Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"the dimension of stillness"


Ezra Pound/1916 photo by Alvin Langdon Coburn

THE GARDEN

Like a skein of loose silk blown against a wall
She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington Gardens,
And she is dying piece-meal
of a sort of emotional anemia.
And round about there is a rabble
Of the filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor.
They shall inherit the earth.
In her is the end of breeding.
Her boredom is exquisite and excessive.
She would like some one to speak to her,
And is almost afraid that I
will commit that indiscretion.
Ezra Pound (1916)


I love poetry and whenever I discover a “new” poem I get a bit obsessed by it. This is my current obsession, likely because my theme this winter seems to be all about becoming a crone. A crone in the post modern sense of the word. Not the hooked nose-brewing up poison for unsuspecting maidens-sense of it.

“In her is the end of breeding”

When I read this poem the first time a week or so ago, my first conclusion was firmly rooted in an old school feminist lit criticism: Pound saw women who can’t breed as useless. Middle-aged women are useless, better off invisible…blah…blah…ageism…blah (Let’s all raise a fist in solidarity. . .)

After I finished my self inflicted eyeroll, I reread the poem and took a lighter view of it, one actually more in keeping to Pound’s sensibilities. In 1916 he was writing imagist pieces and finding inspiration in the Pre-Raphaelites. With this in mind, she is the symbol of a Goddess too perfect to breed. A bit more sympathetic but a stretch: “like trying to cross the rim of the Grand Canyon on a suspension bridge made of dental floss” (my favorite literature professor wrote that in the margin of a particularly terrible paper I wrote promoting some harebrained deconstructionist screed.. It made me laugh out loud and still does)

My final and favorite interpretation is a literal one: Pound observed a beautiful and genteel young woman walking through the park and their eyes met. She improperly held him in her. As he was about to speak to her; she suddenly turned away, raising her nose, sniffing at the idea he would dare speak to her in public. My interpretation is heavily influenced by all the romance novels I’ve read. Very simplistic and almost crosses into the realm of “precious”. I manage to back away from the preciousness by insisting on the feminist reading: By virtue of her sex and gender, this lonely woman is “dying” as a result of her independent and private leanings which are in opposition to the expectations placed upon her by virtue of her class. She was further a symbol of how society was changing and how women were changing. Big shoes for a little poem to fill.

I’m actually not a big fan of Pound. His Cantos string together beautiful and memorable phrases--like the title of this blog from Cantos XLIX--but I don‘t think I ever fully understood them. I remember attempting to understand the Cantos ions ago when I returned to school. It’s a big mess of a poem and some feel it was never completed. He draws on imagists, troubadours, economics, politics, his bitterness about the futility of war. Granted it’s very long but he tries to do everything in this poem and it makes my head hurt. Pound was also a vocal about his anti-Semitism and spewed his opinions on Italian radio during WW II. Once, I was chided by a Pound lover (see the professor from above) for failing to separate the artist’ politics from the art. At the end of his life, he expressed great regret for his political views during the war. Having just learned this a few years ago, I relaxed my knee jerk reaction of: “Ack!! It’s a poem by Pound, so it will be dangerous and hateful political ravings couched in weird images and nonsense! “ Now my reaction is: “Ack!! It’s Pound, I won’t get it!“ I’m relieved I didn’t get the Pound Brain Freeze when I stumbled on "The Garden".

I wish I were one of these people who reads a poem and immediately understand what the poet is trying to say. Most of the time I can’t interpret poetry without the aid of a PhD telling me what they think it means. Poems must be verrrryyyy simple and straightforward for me to grasp their meaning. Or they must be abstract and the art is simply the way the words are arranged and sound together. I can do that. I can suspend my hamster brain for a few minutes and just enjoy words and the images evoked for the sake of art. My wise and well-educated Oldest Friend told me she thinks unintelligible poems aren’t necessarily good poems. Of course I agree with her because it bruises my delicate ego when I can’t interpret a poem.

All of my feminist mumbo jumbo aside, I have imagined interpreting this poem through another artistic medium by setting up a picture: Huge piece of brightly colored sari silk blowing against a dirty graffiti covered wall. I think it would be interesting if the graffiti said: "Her boredom is exquisite and excessive" Maybe in Italian as a tribute to Pound‘s years in Italy.

I do know I never want to feel "exquisite boredom" especially if it is anything like exquisite pain. I wonder if Wally would be marked down for "poor usage" in his composition class if he called boredom exquisite?

Sweet poetry: the literal meanings of word are suspended for the sake of art.

1 comment:

Phyl said...

Love this post! Very thought-provoking. As to these lines:

"And round about there is a rabble
Of the filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor.
They shall inherit the earth.
In her is the end of breeding."

Now you've got me trying to figure them out too. When I see the "inherit the earth" line, and then the "end of breeding" remark, it makes me wonder if there's another possible explanation.

Could it be that it's her own breeding that's being remarked upon? As in the fact that she herself is so "high-bred"? Aristocratic "breeding" has reached its culmination here?

And then maybe that's why she's so exquisitely bored. There's nowhere to go now. She's the end of the line. So that the ultimate inheritors of the earth will be the ones the aristocrats thought they were outstripping, but who remained "unkillable" and not sterile, and will win this race after all.

I have no idea. :-)