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Wife Poem -- Hayden Carruth

Guest poem submitted by Adam Gitner:
(Poem #951) Wife Poem
 And it's clear at last, she dropped
 down from the moon, not like some
 sylphy Cynthia at Delphi, after all she's
 not seventeen, but with the sexual
 grace and personal implacability
 of a goddess of our time; so he says to
 himself at night seeing the glow
 of her sleep in her half (two-thirds really)
 of their bed, the claire de lune of her shoulder
 and forehead behind the deep clouds
 of her hair. He drinks his wine
 and swallows more pills. The birds
 make their first aubade, little chirps and
 chitterings, and outside the first light
 mists their window. The day will be awful,
 nervy and dull and sullen. His last
 cigarette, his final gulp of chardonnay,
 and he presses against her warm glow,
 thinking of how he swam as a boy
 of twelve in the warm pond beyond
 the elms and hickories at the meadow's
 edge. He turned like a sleepy carp among
 the water lilies, under the dragonflies
 and hot clouds of the old days of summer.
-- Hayden Carruth
You've run Carruth before and here as usual is his particular New England
maturity. He's such a technician with the lines; one hand continually
pulling you forward, the other deftly assembling the landscape. In another
poem "Ray" he compares the poetic mind to a bucket of minnows. If they are
minnows he's slapping together on this poem, it's some shellac that holds
them together. Though there's no consistent meter I can tell, there's an
abiding if intangible sense of poetic rhythm. Lines tend to lapse into iambs
but slip out of hand too quickly to hold. Other lines have an elusive rhyme,
as in how the words "sylphy Cynthia at Delphi" echo back to each other
softly reduced. Reduction is a key to this poem, as is the weakness of an
echo. The narrator seems to live in a world with the lights set permanently
on dim. His only display of strength is in a few lines that end in strong
iambs, like "she dropped", "His last", "a boy", "beyond", and "among" that
carry you over the enjambment and onto the next line. Yet even this give the
impression of the narrator's ultimate weakness in the way it mimics the
sound of a lame foot dragging only intermittently, or the rasp of a labored
breath heaving in the lungs then falling silent on the next line. It begs
comparison with the resolution of the meter in Tennyson's "Ulysses".

The moon, Diana, Cynthia, or Selene as Keats called her, hangs in the
backdrop of this poem and is frequently contrasted with the day: in imagery,
surely Carruth was aware of the juxtaposition of Delphi the center of
worship of Apollo with Cynthia; in form, the way the first and last half of
the poem are consumed with dreaming while the middle displays a shift in
diction to the concrete (cigarette, gulp of chardonnay, chirps, birds, and
first light). His wife is consistently identified with the moon from the
initial simile, to the "claire de lune" of her shoulder, and the "clouds" of
her hair. I can only assume that the poet is familiar with Keats' previous
treatment of the Moon falling in love with the shepherd Endymion in his epic
of the same name. A quote from Bulfinch's _Mythology_ is relevant:

   "The story of Endymion has a peculiar charm from the human meaning which
it so thinly veils. We see in Endymion the young poet, his fancy and his
heart seeking in vain for that which can satisfy them, finding his favourite
hour in the quiet moonlight, and nursing there beneath the beams of the
bright and silent witness the melancholy and the ardour which consume him.
The story suggests aspiring and poetic love, a life spent more in dreams
than in reality, and an early and welcome death."
        -- ([broken link]

To the narrator the night is the soft echo of day just as the dream is the
embrace opposite "nervy" reality. Our narrator lives in this wistful cocoon
which is not a cocoon as should precede maturity but one that slips on long
after. It verges on inexpressible for me to describe how Carruth brings out
the similarities between dreamy adolescence and dreamy old age, moving
between night and day with the effort of a brushstroke or how the end comes
not with the ringing tone of a rhyming couplet or the beating finality of
consistent meter but with a simple, falling trochee.

 - Adam Gitner

[Minstrels Links]

Hayden Carruth:
Poem #684, Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey
Poem #774, Ray

John Keats:
Poem #12, On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer
Poem #182, La Belle Dame Sans Merci
Poem #316, Ode to a Nightingale
Poem #433, Why did I laugh tonight? No voice will tell
Poem #575, To Mrs Reynolds' Cat
Poem #696, Last Sonnet
Poem #770, A Thing of Beauty is a Joy for Ever
Poem #910, On the Grasshopper and the Cricket

Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
Poem #15, The Eagle (a fragment)
Poem #31, Break, break, break
Poem #80, The Brook (excerpt)
Poem #121, Ulysses
Poem #355, Charge of the Light Brigade
Poem #653, Ring Out, Wild Bells
Poem #825, Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal, Now the White
Poem #852, Mariana in the Moated Grange
Poem #896, The Kraken

23 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

UK Hero said...

Dear all

How rotten it would be if all poets wrote the same. Hayden Carruth does it
his own way and how refreshingly sweet it is [Grrrr, I did so hate your
cricket poetry], and here we have an apple from the tree of difference which
leaves the reader wanting cupfuls of more. Reading the piece for a third
time I can not help but wonder if he's talking about a familiar love:
perhaps his mistress. Even so, they say, all good poets write about what
they have encountered in life to the point that it influencings his / her
pen. If this is so then I would have loved to be have been on the table as a
napkin when he acquired this devoted image.


Ulysses Kingstable Hero

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