Thursday, January 27, 2011

1/17: Ekphrasic poems: Berryman, WCW; de la Mare, Robin Becker


How words embroider, draw out, command, echo, what happens in paint? As paint is silent – by what means does a poet divine these words? The idea is to engage the senses make notes with words, brush, music so embued with vivid aliveness.

On Breughel: Hunters in the Snow : 3 poets, same picture -- and many more poems abound to capture an understanding of three hunters on the crest of a hill, overlooking a Flemish town, with the business of village life:

The idea is not merely to describe: Modern empiricism is based on an ideal of impersonal description that can provide the stability and impartiality of "the eye's plain version," "a thing apart". But readers run the risk of so stressing contemplative states and formal accomplishments that they lose the work's capacity to provide distinctive modes of felt intimacy with the actual world.

Image and imagination go gaily hand-in-hand.
Wallace Stevens (Esthetique du Mal) would abstract painting into part-whole relationships and then produce significance for those relations.
Baudelaire's numerous Salon reviews of art criticism and dedications of his poems to artists of his time, makes frequent thematic references to pictorial art in the body of various poems, especially in Les Fleurs du mal. (Baudelaire placed Delacroix in the historic canon of great masters in "Les Phares," including him with such giants as Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rubens and Goya. -- more on that another time.)

So let us look at what Berryman, Walter de la Mare and William Carlos Williams do.
All three refer to the return of three men, Berryman refers to men with poles and hounds; de la Mare to sinister spears and snuffling dogs; Williams to sturdy hunters and their pack.
Each refer to the distant village below -- for Williams, an objective pattern of skaters,
and winter-struck brush for the foreground; for de la Mare, mention of "life's mystery" which rhymes with "frozen sea" is set up by 14 lines where the even line has an O sound: below, show, go, lo, row, snow, crow. The last six lines call on all the elements of the painting, thus calling on us to look beyond -- all are in an octosyllabic lines, except "nor that slant inward infinite line" which has an extra foot, perhaps subconsciously stretching out the word "infinite."

As for Berryman, he has an anti-war ring in "the evil waste of history" which contrasts with the scene "lively with chidren". The sense of war, parallel to our unknowns – deliberately calls the spears, poles – twice. The people are "unaware"-- reflecting our incredulity as peaceful nations lie prey.
His view is peopled and alive, the three hunters, "witnessed by birds" have a mission -- and the fourth bird flies -- on the alliterative f's, with the last line escaping visually the scene sandwiched in by the descent of the hunters (and the ill-wind they carry). The alliterative "w" of While and watch, sandwich in three birds. The scansion of the last line:
Iamb / iamb, spondee / anapest and extra foot for flies.
The inner sandwich "while three" -- perhaps an idea of divine trinity -- is stopped cold in its tracks by the spondee: birds watch, with that mouthful of consonants chopping "watch".

Williams' poem does not concern itself with social or moral commentary. The title announces Hunters in the snow, but the subject is about their return with the disquieting detail of the inn-sign, a broken hinge on which a stag hangs with a crucifix between his antlers -- the lines refuse syntactic logic, as they divulge a sense of desertion, isolation, distance.

on Chagall + Robin Becker
and the multiplicity of our faces:

Chagall did a whole series of paintings based on Biblical texts: I love this one:
Marc Chagall, David on the Mount of Olives
and his David and Bathsheeba. Why this painting is called "Beersheba" which is a city and not Bathsheeba, I cannot find out. However, David, for all his love of God, did not behave well, sending off Bathsheeba's husband to the front lines and stealing her for himself.

Perhaps the problem of love, as two-headed journey -- David and his barren wife, David and Bathsheeba who eventually provides us with Solomon... this intertwining of God's plan and what happens is caught in this painting. The poem captures the complexity:
one head, two faces; red and blue angels; Janus; the double sense of terrible;
"We raise our several faces when we love --
family, village, woman, beats --
moaning in our technicolor sleep.
For him (David?) the store rooms of the heart
were never empty.

However, I am a bit lost at the next part:
...God's messengers arrived to guide
the action of the story, and we too have arrived
in time to catch the ark, leaving momentarily
through the stone arcade of Genesis
for our wild and blessed exile."

I don't see it -- this is Becker's journey --

If I were to write the poem I would whittle it:

We raise our several faces when we love --
waiting for God's messengers to arrive.

We cannot presume anything more.

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