Thursday, December 15, 2011

Twenty: Elegy

This is Theodore Roethke's poem "To Jane: My Student Thrown by a Horse”: something sad and lovely. A student of his had been killed in a riding accident, a student whom he loved--- from a distance, without touching, as someone with whom he shared a love of literature. The last lines of the poem are heartbreaking in an unexpected way. They're about the anguish of not having the standing to express grief, of not being in a role where one is allowed to express grief where someone the poet has loved has died. English has words for love in its varied forms, but we use them so awkwardly, so uncertainly. And here in the new century, we're so afraid and so suspicious of love. We place far too many limits on who can speak of love or loss, on who we're allowed to love. As open as we are about so many things, we use the words for love with less and less assurance and--- increasingly ---with a hint of shame and suspicion...

I remember the neckcurls, limp and damp as tendrils;
And her quick look, a sidelong pickerel smile;
And how, once startled into talk, the light syllables leaped for her,
And she balanced in the delight of her thought,
A wren, happy, tail into the wind,
Her song trembling the twigs and small branches.
The shade sang with her;
The leaves, their whispers turned to kissing,
And the mould sang in the bleached valleys under the rose.
O, when she was sad, she cast herself down into such a pure depth,
Even a father could not find her:
Scraping her cheek against straw,
Stirring the clearest water.
My sparrow, you are not here,
Waiting like a fern, making a spiney shadow.
The sides of wet stones cannot console me,
Nor the moss, wound with the last light.
If only I could nudge you from this sleep,
My maimed darling, my skittery pigeon.
Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love:
I, with no rights in this matter,
Neither father nor lover.

No comments: