Tuesday, December 1, 2015


[No online link available.]

DS 124 refers to a legend (I don’t know from what culture) where a devouring female marries a succession of men, all brothers, and bites off the penises of each one, storing them in her mouth—sort of like what a chipmunk would do with a bag of sunflower seeds. I wasn’t aware when I wrote about it that this image came from some legend, but I don’t think it would have changed my response that much had I known. (I wasn’t very supportive, I’m afraid. My tolerance for images of castration in Dream Songs wore out almost immediately.) The youngest brother in the legend takes a crowbar and pries the woman’s mouth open, liberating the excised familial members’ members. Perhaps they were surgically reattached, I don’t know. I only mention this because one critic out there (Matterson) claims that DS 335 revisits the legend, which is what is signified with “he called for a locksmith, to burst the topic open.” I think that’s a bit of a stretch, actually. What is happening, though, is that Henry is thinking of his dead friends and many of the other dead, wondering what has happened to them. They’re locked away in death, so he plays the role of the younger brother in the legend (again, a stretch, I think…) by imagining himself calling a locksmith to liberate them. “Them” includes the author of The Leopard, whom B. never met. The Leopard was an Italian novel by Guiseppe di Lampedusa that became a literary sensation when it was published in 1958, one year after the author’s death. It was set in Sicily during the era when Italy coalesced (sometimes violently) from a collection of kingdoms and duchies into the nation we know today. That doesn’t really matter, only that B. apparently admired the writer and would have liked to sit and talk about important literary things. But, being dead, he couldn’t arrange for that at the moment. That’s actually the problem with all dead friends, even the highly accomplished ones he can respect: You can’t communicate with them. What happens when they go? It’s the big question. Nobody knows the answer. They’re locked away in death, including Delmore Schwartz, and Yeats, and Guiseppe di Lampedusa, et al. Oh, and that other guy with the worst ending to a career ever: God. “He makes me wish I had taken up golf / or the study of stars.” Well, stars are amazing and fascinating, but they’re distant and they seem awfully cold from here, and as for golf, let me whisper: Boring

I expect when you really do feel death approaching, you spend more time thinking about what that might actually mean. Also, when you lose close friends and family, that wonder grows. What happened to them? And if you're also a poet, then you write poems about it. No locksmith or younger brother with a crowbar is going to crack open that mystery. But everyone wonders about it.

1 comment:

  1. I feel like both golf and astronomy have been carelessly insulted: they aren't as hard as poetry.