In men whom men condemn as ill
I find so much of goodness still,
In men whom men pronounce divine
I find so much of sin and blot,
I do not dare to draw a line
Between the two, where God has not.
~ Joaquin Miller ~
I make the poem of evil also.
~ Walt Whitman ~
I can't live when it lives
It won't live if I die
Machine has no heart to give
Heart it takes could be mine
No one can save
The pure or the brave
No one can save them at all
Grow and decay
Grow and decay
It's only forever
Friday, April 17, 2009
I’ve been rereading Macbeth and some of the psychology of it has thinned out for me.
When the witches first declare that Macbeth will be King, Banquo asks him “Good sir, why do you start; and seem to fear/Things that do sound so fair?” What’s interesting to me about this is that Banquo immediately endorses the prophecy despite its hugely bloody implications. At the very least it calls for the death of the king. On my current reading, I recoiled from this avarice, and found the subsequent eagerness of Macbeth to consider murder (within the same scene) an almost totally alienating development in my identification with him.
What’s so different from the first times I read this play? I think one obvious thing – the prediction of the witches doesn’t seem as wonderfully felicitous to someone who’s tread the territory of the play before. Shakespeare relies on that bit of psychology heavily here I think – but the charm of being told you’re being promoted by some witches and then getting that promotion doesn’t seem enough to me now to warrant all-out regicidal thoughts. Yeah, maybe the superstition was more common in that place and time but my first readings didn’t result in this jarring disconnect.
One thing that also occurs to me is that one reason we’re motivated to assume the kingship with Macbeth precisely because the battle he just fought was so bloody. We want to be relatively safe, like Duncan. Not on the front lines risking everything all the time. So for a warring Thane like Macbeth it’s almost a matter of life and death to assume the kingship.
Also, the way I usually think of the play is that Macbeth doesn’t consider killing the king until his wife encourages him to do so. That’s not true, to my surprise during this reading. She just fixes him on the goal.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
In speaking about With Deer I will try to defy the hyperbole and the self-induglent metaphor used to review and blurb books these days, but I may fail.
I think this book is powerfully original and cohesive.
I have been processing the book slowly. The first poem was a shock to me, and since I've had longer to think about it than about the others, I will address it in the post. Then I will probably write a longer review for another site or for some unsuspecting print publication if possible.
The poem itself...
His fingers search the bottom of the tarn for the water lily's black vein. Still the love beast breathes. Still he suckles the fox sore on my weak wrist. In the distance the wind is slowly dying: the night of nights is coming. But still the fetus lily rests untouched. And still his fingers search the bottom of the tarn for the water lily's black vein.
Addressing this poem, I should say that the first line's immediacy and clarity seized me. I doubt seriously whether this poet would cite Seamus Heaney as an influence, but I feel that kind of relationship to the natural world here. What follows pleasingly breaks that idea down.
The love beast breathes, suckles the fox sore. We see perhaps a love beast injured, breathing to the narrator's surprise. And we wonder what a fox sore is and why it would be suckled. I looked around online for some explanation of what fox sore would mean in Swedish, but I found out that it just means "we're reading an inventive and bizarre poem."
Then the wind is slowly dying - an unfortunate cliche here. But I think writers are not supposed to care about the occasional lazy phrase anymore. Doesn't make sense to me, especially in a short poem. The night of nights is coming; this line sets the tone for the book. What she's created here is an atmosphere of the wounded, the half-healing, the natural world taking over and yet falling apart. What happens to daylight in Sweden during winter might have something to do with this.
The lily becomes an untouched fetus, an unformed entity which would not respond well to being fingered by the man. Or "his fingers." And the lily's vein eludes those fingers at the end. The delicate is evasive, and the source of beauty, perhaps rotted itself, is still inviolate. Still. Nothing has really changed.