Guest poem submitted by Pavithra Krishnan :
(Poem #298) The Cool Web
Children are dumb to say how hot the day is, How hot the scent is of the summer rose, How dreadful the black wastes of evening sky, How dreadful the tall soldiers drumming by, But we have speech, to chill the angry day, And speech, to dull the roses's cruel scent, We spell away the overhanging night, We spell away the soldiers and the fright. There's a cool web of language winds us in, Retreat from too much joy or too much fear: We grow sea-green at last and coldly die In brininess and volubility. But if we let our tongues lose self-possession, Throwing off language and its watery clasp Before our death, instead of when death comes, Facing the wide glare of the children's day, Facing the rose, the dark sky and the drums, We shall go mad, no doubt, and die that way.
I think it's that phrase- 'the cool web'- that drew me to this poem. It's so suggestive of something fragile, clinging and inescapable. That a poet would choose such an image to represent language is kind of intriguing. Subtly seems to imply that poetry too is a safety valve, yet another means of distancing oneself from any intensity of emotion.I like the economy with which he conjures up in succession the searing heat of day, the disturbing scent of the rose, the black vise of night-time fears, and the taste of death that comes with the soldiers. There's the hopelessness of the no-win situation here.You've either the icy indifference of 'sea-green' murkiness, or the plunge into death-bound insanity. Pavithra. [My own additions] A bewitchingly beautiful poem, and one that I couldn't let go uncommented :-). The central paradox is a subtle one: Graves talks about the protection afforded by language; at the same time, he's very aware of the danger of losing control, of losing contact with the reality one is trying to mask. The fact that it's a poet making these statements is all the more fascinating: after all, isn't it the role of the bard to draw attention to what words can do? "The contradictions cover such a range. The talk would talk and go so far aslant. You don't want madhouse and the whole thing there." thomas. [Links] There's an interesting essay on Graves and his fixation with the figure of the 'White Goddess', available online at http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/07/oct88/richman.htm I was sure we'd done more than one poem by him prior to this, but I was wrong... the only previous Graves to have featured on the Minstrels is the charming 'Welsh Incident', which you can read at poem #55 . There's also a brief biography of the poet at this URL. The poem cited above is William Empson's 'Let It Go', at poem #233 [Connection with the theme] Graves lived most of his life on the island of Majorca, where he wrote love poems, historical novels, and scholarly studies. The former include some of the finest lyric verse of this century, while the most famous examples of the latter are his theory of the White Goddess and his translation of the Rubaiyat. The historical novels, though - they're the reason I chose him. Apart from the famous first-person narratives about Ancient Rome (I, Claudius and Claudius the God), he wrote about the Byzantine Empire (Count Belisarius) and Hellenic civilization (The Golden Fleece). Connection enough.