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!)


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