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Ask to Embla, XIII -- A S Byatt

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.
-- A S Byatt
        (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,

If I may quote from a fascinating article in the
  "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
        -- John Mullan, Senior Lecturer in English at University College

Read the full article at:
[broken link],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


There's a brief biography and some essays at:
  [broken link]

On the writing of Possession:
  [broken link]

59 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Mitali Parekh said...

I am reading Possession right now, on the insistence of a friend, and
must admit, I skip through some of the letters and poetry. And though I
have been labouring through the book for a few months, I look forward
exuberant satisfaction that only a well-written book can bring


Alkemygirl said...

In a message dated 10/13/2003 6:03:57 PM Eastern Standard Timewrites:
I haven't yet read the book but reading your editorial makes me want to rush
to the bookstore....NOW. I love what you wrote. The story--which I saw on
film--had quite an effect on me. I loved the story so......

The film, I saw it twice and upon coming home the first time, was compelled
to write the following four pieces inspired by it's themes---respectively of
the forbidden yet redemptive love between Randolph and Christabel, and the
escalating emotions, adventure, love and recognition between Roland and Maud. I
felt possessed by the stunning visuals, words and passion of the film. After
reading what you wrote, now I NEED to read "Possession"...

1. About Randolph and Christabel:


Little Notes,
like tiny
Scraps of Cloth,
tenderly Woven,
into sentimental
Pockets of time.

Reminiscent, of
a rose-coloured
Tapestry, Stitched
together, by a
sentient heart


like hands,
undress the mind.
Baring subtlety,
under stoic Skin.
Unsheathing the Body,
from temperance,
and civility.
Stripping the Heart,
of disenchantment,
and solitude
Unleashing sudden
Soul, exploding,
with resonance.
Peeling reliable
Spirit, of resistance,
and reason.

His Words,
and His hands,
are undressing Her …


Possessed by desire,
I ponder
a welcoming fire,
that in the end,
can only

Feverish with longing,
I peer
down a cliff of restraint,
to plummet,
in ill seasoned

Bleeding with guilt,
I run
from sober deception,
to dwell in familiar desert,

2. About Roland and Maud:


Wintry with loss,
they honour recognition,
through haunting embers
of time and place.

Kindling awareness,
Anticipating heat,
from ardent ashes
of timeless fusion.

Out of epic love’s
smoldering memory,
twin flames merge
in perfect rhythm

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