Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Poem of the Week 5/30/2007: O Taste and See

O Taste and See

The world is
not with us enough
O taste and see

the subway Bible poster said,
meaning The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination’s tongue,

grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite,
savor, chew, swallow, transform

into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being

hungry, and plucking
the fruit.

Denise Levertov

Ms. Levertov's poem flashes by like the world from a subway train, moving with as much energy. By calling us to live, though, she integrates growth with the speed of the modern world. Levertov is working with several elements here. First, she responds to a Wordsworth sonnet, which begins, "the world is too much with us." His lines express grief and anguish at the failure of the French Revolution, the weight that overcomes all humans. Since the French Revolution, times have changed. Now, we don't live enough, we don't respond enough. There is less joy and freedom than there used to be--merely lines of movement along subways, sidewalks, roads, and offices. So when we end up in the orchard, we ought to free ourselves!

She also responds to the Adam and Eve story, and to a Christian morality that no longer has a place in this world (though this interpretation of the A and E myth is only one level of its interpretation). Rather than denying outselves, with the paradoxical puritanism of work and capitalism, we ought to live more.

Perhaps, though, we might say that she is merely encouraging the small appeasement of desires, the endless deferment of experience by little pleasues of the modern world. So I will attempt to frame this in a way that will give her credit, with Foucault at my side. When I talk of the puritanism of capitalism, I mean the double-standard of repression and appeasement. A good example here is sexuality. We have a lot of rhetoric about sex being forbidden, a lot of paranoia about sexual harassment, a lot of messages of abstinence, safety, and responsibility. Sex is a transgression, nowadays. And yet, we are conversely called to do it all of the time. That is, any time somebody says "no" about it, they actually bring it up. They make you think about doing it, and so make you complicit in it. So the double standard of the media makes sex both transgressive, which makes it tempting and forbidding, but it brings it up. Hm. After writing all of this, I am not sure whether my argument holds. I am trying to say that there is a difference between responding to transgressive social norms and really following what ought to be.

The former implies still some kind of restriction, because society regulates our actions by pulling them into a discourse, by telling us what to think and when to think it. The latter has to do with enlarging ourselves by experience. By really living, by being grateful for everything that we have been giving, this beautiful world, which though sad and difficult, ought still be lived in. We need to engage, Levertov says, and we can in such a way as to grow.

Thanks for bearing with this thought-process of a PotW.

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