7 sept. 2007

This tests my limits of badness in another way--



This time, I have left my body behind me, crying

In its dark thorns.

Still,

There are good things in this world.

It is dusk.

It is the good darkness

Of women's hands that touch loaves.

The spirit of a tree begins to move.

I touch leaves.

I close my eyes and think of water.

--James Wright, "Trying to Pray"


This kind of poem was such a stylistic influence on so many people when I myself first began writing, the decade of the 70s. This epoch was also the heyday of kahlil Gibran, and some of the language comes uncomfortably close to that. The particular kind of speaker of this poem is found in many others of the period, by everyone from Simic to Orr and Kuzma. There's something oddly unidiomatic, "translated," in the tone, as if the speaker were not native speaker of English. Nobody talks like that: "I touch leaves." "It is the good darkness."

So there are aspects of the poem that come up against my own ideas of "acceptability." Its sententiousness and simplified language, for example. This badness is potentially interesting, but only if I conclude that it's not wholly on the side of badness. Otherwise there would be no limit testing at all. It's a very beatiful poem in some ways. You can see why this particular mode became influential, and remains so to this day.

8 comentarios:

John dijo...

Que mi recuerdo se quema.
Avisad a los jazmines
con su blancura pequena!

Que no quiero verla!


p.s. What do you think of Kahlil?

John dijo...

These lines made me laugh.

"It is the good darkness
Of women's hands that touch loaves."

And then I realized -- dark loaves = poop!

Mmm-mmm! That's some goood darkness, that good poop-touching darkness, that good get-your-hands-in-the-fertile-shit darkness, yessir!

In this context, closing my eyes and thinking of water makes me want to pee.

Henry Gould dijo...

At the time the professional technology of reception had not been set up. At that time this kind of poetry was recognized as anti-intellectual, anti-technological (technology & civilization were understood as inimical to life itself - part of Nixon, Vietnam, the bomb, the milit-indust complex, the Company Man, etc.). You just wanted to shut it all down. In that context this poem doesn't seem SO absurd.

Here's a similar one I wrote at the time :

OLD SONG

"I want to stay--"
he cries, the willows
rattle and play and the voice
is carried far away downstream.

Downstream, in autumn,
the bums are coughing, and smoke
fot the wisps that rise
and cool; they stay awhile.

They lie and cough,
the willows play, the sun
is red--rattle rattle
go away, go away.

The story is for winter
to forget, when woods are dark
and snow is lightest in the darkness
and that light is deep.

Henry Gould dijo...

OLD SONG

"I want to stay--"
he cries, the willows
rattle and play and the voice
is carried far away downstream.

Downstream, in autumn,
the bums are coughing, and smoke
for the wisps that rise
and cool; they stay awhile.

They lie and cough,
the willows play, the sun
is red--rattle rattle
go away, go away.

The story is for winter
to forget, when woods are dark
and snow is lightest in the darkness
--and that light is deep.

shanna dijo...

i think the reason it sounds "translated" is because it's a failed attempt at prayer, rather than a successful one. or isn't that what the "trying" of the title means? the speaker is attempting to bring on by incantation (i.e. prayer, or this "poetic" language") a holy feeling or religious revery but is unable to pull it off.

the reaction of an unfaithful person to a religious text or song or experience (vs. a faithful person's reaction to same) is quite like my reaction to this poem. i can see the appeal, but i would be faking it if i said i believed in it.

i have liked some poems of wright's quite a bit though. it's been a while since i read him though.

Jonathan dijo...

Yeah, but all Wright's poems sound translated, not just this one.

shanna dijo...

well, ok. some are more mystical/deep image-y than others though, and i still think that's the trouble with this one. (i could never say "the spirit of the tree begins to move" outloud without laughing, myself.) but the poem "lying in a hammock..." [etc.] has a much less strained tone, is more idiomatic/speechy than this one, for instance. the problem there may be a flatness for some readers, actually--exactly the opposite of what he's done here.

anyway, that's neither here nor there re: the point of your post. we agree on the badness. a heightened tone that overreaches is about as bad as it gets, i think.

michael dijo...

willed simplicity is the voice of despair.

but then, despair does need a voice, n'est-ce pas?

m.