cracked. Archaic, esoteric, and akward language helps with this ("dulling," "staves," "darkening," "architraves" etc etc).

The diction also begins to become more and more unstable as the poem moves on. The notes "shake and bleed," "shift in the dark," while "the anchor weeps" under "a broken sky." The final stanza is what helped me to find that the you is probably a nation of some sort, and the reference to slavery and creeping vines maybe gestures to this being a Southern nation. Bogan uses the body metaphor for the nation, but it is, true to form, a little akward. How can anybody possibly memorize a nation's face? How can anyone hear its voice? In relation to those questions, it is interesting, then, to go back to the repeated statements (perhaps the poem's "darkening frame"). She plays with the term "by heart." It works not only conventionally here, but Bogan plays with the pronoun enough to help us think that this nation could actually be next to her. By her heart, near to her heart. It touches close. And the fact that "knowing" (of the brain) translates to the heart, which then enables sight, elicits interesting intra-body relationships.

I could go on and on about this poem, which is why I chose it. She plays with rhyme, the difference between looking, reading and seeing, and leads us to possibly question where the nation's body parts are. Does it have a head, heart etc? I don't know, but it might be fun to find out. Hey - good job if you made it to the end of this especially long PotW criticism! I truly appreciate everybody out there who manages to read this and all of the other PotWs. If you ever have any discussion about any poem, past, present, or suggestions to come (I don't quite want to repeat authors yet, that's just about the only constrain) I would love to hear them!! Have a wonderful day (because I hope that you are all in bed!)


Monday, March 21, 2005

Poem of the Week 3/21/2005: Permanently


One day the Nouns were clustered in the street.
An Adjective walked by, with her dark beauty.
The Nouns were struck, moved, changed.
The next day a Verb drove up, and created the Sentence.

Each Sentence says one thing - for example. "Although it was a dark
rainy day when the Adjective walked by, I shall remember the
pure and sweet expression on her face until the day I perish from
the green, effective earth."
Or, "Will you please close the window, Andrew?"
Or, for example, "Thank you, the pink pot of flowers on the window
sill has changed color recently to a light yellow, due to the heat
from the boiler factory which exists nearby."

In the springtime the Sentences and the Nouns lay silently on the grass.
A lonely Conjunction here and there would call, "And! But!"
But the Adjective did not emerge.

As the adjective is lost in the sentence,
So I am lost in your eyes, ears, nose, and throat -
You have enchanted me with a single kiss
Which can never be undone Until the destruction of language.

Kenneth Koch

Hello friends and family! Now, it was definitely time for this Koch poem - I have loved it for a long time and it just felt right, what with springtime and wedding and best friends and mothers and all. Some things I like about it: of course, words as people or beings, with personalities and feelings of their own, the hilarious, formalized example-sentences, and the end of the poem. It's so interesting how he uses adjectives in the sentences - they would be more boring without the adjectives (in this poem the symbols of love/skeletons on which Koch drapes love). That's pretty awesome - adjectives (love) are both the color of our sentences and our lives. Koch ties that into the poem in the last stanza talking about the connections of language and life, and the permance of both. Language is immortal in the sense that it will (presumably) be around so long as humans are, so love (adjectives) will be around as long as humans are. All kinds of love - the Greeks called it philia, eros, agape (loosely family, erotic, divine love, implying love defined as an emotion, a desire, and a commitment). It is interesting to think of all of the different kinds of love that there are, and how much of it there is everywhere. I digress, as usual, but maybe that's what I would just like to leave you all with this week - love, language and good night!


Monday, March 14, 2005

Poem of the Week 3/14/2005: The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm

The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was not book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

Wallace Stevens

It's always exciting to discover a new poet who you love - so I was very excited to find Wallace Stevens. He is kind of post-modernist (though definitely not post-modern thank goodness) and talks a lot about stillness. Or his poems distill a moment and give us that quiet. I chose this poem because I think that it sums up a lot of what being alone and, not trying to be clich‚ though maybe doing it anyway, being alive is all about. Being at college has really underlined my own need for personal space and alone time. Just that time to let your thoughts sift out or spin or just run. Reading, listening to music, cleaning, organizing, making lists, painting one's toes, creative dressing, all of those things are so calm. And, as Wallace Stevens might contend, they are what helps us appreciate everything, these smaller elements of living.

This poem works on a deeper level than that, though; he doesn't just want us to enjoy our alone time. He would like to tell us that the meaning is all around. There is a nice little term that I picked up for this in Honors - self-similarity across scale. That is, there is a common thread through all things. The pattern is the same on the microscopic and the macroscopic. So this poem has ss - scale (how I abbreviate it) in its own apparent simplicity. The form itself is simple. There is no crazy rhyme scheme, and the "stanzas" are just couplets. Then the diction is simple, the night is simple, the elements in the poem (aka the situation) is simple, made up of very few elements, and the message is that simplicity is what makes us humans so wonderful. And yet this idea is very complex, because every piece in this poem works with every other piece to construct this simple meaning. The quiet and the calm are both part of the situation within the poem, the elements which are necessary for the poem's meaning, and they are the meaning itself. But they are the other things at the same time - this is what I was talking about last week with Wordsworth and paradox. One element is at once three (and probably more) things. I like how everything in the poem has a consciousness. The idea of a book having a consciousness is very beautifully and thoughtfully detailed in an essay called "Criticism and the Experience of Interiority" by Georges Poulet. I would recommend it to anybody interested in this idea of the existence of the book and the book's dual consciousness. I am rambling - the book has a consciousness, and the person responds to that consciousness, wanting it to be his always, wanting it to be honest or beholden to him (both connotations of the word "true"). And the house and summer night respect the consciousnesses of the man/book, and respectfully remain silent to encourage the meaning of the book. So all of these complex elements work together to construct a simple message. Like an infinite structure that builds up to a simple package. So anyway. That is all for the poem of the week this week, and I hope that you are all having a wonderful spring break, if it is your spring break!

- Sarah "contemporize your knight bitches" Smith

Monday, March 07, 2005

Poem of the Week 3/7/2005: from The Prelude, Book Thirteenth

From The Prelude, Book Thirteenth
Thus might we wear perhaps an hour away,
Ascending at loose distance each from each,
And I, as chanced, the foremost of the band --
When at my feet the ground appeared to brighten,
And with a step or two seemed brighter still;
Nor had I time to ask the cause of this,
For instantly a light upon the turf
Fell like a flash, I lookedd about, and lo,
The moon stood naked in the heavens at height
Immense above my head, and on the shore
I found myself of a huge sea of mist,
Which meek and silent rested at my feet.
A hundred hills their dusky backs upheaved
All over this still ocean, and beyond,
Far, far beyond, the vapours shot themselves
In headlands, tongues, promontory shapes,
Into the sea, the real sea, that seemed
To dwindle and give up its majesty,
Usurped upon as far as sight could reach.
Meanwhile, the moon looked down upon this shew
In single glory, and we stood, the mist
Touching our very feet; and from the shore
At distance not the third part of a mile
Was a blue chasm, a fracture in the vapour,
A deep and gloomy breathing-place, through which
Mounted the roar of waters, torrents, streams
Innumerable, roaring with one voice.
The universal spectacle throughout
Was shaped for admiration and delight,
Grand in itself alone, but in that breach
Through which the homeless voice of waters rose,
That dark deep thoroughfare, had Nature lodged
The soul, the imagination of the whole.

A meditation rose in me that night
Upon the lonely mountain when the scene
Had passed away, and it appeared to me
The perfect image of a mighty mind,
Of one that feeds upon infinity,
That is exalted by an under-presence,
The sense of God, or whatsoe'er is dim
Or vast in its own being --

This is just a tiny excerpt from Wordsworth's wonderful poem The Prelude, but it is one of the most important "spots of time" in the book. For all of you honors kids, you have seen this before, but in-
class reading is never so good as looking at something of your own volition. Or having it forced on you in the form of the Poem of the Week. And anyway, my conversation with Tim the other night inspired me to send out Wordsworth. I have done a lot of extra work on the Prelude, so my reading of this poem will probably be longer than most of the Poem of the Week thoughts. Either skip them or bear with me - it doesn't matter either way. I just hope that you can feel the energy and the wonder of Wordsworth's words. I would sometimes have a hard time even reading his stuff because it is so beautifully and carefully constructed. But yeah.

This episode picks up as Wordsworth is ascending Mount Snowdon in his early twenties. Before he gets to the top, all is misty and blank and simply sort of quiet. Then he suddenly comes upon this vision as he emerges from the fog. Wordsworth presents this episode as evidence of his creative healing later in life - as if this experience in his 20s proves creative power much later. It is circular, but Wordsworth is all about paradox, and the Prelude is the journey of the poet to the creation of the poem. It is Ww's journey into realizing and trusting his own creative power. He sees nature as the creation of God. When we look at the immense infinity of nature, we take it in and it becomes part of us. So creation, and the potential to create, enters a human through nature, and poetry emerges. Nature is God's way of working through humans. Creative power is inspired by nature, which is actually inspired by God. External forces work internally. In this passage, the vastness of Mt. Snowdon parallels the vastness inside - "the perfect image of a mighty mind." And the final entanglement of God and interiority hints at the infinite nature of man which is technically finite (i.e. death). So what is infinite? Is it our relationship to God that makes us infinite? The lasting quality of anything you create? A thing created is, in actuality an Other, yes? But it comes from the self. But this self IS other-ly, through God/Nature. Very circular. My favorite phrase about this is that something like this self/other knot is both "containing and being contained." Is any of this making any sense? I don't know if I am being as clear as I would like to, or conveying my wonder at the complexity of this excerpt. It is very complicated and paradoxica. But the Romantic poets would argue that it is crucial to be able to hold paradox in your mind - two opposing ideas can and do exist at the same time: negative capability. Anyway. This is one of my favorite works of poetry, and I love the twisting of Romantic ideas. If you made it this far through my little (and by "little" I mean "big") discourse on self/other and paradox, thank you! And have a wonderful day!