In a station of the Metro

The poem, as most all know —

IN A STATION OF THE METRO

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

I had two aims in our discussion of this too too famous poem. One, get a feel for how sound underwrites sense. Two, sharpen our feeling for the logos of the image. Logos, did I really say that. Bloody pretentious. But logic seemed too wee a word. Logos as in way, coherence, holdingtogether. PIE root, *leg-, “to gather.”


Sound underwriting sense. We’d done our rock and stone thang. The stop at the end of rock is a jagged sharpness. The nasal at the end of rock is a dying rounded fall. And those sounds underwrite the senses of their words.

How now with Pound. Asked them first what they saw with the first line. Eventual consensus — ghostly faces in a trainish station underground — misty, blur-edged, as in something Impressionist.

The second line? How did those petals get to hang on that bough? The bough (limb of tree not fore of ship) (why we had to clarify that goes to something important about teaching language and its poetry) is wet.

Wet how?

Most likely with rain.

And being wet means?

If wet, sticky, and petals that fall there, stick there.

Next comes, logos of the image, what kind of petals? Daisy? Rose?


One pictured the former. K so how did those petals come to be there? Someone brought a bouquet of daisies into the woods and when her or his beloved didn’t show threw the bouquet in a pique and it hit a pine tree and broke up and some petals stuck there?

Um yeah maybe?

It’s possible, sure, but other possibles?

Occam’s Razor comes to play here. The simplest account is often best. And so we came to — cherry blossoms, blown a bit about in a rainstorm, come loose, float around, land on the limb of the tree that bore them, to spend a little while adhered there.


“Too too.” Not that it not warrant its fame. But such fame keeps us from seeing it afresh. And freshness is its all — that much it shares with haiku, though it’s not one, no really, not really.


Penultimate Q, what’s the second line, cherry blossoms struck to presumably a cherry tree, got to do with the first, ghostly faces in an underground transit crowd?

Silence, a bit.

Anything cherry blossoms have in common with faces?

I picture an oval.

And right there’s what one called the metaphoric bridge. The likeness that draws two differences into relation. I’m not a big fan of metaphor, it’s a lie and makes things other than they is, but gotta admire this one, by this reading, its assertion of non-non-difference.


Coupla quals here. One, the faces, the shapes of them, help us to come to cherry petals, as much as the petals help us to see faces afresh. Two, the colours of the petals, pinkish-white, are part of the metaphoric bridge as well, and suggest a racially pretty homogenous Metro crowd. Maybe not inaccurate for Paris in 1912. But it does place and date the poem.


Final Q, how do the sounds of the lines support their senses? My whole purpose though the getting-there may have been more lovely than the gotten-to.

Apparition — except for the plosive p, softest among the stops, it’s all liquids and nasals. The blurred and softened sounds make the faces that much softer, blurrier, more deeply ghostly.

Wet, black bough — the first word ends in a stop, the second begins and ends with ones, the third begins with one. At the centre of the phrase is a sharply delineated core. Giving the cherry petals on the bough more clarity and definition than the faces they’re metaphors for.


In so far as the poem, its image and sounds, is about transience, the fleetingness of all this, it’s striking that the cherry petals are granted more clarity definition and permanence than the faces they’re figure for. If the poem may be called out for chinoiserie the ground of the cry is here.


LASTLY. Pound’s advice, that we compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, lives even in a thing so small as the comma after “wet.”

The stop, t, already punctuates it. Neither syntax nor articulation asks for more. But the comma makes one last refinement of the phasing — slowing just a little more the movement of breath and mind hand-in-hand through the line.

With that, wet comes a bit closer to the vegetal slowness of far longer syllables, blackbough—slows enough to join their company. The very words, wet, black, bough, become cherry petals, adhering to the poem a small while, then blown off.


NEXT UP. More on Pound on the musical phrase. A thing I wrote for Donald Revell, one of the fathers to my mind.

On Sound (II)

Revisited sound today. This time, with a view to, how does sound do work the good work, bearing up thought and feeling?

Had my students hold in hand, for their heft and texture, two petrous objects. You’ll see in a mo why the Greeky adj. One was sharp and jagged, rough-textured, a bit of railbed gravel. The other, smoothed and rounded, as out of a moving stream.

They passed those round. Took em back and said, One of these is a rock, and one is a stone. I’m going to hold one up in a second, and please write down, saying nothing, which it is, rock or stone.

Held up the jagged one. Write it down, guys, which is it, rock or stone. They wrote that down. Then shows of hands. Morning section, all but two said rock. Afternoon, all but none, said rock.

photo 1 (3)

But how do you know, I asked, pretend dumbfounded. “Rock” and “stone” mean the very same thing in the dick-shun-airy. So how do you know the one’s the one, the other the other?

And we found our ways, in not too long, to these. “Rock” ends in a stop, you have to stop saying it abruptly, and that has a sudden, even jagged, feel. “Stone” ends in a nasal and you can extend the sound for as long as you have breath. That has a softer and more rounded feel.

photo 2 (2)

The words have the same denotations (dictionary meanings) but very different connotations (aurae of association). “Rock” calls to mind rough sharp jagged thangs, “stone” water-smoothy river-beings. And that’s in part because of their sharp and edgy, or smooth and rounded, sounds.

Shout-out to Mary Oliver, a line in whose poetry handbook gave me the idea, years ago. And, next up, one way to bring the thought over to actual words (not “rock” nor “stone”) of actual poems. Teaser, it involves a station of the Paris metro. Yeah that ol’ chestnut.


POSTSCRIPT. This on a night Republicans are poised to take command of the Senate, setting to stay maybe long enough to f*** up the climate for as long, or as short, as we’re like to be here. Go figger. Yo, intelligent design people, don’t you think, if there WERE an intelligent design, the designer would be a little less STUPID than sweet haphazard evolution’s given us? Um, the appendix? Um, mothers who eat their children? Um, obscenely short-sighted self-interested climate-science denial? Saw this fun on FB, where I hardly ever hang, not sure I’m as atheist as it, but.

Be well, all, someone’s got to, and maybe it’ll start a thing.

On origins, variously

Gone meta

This is a big fat post because wordpress doesn’t wish to import my very first early tumblr posts. So I’m piling ’em in here. Maybe I should just let it go but I’m not good at that. This blog, and rotting things generally, cuz I’m not, here come to teach me.


On tablets

Archaeologists unearthing clay tablets (Gilgamesh) and mummies wrapped in strips of recycled papyrus (Sappho) have developed a robust minor vocabulary for what’s gone missing.

Ellipses. Italics. Round brackets, square brackets, curly brackets, angle brackets, half square brackets. Each to mark a different sort of goneness.

Armand Schwerner had some fun with that vocabulary and in the process turned marks of absences to presences in their own right. This page from his Tablets takes it to one extreme.

Schwerner - Tablet X

And, at that extreme, beyond the last palm of the mind, something winks at Stevens, his “Man on the Dump”: “The the.” Hee hee. Schwerner probably also had in mind Pound’s “Papyrus”:

Spring .  .  .  .  .  .  .
Too long .  .  .  .  .  .
Gongula .  .  .  .  .  .

What I’ve been reading here. Armand Schwerner, The Tablets. Sappho, If Not, Winter (Anne Carson trans.). James B. Pritchard (ed.), The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures.

Here’s a bit of Gilgamesh for ya. G’night.

image


Biblical

The Bible is a huge gorgeous reeking compost pile. Take Genesis. Three or more authors have their hands in it. The earliest is known as J, the Yahwist, and his God is fierce, dangerous, fallible, embodied. He likes to walk in the shade on a hot day. Then there’s P, the Priestly writer, his God’s detached and magisterial, his words are pure act, no dirtying of the hands, just let there be light. And E, the Elohist, his name for God Elohim, inconveniently plural.

Drawing it all together, somewhat skilled and somewhat hapless, R, the Redactor, trying to get a coherent account out of it all. He could cut and paste but couldn’t alter much the texts he received as sacred.

He succeeded insofar as we have a single thing called “The Bible.” He failed gorgeously insofar as we have two overlapping Creation accounts, glaring contradictions in the story of the Flood, and not one, not two, but three iterations of the “Hey, Pharaoh, that’s no sister, that’s my wife” gag.

Writings are readings. Readings are restlessly multiple. Thank God for which.

What I’ve been reading here. R. Crumb, The Book of Genesis Illustrated. David Rosenberg and Harold Bloom, The Book of J. Stephen Mitchell, Genesis.

Lastly, the beauty, to this atheist, of two thoughts in Genesis. That the created is good. And that even omnipotent beings come to rest.


Opening

So I’m starting to think about a course called “The Art of Compost” I’m set to teach this summer. And I thought, why not a blog, work out some ideas there.


Root quote

The recovery of the compost library extends in all directions.

– Jed Rasula, This Compost