Written in celebration of B.’s marriage to Kathleen Ann Donahue in September, 1961, who was beautiful, Irish, and 21 to his 47. He had met her in March, and he had actually checked himself out of the hospital to go on their first date. Kate was good for him for a long time in his life, and it was with her assistance that he was able to put the first volume of The Dream Songs together in the first place. I have to confess that I don’t understand why a young woman like that would find a hospitalized alcoholic more than twice her age that attractive, except that he was a professor and a poet, at the time of only modest repute, but not famous like he would be later. Oh well.
The “Alexandrian” refers to Origen of Alexandria, an early Christian theologian who argued that no one is so removed from God that he can never find his way back to salvation, not even the residents of Hell. A tinchel is a circle of hunters closing in on their quarry—kind of a terrifying image.
So, if Hell is empty, then the last devil in line has found his way out, back to salvation. The death of guilt. Life had been closing in, in the second stanza, and just before the tinchel closed in on the doomed, cloven-hoofed narrator, why—
—his father makes an appearance, watching his son and his new wife in a crystal ball. It’s quite an image, and probably it’s a moment in The Dream Songs where we can find a measure of peace and forgiveness. I think getting married to a beautiful woman can have that effect on one. It gets phrased in pretty grandiose terms, “What roar solved once the dilemma of the Ancient of Days, / what sigh borrowed his mercy?” I think the dilemma of the Ancient of Days (Is the holy holy because it is loved by God, or does He love it because it is holy?) is solved by a roar, and in the end the mercy is only borrowed.
The happiness here is real, but it seems there are qualifications buried in the images.
[It took some research to puzzle something out of this one, on and off in spare moments all day. It wasn’t at all unpleasant. But I didn’t feel inspired by anything—his marriage, his image of his father, all that—and something is happening that I don’t really want, as odd as it may sound: I’m interested in the poet in a cool, distant sort of way, but I don’t want an emotional attachment, and I’m not remotely interested in an obsession. I’ve felt a touch of “icky, icky” the last couple days. Tomorrow, I’m going to write my own Dream Song in response to whatever awaits, and I’ll do it as an emotional purge. Then I’ll get happily on with things.]