||[Feb. 1st, 2015|04:03 pm]
A flock of a dozen or so fairly large birds perched in the trees in my back yard and yards round about. I don't know what kind they were, as they were so high up and my eyesight is not what it once was. They had dark feathers and pale breasts with dark patches on them, and they were silent but for the fluttering of wings as, now and then, one would move from one branch to another or one tree to another. They were easily visible in the bare oaks, but those that flew into the pines became obscure. |
They seemed to be enjoying the late afternoon sun, as those I could see all faced it most of the time. Their presence lent an odd sense of anticipation to the landscape, as though some formal event in which they were to take part was about to begin. But nothing happened. They remained for awhile, then one by one flew away, leaving me with the feeling that something was undone, that though the day would end it would remain somehow incomplete. I returned indoors, but the afternoon's sudden emptiness stayed in my mind. I feel it now, in the air arched over my roof. I wonder if nightfall will drive it away?
by R S Thomas
No one would know you had lived,
but for my discovery
of the anonymous undulation
of your grave, like the early swelling
of the belly of a woman
who is with child. And if I entered
it now, I would find your bones
huddled together, but without
flesh, their ruined architecture
a reproach, the skull luminous
but not with thought.
Would it help us to learn
what you were called in your forgotten
language? Are not our jaws
frail for the sustaining of the consonants'
weight? Yet they were balanced
on tongues like ours, echoed
in the ears' passages, in intervals when
the volcano was silent. How
tenderly did the woman handle
them, as she leaned her haired body
to yours? Where are the instruments
of your music, the pipe of hazel, the
bull's horn, the interpreters
of your loneliness on this
We are domesticating
it slowly; but at times it rises
against us, so that we see again
the primeval shadows you built
your fire amongst. We are cleverer
than you; our nightmares
are intellectual. But we never awaken
from the compulsiveness of the mind's
stare into the lenses' furious interiors.
I'd like to know what kind of birds those were.
What do you make of the "Lenses" in the final line of the poem?
To me the lenses refer back to the seeing of the primeval shadows a few lines before, and the image suggests that the domestication of the "ferocious planet" includes not just the outer world but the world of our thoughts and perceptions as well, the "furious interiors."
I'm still wondering what kind of birds they were, too. They were a bit bigger than pigeons and a bit smaller than crows. I don't recall ever having seen them before.
Oh, thanks! That's exactly the kind of interpretation of poetry that I was so bad at in college -- my freshman year, one professor demanded to see me in-office after he returned a paper to me with a big, fat D on it. He told me I had "raped" the poem. What a jerk. So i did not go on to major in English. ;)
Maybe those birds are new to your parts and are scouting out new migration patterns due to climate change? You might see them again!
I've been wondering if the strange birds were stalking the robins.
I never felt that I was all that good at interpretation myself, but on the few occasions when I had to do a paper interpreting something I usually got a decent grade, so I must have had more literary geek skillz than I thought. I'm still not comfortable with it, though, and always have the feeling that I'm missing something, or getting parts of it wrong.
Your professor was a thug. Maybe somebody else in the English department eventually got around to telling him that his students were as good at interpreting literature as he was at teaching it.
I tend to skate along the beautiful surface of poetry, and I've come to realize it's because I'm into beautiful writing (of any kind) for the love of the words, not of Literature. So I was a poor literature student but a fair linguist!
Prof. Rosenfeld had assigned a Theodore Roethke poem ("I Knew a Woman") that turned out to be a sophisticated sexual metaphor. I was a green, naive 18-year-old from the Republican sticks of Indiana and had no inkling that such a thing was possible, so I took the poem literally. Rosenfeld assumed I was just trolling and was fairly brutal in his talk with me. I changed my major immediately. He probably would have said he'd rescued Literature from the likes of me. :(Alvin Rosenfeld
Oh well. Water under the bridge. But that was 1970, and I will never forget the shame of it.
One would think that a guy— even a fairly young guy— who'd gotten a doctorate three years before would have been a better teacher. I do hope at least one feminist eventually called him on his bullshit. Seeing a poem misinterpreted by a freshman has absolutely nothing in common with rape. Talk about not understanding something!
But I know what you mean about the love of words being distinct from the love of literature. I've been reading Pierre Reverdy's poetry for forty years, and to this day I still have no clue what he was getting at most of the time, but the effect of his language and imagery is so splendid that I don't really miss not getting a specific meaning out of it. Each poem is like a precious object in its own right, entirely aside from its content. Of course maybe that was what he was getting at.
As I recall, he also disliked my paper on "The Ballad of the Goodly Fere." I was much happier majoring in Italian! Thank you for disapproving of him for me. That makes me feel better about the whole thing.
Odd that I don't know Reverdy at all. I found some translations by Rexroth (whom I like a lot) and attempted them but sort of bounced off. *s* Dylan Thomas and Gerard Manley Hopkins are my go-tos for gorgeous language. O Poetry, life would be so sad without you!