Finally happened upon a very brief mention today that B. wrote 5 elegies to Randall Jarrell—DS 90 (obviously), 121 (ouch! How did I miss that?), 126, 127, and 259. So after pulling my hair out yesterday trying to figure out who the elegy was for, I got it wrong. Not T.S. Eliot—Randall Jarrell. Today, it’s still about Randall Jarrell.
One thing: It’s almost unbelievable how I got 121 so wrong, and it happened because I missed the reference to Randall Jarrell on the first line of the 2nd stanza. Kind of hard to miss, but I did it. Some are thinking, “I don’t like Berryman and don’t read the poems anyway,” and others are thinking, “I’ve haven’t yet understood more than a dozen lines anyway, so what does it matter?”, and others are thinking, “This kills your whole project. The blog is invalid. What a bonehead maneuver.” It was like Poe’s “The Purloined Letter”, where there is this critical piece of evidence in the form of a letter hidden in a Paris flat, which the police can’t find because it’s perched right there on the mantelpiece in plain sight. They’re looking under carpets and behind the wallpaper, but they don’t see the letter on the mantel. Yep. I knew I would probably miss a few things along the way, but this one is big, and a bit embarrassing. Oh, well, nobody’s watching… I have half a mind to go back and do 121 over, and I may just do that yet. It was a pretty spectacular rant, though, but totally spinning out of control. I can’t believe I missed it. Oh well… What worries me now is that the topic I hit on, in my misreading of the poem, says too much about something in me I maybe should have kept to myself? I need to put a paper bag over my head for a day and then try to forget about it. But, you know, take out that reference to RJ, and my response adds up to a consistent, persistent, focused, coherent, incisive, and insightful wrong reading! A brilliant screw up! Magnificent malarkey! Astonishing!!! (I think I’ll just tack this onto 121 and forget about it.) Feeling sheepish.
Embarrassment slides easily into regret then to grief. So, to move on. This poem is not hard to decipher. It’s plain, an expression of grief for the passing of a friend. It’s appropriate, doesn’t stretch any personal or societal boundaries of propriety, and is a simple statement that the writer is in grief. Same with yesterday’s 126. Not much to bellyache about. Bow my head and acknowledge that grief merits respect. Today, we lost someone at my school. A member of the grounds crew for 30 years here. He loved nurturing plants, took care of the campus with dedication and made it his baby, and was killed last night at home on his farm in a tractor accident. There was a simple and elegant prayer service for him today. He was widely liked. The trees, the flowers and the lawns on this campus were Jeff’s poetry.