Friday, May 11, 2007

Bulkeley, Hunt, Williard, Hosmer, Meriam, Flint

A couple weeks ago, I bought a used copy of Emerson's selected works for 3 bucks. I been thinking of having something like this in my bookshelves for years, and 3 bucks could not be beat. However, what sealed the deal was opening the book to the poem Hamatreya, the opening of which immediately struck me as a precursor to Paterson:

"Bulkeley, Hunt, Williard, Hosmer, Meriam, Flint,
Possessed the land which rendered to their toil
Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flax, apples, wool and wood"

Like the historical passages of Paterson, I was stuck by both the poetry and intractability of actuality, here embodied in the names. I wonder how far back we can find examples of this preference for historical quiddity rather than mythological abstraction in poetry. My sense is not farther back than Emerson (oh, wait, there's the Homeric catalogue). In three lines, Emerson creates the agricultural cosmos that in the end he delivers back to the earth. It would seem that he brings up these names only to belittle their importance in the face of death and larger meaning. But, the paradox is that they have made it into the poem afterall (and can now be Googled).
When I finally sat down with the poem, another significant relation to Paterson became clear. The first part of the poem has long lines in blocks, and ends with

"Ah! the hot owner sees not Death, who adds
Him to his land, a lump of mould the more.
Hear what the Earth says:--"

This lovable Victorian colash sets off a section called "Earth-Song," which, like the unannounced, song-like breaks in Paterson, is formatted on the page with much shorter lines, as if to force a distinction between lyrical poetry and prose within poetry itself. The Earth-Song, like the sounds of Williams' falls, encourages a leveling of distinctions and a giving over to a song which is noise, silence, nothing, void, mute, chill.

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