Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Greek... embraced by Wilbur

In Richard Wilbur's poem, "A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra"
the group stumbled on his use in the 11th quatrain of the word "arete", Greek for "virtue" but as with most greek terms, loaded with cultural value.

15 quatrains, in embraced rhyme.
crown/down embrace feet/eat

breaks/makes embraces fills/spills

It is as if Wilbur has thought carefully about the tensions of antonymes, about the impact of baroque art, and paid careful attention to the emotional intensity of the trapped figures in a fountain, the disparity of a stocky faun, a cherub whose feet are nibbled by a serpent,
but the heat of the poem lies in the the music of the water, struggling upwards, "until the very wish of water is reversed" and a marvellous description of its "gnatlike shimmering, in a fine/Illumined version of itself, decline, /And patter on the stones its own applause.

gauze/applause embraces fine/decline
are/bizarre embraces display/arrete

the descent is echoed in the form with the enjambements between Q1,2,3 with a pause of semi-colon in Q4: (the goatish innocence of his babes at play;)
Q5,6,7,8, 9 with a question mark in Q10.

The next question, (echoing the last line of Q7: Are we not / More intricately expressed/)
is contained in the hypothesis "If that is what men are..."
"What of these showered fauns in their bizarre,/ (enjambment, interrupting the enumerative list of adjectives, (spangled and plunging)

comparing us to the figures in the fountain -- and this spiritual "shade of bliss" dreamland,

and this haunting last quatrain which evokes for me a grave, sprinkled with God-light of the living, as the soul leaps upwards, relinquishing earthly pleasure.

"As near and far as grass
Where eyes becomes the sunlight, and the hand
Is worthy of water: the dreamt land
Toward which all hungers leap, all pleasures pass."

People may ask why he spells "saecular" in a latinate form -- which will take you to look up the differences between secular (lay) and saecular and realize the poem is about earthly and spiritual realms, with allusions to Horace...
the trefoil, Maderna, St. Peter's, evoke the architecture of the Church; St. Francis at the end is the one given the vision of the earth as a "shade of bliss".

And arete? What is the pattern of our "arete"? how do we make our goodness, virtue, excellence visible?

Perhaps knowing these levels enhances the beauty of this poem

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