Saturday, July 23, 2011

Gathering the Threads

Begin when all the rest had left behind them
Headlong death in battle or at sea --

I am, you realize, Percy Bysshe Shelley: Shelley grown old, fat, timid, and doubtful. I understand all that swathe of destruction. The conviction that the desire sweeping over me must be drenching all the land, filling up arteries and arterioles of the earth -- not to mention the woman who has fixed my attention. But, you know, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. And Harriet Westbrook and Mary Godwin Shelley learned that the bitter hard way.

Still, Mary would never hear a word against him. And that counts for something, as his poems wash up less and less often on the shore of the present. He's slipping back into the ocean: his champions have made personae non gratae of themselves, and anyway, he was not quite, not quite good enough to make the leap. It's good to know Mary is still waiting for him down there, among the other women and the fish.

It's this business of seeing around corners, of seeing the transparency of your own flesh, the quick glance away of knowing dark eyes, the blindness as the sun swings into the telescope, when the sidewalks all twist and ripple and you can see all the restless things beneath. It's never quite still, and never quite dead. Things that other people can't see clutch at you. Words throw long thread-roots into other words, and drag themselves into other languages, while they're still not quite unfleshed. It's the not-quite-ness that stings.

But none of this is what I wanted to say. I look over the lined faces of the poets carefully, as they lean into each other, each in black, and try to read the threads there, too. We are all Penelope, unweaving at night what we wove in the day, putting off a new husband as long as we can, hoping old Manytropes will still roll home in the end, shaggy but mossless. He might still outsmart them all. He might.

Fools and children!
They feasted on the kine of Helios
And he who walks all day through the heavens
Took from their eyes the dawn of their return.


Lucy said...

Funny to think of the likes of Mary, and Fanny, and no doubt others who survived, going on to be Victorian matrons. I tried to read Mary's later novel 'The Last Man' once, didn't finish it. There was a vogue for 'last man' novels for a while, apparently

Growing old, fat, timid and doubtful surely has something going for it? I hope so, anyway.

I like the word 'kine' there. Is it your translation? I ended up Googling around for it and found a string of different ones compared. Morris's is funny, trying to sound a bit Anglo-Saxon.

marly youmans said...

Hey, Mole, I'm not all THAT lined yet! Just you wait: wrinklies ahead. And mine are going to be cheerful dang wrinkles, you hear?

So. You weren't kidding when you said those pictures followed you around...

Old: there's much ahead, I hope! Just don't start wearing house dresses and getting your hair "done" and you'll be all right. XD

Fat: It's Baseball Hall of Fame Day here, and you do not know FAT (or claustrophobia) until you have ploughed the sidewalks here.

Timid: Again, I think of the tourists. Some of them are most dreadfully bold!

Doubtful: Can't have wisdom without some doubt to grease the way, can you?

Somehow John Cleese saying that he'd rather be a successful Victorian painter of "academic" paintings and a happy pater familias than a tormented Romantic artist came into my head when you talked about Shelley. I wonder where I saw that?

carolee said...

"Things that other people can't see clutch at you." That's brilliantly said. It could be true of all poets. Maybe true of all people, I suppose. xo

Zhoen said...

I have a theory about writers and artists who are popular in their own time, but not much liked over time. I think they speak so specifically, so clearly, to their own time, they are topical, and imitated. So, when later generations read the variations, the original seems completely derivative. Like Citizen Kane, which broke all kinds of new ground. But looking at it now, it's all cliche, because every filmmaker after stole from it and expanded on it.

Everyone stands on the shoulder innovators, and they nearly disappear.

JMartin said...

Middle-aged eyes can no longer bring stasis into focus, and you lose faith in the efficacy of duct-tape.

Love the words dragging themselves into different languages, like Van Gogh's olive trees dragging their roots across blasted landscape. Would they seek return to their earliest forms, retreat to the womb?

Bravo on "kine". "Cattle" or "oxen" or "cows" all are interminable, and bleed into Helios. Here is Miss Bogan's use:

Buff kine in herd, gray whales in pod,/Brown woodchucks, colored like the sod,/All creatures from the hand of God.

Dale said...

Oh dear, I really did say "lined faces"? This is why one shouldn't post at 3 a.m. I meant "lined" as in "outlined," with a glance at lines of poetry, of course. What that Victorian portrait painter would have called "limned."

Not my translations of Homer: my Greek was always indifferent. Just the lines as I remember them. Probably Robert Fitzgerald. But the "kine" might have crept in from some other translation. Fitzgerald didn't like "poesy" words. @Lucy, you should read Morris's Beowulf sometime. It's a hoot, only half-translated -- he *always* takes the etymological descendant, when he can, so that he renders "stol" ("throne") as "stool."

@Carolee -- Yes.

@Zhoen, yes, some people hit exactly the right note for a particular time. Shelley really came into his own with the mid-20th Century, and will probably mostly fade with it. Although he may still have a future as a revolutionary poet. He's beautiful when he's angry.

@Julie, you're a Bogan fan too? I should have known! I'm a sucker for one-syllable words, too.

marlyat2 said...

You did! No worries, though. We should go to bed earlier to preserve our precious once-morning skin, but we don't, do we? :)