Thursday, June 19, 2008

Et in Paterson Ego

Perhaps it is appropriate to talk about displacement after driving over 4000 miles and never once passing through our locus of inquiry. Along the way, I talked to some fellow-travelers of the Paterson poem in Philadelphia--tk in a future entry--and sat through a rousing 4.5 hours of Feldman's For Philip Guston in Charleston--which gave me some ideas for the progressing audio piece, or at least some insight into the true nature of stamina (the pianist endured a surreal wardrobe malfunction for close to 20 minutes, and I really don't know how they venture into such an undertaking without Depends.) I fear along the way, as Charlestons became Missoulas, that I might have forgotten some of the insights gained along the way, lost to an amnesia of miles. But that may be for the best, a letting-go which both astronauts and Morton Feldmans know something of. What would constitute a pastoral for our age of astronauts? Because it is Williams' use of the pastoral which I held-to as the next entry, since one of my conversants in Philadelphia, Randall Couch, brought up the genre in relation to the pastoral parody in Book 4, and sent on this link to a precursor. The pastoral is a genre of displacement: a way for mostly city folk to imagine their more authentic shepherd counterparts, like Rush Limbaugh conjuring Dakota. Williams places the pastoral conversation that begins Book 4 in New York City--it took me a couple reads to get this, given that one at least imagines the points-of-view, however fractured, to be limited by the poem's titular city. It could be that this pied-à-terre on the East River, inhabited by a lesbian poet (and this I totally missed, but thanks to Randall for pointing it out) is, in a pointed reversal, the Arcadian hinterland where one can escape the actual reality of the city or cities or "things" in their terrible intensity. No ideas but in things: et in NYC ego. "The whirring pterodactyl/ of a contrivance, to remind one of Da Vinci,/searches the Hellgate current for some corpse" and this helicopter is the snake in the grass, the shadow of death that haunts this "idyllic" escape. While Randall pointed out book four's relation to an 18th-century tradition, I think Williams maintains a discussion with poets much further back, especially Theocritus and Vergil. One thing that brought me back to Vergil was a passage that I kept recalling when thinking of Williams' use of numbers and the passage on page 18 of the two girls and their ribboned hair. This is from Eclogue 8, depicting the song-competition of Damon and Alphesiboeus "at whose rivalry the heifer marvelled and forgot to graze":
[64] “Bring out water, and wind soft wool round this altar; and burn rich herbs and male frankincense, that I may try with magic rites to turn to fire my lover’s coldness of mood. Naught is lacking here save songs.

Bring Daphnis home from town, bring him, my songs!

[69] Songs can even draw the moon down from heaven; by songs Circe transformed the comrades of Ulysses; with song the cold snake in the meadows is burst asunder.

Bring Daphnis home from town, bring him, my songs!

[73] Three threads here I first tie round you, marked with three different hues, and three times round this altar I draw your image. In an uneven number heaven delights. Weave, Amaryllis, three hues in three knots; weave them, Amaryllis, I beg, and say, ‘Chains of love I weave!’

Bring Daphnis home from town, bring him, my songs!

[80] As this clay hardens and as this wax melts in one and the same flame, so may Daphnis melt with love for me! Sprinkle meal, and kindle the crackling bays with pitch. Me cruel Daphnis burns; for Daphnis burn I this laurel.
Here is an early version of "no ideas but in things." While Damon frets over lost love and threatens to jump in the ocean, Alphesiboeus succeeds by busying himself with earth-magic and binding rituals. There also may be something to the relation between "in uneven number heaven delights" and Williams triadic line. Nevertheless, I think a look back into ancient pastoral points to a timeless struggle between vague lyricism and a materialist poetics, perhaps mistakenly limited to the innovations of the 20th century.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home