Monday, September 26, 2005
Not Averse to Verse
My only preliminary comment is that staunch means stop up as in applying pressure to a wound, that sheath means a wrapping, though here it means skin or even the membrane of one's soul, assuming souls have membranes. And as a corollary sheathe means to wrap (duh). You begin to see the effects of my having taught high school English for two years before getting into legal editing - taught it at a private school, which hired me without credentials, a privilege and stroke of good luck for someone with a corporate background. Anyway, enjoy:
No, no! Go from me. I have left her lately.
I will not spoil my sheath with lesser brightness,
For my surrounding air hath a new lightness;
Slight are her arms, yet they have bound me straitly
And left me cloaked as with a gauze of æther;
As with sweet leaves; as with subtle clearness.
Oh, I have picked up magic in her nearness
To sheathe me half in half the things that sheathe her.
No, no! Go from me. I have still the flavour,
Soft as spring wind that's come from birchen bowers.
Green come the shoots, aye April in the branches,
As winter's wound with her sleight hand she staunches,
Hath of the trees a likeness of the savour:
As white as their bark, so white this lady's hours.
"No, no! Go from me."
So he starts out brushing off another woman who approaches him after he has been with the woman he's writing about. A little louche, that and in that sense a man's poem. Other women now are lesser brightness, spoiling his membrane.
"For my surrounding air…" That line needs nothing more than reference and admiration.
"Slight are her arms, yet they have bound me straitly,"
Like a strait jacket, though it doesn't look like he's complaining. The magic of a civilization, ours, where a woman's non-physical strength is acknowledged as equal or greater than a man's mere muscle.
"And left me cloaked as with a gauze of ether;"
Which they were actually using back then in surgery, the poem dating from 1912. They also had nitrous oxide rooms, laughing gas rooms, dating even further back, and attended by Victorians in formal wear all busy laughing their butts off. Digression.
"Oh, I have picked up magic in her nearness
To sheathe me half in half the things that sheathe her."
Again, nothing to do but admire and take pleasure in the words, far more erotic than explicit language ever could be. Next come images of spring with the suggestion that it is she herself who is staunching the wound of winter.
"Hath of the trees a likeness of the savour:
As white as their bark, so white this lady's hours."
He ends by finding a similarity between the lady and birch tree bark – which his lady's hours are as white as, and I'll take hours to mean the way she spends her hours, what goes on in her head during her hours, during all her hours, which he sees as innocent, unblemished and pure.
Well, sorry now to inform you that the writer was Ezra Pound, a fine poet though not by any means a fine human. His descent into an allegiance with Mussolini's fascist regime (whoops - looks like he was a little too possessed with ideas of purity) has cast him rightly into the shadows over the last few decades, indeed near-century, and unfortunately along with some amazing poetry.
Hope you enjoyed.