Guest poem sent in by Nakul Krishna More on the Poetry by prose-writers theme: From A. S. Byatt's Booker prize winning 1990 novel, Possession.
(Poem #1370) Ask to Embla, XIII
They say that women change: 'tis so: but you Are ever-constant in your changefulness, Like that still thread of falling river, one From source to last embrace in the still pool Ever-renewed and ever-moving on From first to last a myriad water-drops And you -- I love you for it -- are the force That moves and holds the form.
(fictionally attributed to "Randolph Henry Ash") Publisher's notes: "Possession, for which Byatt won England's prestigious Booker Prize, was praised by critics on both sides of the Atlantic when it was first published in 1990. "On academic rivalry and obsession, Byatt is delicious. On the nature of possession--the lover by the beloved, the biographer by his subject--she is profound," said The Sunday Times (London). The New Yorker dubbed it "more fun to read than The Name of the Rose . . . Its prankish verve [and] monstrous richness of detail [make for] a one-woman variety show of literary styles and types." The novel traces a pair of young academics--Roland Michell and Maud Bailey--as they uncover a clandestine love affair between two long-dead Victorian poets. Interwoven in a mesmerizing pastiche are love letters and fairytales, extracts from biographies and scholarly accounts, creating a sensuous and utterly delightful novel of ideas and passions." "Mesmerizing pastiche" is right. While it's safe to skip most of the (many, many, many) pages of poetry that appear in Possession, I can happily say I read every word of it, not always with comprehension, but savouring at every moment Byatt's meticulous creation of a vast body of work for her invented characters -- the poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte, whose works bring Robert Browning and Christina Rosetti to mind. A. S. Byatt has acquired much infamy over the past few months for her criticism of the Harry Potter novels, but I can forgive her anything after the experience of reading 'Possession'. Fascinating is too mild a word, really. If I may quote from a fascinating article in the Guardian: "Do people read the verse by Randolph Ash and Christabel LaMotte that AS Byatt has supplied with her novel? Many proudly admit not ... Certainly the novelist has taken an odd sort of gamble with her pastiches ... as the poetry has no obvious narrative function, except to serve as a kind of authentication device, hints at a larger imagined world ... Byatt's pastiches are emphatically not wonderful poetry, yet display considerable technical skill (how many academic critics could produce such things?) and function as a kind of homage to the poetry she admires." -- John Mullan, Senior Lecturer in English at University College London Read the full article at: [broken link] http://books.guardian.co.uk/reviewbookclub/story/0,12286,824142,00.html And the poem itself? The fact that it was written as pastiche doesn't seem to affect our appreciation of the earnest sincerity of the lines -- lines many times more meaningful when read in the context of the passionate private turmoil of the characters who wrote it, and those it was written for. Nakul There's a brief biography and some essays at: [broken link] http://www.asbyatt.com/ On the writing of Possession: [broken link] http://www.asbyatt.com/Posses.htm