In Passing – Stanley Plumly – Analysis

In Passing

On the Canadian side, we’re standing far enough away
the Falls look like photography, the roar a radio.

In the real rain, so vertical it fuses with the air,
the boat below us is starting for the caves.

Everyone on deck is dressed in black, braced for weather
and crossing against the current of the river.

They seem lost in the gorge dimensions of the place,
then, in fog, in a moment, gone.

In the Chekhov story,
the lovers live in a cloud, above the sheer witness of a valley.

They call it circumstance. They look up at the open wing
of the sky, or they look down into the future.

Death is a power like any other pull of the earth.
The people in the raingear with the cameras want to see it

from the inside, from behind, from the dark looking into the light.
They want to take its picture, give it size—

how much easier to get lost in the gradations of a large
and yellow leaf drifting its good-bye down one side of the gorge.

There is almost nothing that does not signal loneliness,
then loveliness, then something connecting all we will become.

All around us the luminous passage of the air,
the flat, wet gold of the leaves. I will never love you

more than at this moment, here in October,
the new rain rising slowly from the river.

Stanley Plumly (1939 – 2019)

Stanley Plumly was an American academic who taught creative writing and died at the age of 79 in April this year. John Keats was his spiritual guide in writing poetry. Also he is a poet who wrote about polio which affected his classmates when he was growing up.

The above poem appears to be from a visit to Niagara Falls and viewing the water from a distance on the Canadian side. There are two aspects of this passing encounter which feature in his words. A boat below the Falls which is crossing the fast flowing water, and a leaf drifting down one side of the gorge.

The boat appears a speck in the gorge and it disappears in fog. He is reminded of lovers on a cloud above a valley in a Chekov story. The lovers in this story can look up and be taken away in the open wing of the sky or can look down into their future, perhaps coming down to earth. The downside appropriate to Chekov.

This brings his thought to death as gravity. The people in the boat want to approach the Falls for photographs from many directions, but in doing so they tempt death by the swamping of the boat from the power of gravity in bringing the water over the falls.

But Stanley Plumly now turns attention to his second subject that of the leaf and the natural death of the leaf as it falls. It is much easier for him to get lost in this subject. At first this leaf is lonely by itself as it descends, then watching it further loveliness unfolds. It is representative or connects to what we will become. Death being natural.

He becomes absorbed by the beauty of wet gold leaves and the luminous passage of air penetrating the spray. And this moment becomes a love highpoint. I will never love you more. It is left to the reader to define the you whether nature, life or a person.

In summary, this is a poem about an intense emotional experience generated when visiting Niagara Falls; those moments in life that are held precious to the memory. However, like coming down out of the clouds of love they fall away in passing.

A link to some obituary detail on Stanley Plumly.

And Stanley Plumly on Wikipedia.

 

Lady Lazarus – Sylvia Plath – Analysis

Lay Lazarus

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it——

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?——

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot——
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart——
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963)

The title Lady Lazarus rolls off the tongue with alliteration and assonance. She uses interior rhyme. Colloquial expression gives emphasis to the passion of her delivery –
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
She mentions her age of 30 years … I am only thirty … she turned 30 on the 27th October 1962 … so this dates the poem … her most productive time as a poet.

There are 28 three line stanzas involving reference to –
SP’s previous suicide attempts – with personal details … like her scars
The Holocaust … she identifies her ‘death and resurrection’ in terms of those that died in the gas chambers. In her final attempt she dies with her head in an oven.
Religion – Lazarus – resurrection – She details what her ‘resurrection’ signifies.
Her life … she sees herself as an artist …
Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

It is a very strong stand-up ‘I’ poem declared in strong passionate terms. And rallying against those guilty of inhumanity. A confrontation with Herr God, Herr Doktor, Herr Lucifer.

SP was only nine years old when her father died and this caused an anger against death in taking him away, he had a German heritage … she became aware of the holocaust and the terrors of death in the camps when a child being born in 1932 … again angry with such death … caused by man … and at the time of writing this poem, in October 1962, Ted Hughes had left her and perhaps an ’emotional death’ and distrust created similar anger against man. This poem is often seen as a statement for female emancipation.

SP identifies with those who died in the Holocaust … she herself as of lampshade skin … and the picture of body decay presents distastful morbid imagery to the reader as …
Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me
(note the internal structure to the middle line)

SP sees herself as an expert at attempted suicide and returning … and she considers her skill as a theatrical performance … before the peanut-crunchers … performing a miracle for all to see. She did get much recognition in regard to her suicide attempts and there is always a certain context shadow when reading some of her poetry.

But she will survive like Lazarus … the great miracle … and when she is ‘unwrapped’ it will be the big strip tease … regarding her revival as exciting entertainment … to see what’s underneath … to see her new born again body (peel off my napkin)

Her second attempt nearly took her life … she was discovered just ‘as the worms were setting in’
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

And there she is in the Holocaust as just ash … the Holocaust being defined by …
A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

And there is nothing there … but there is a charge for the rebirth … a restitution for the unjust dead? … and she will rise out of this …out of the ashes … representing all those that died … she will arise and give rebirth … new life … a little far-fetched but perhaps she imagined herself as some sort of warped female Christ
Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

And SP states that this is for you … for humanity … with a hatred for man
I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby
(opus – creative piece of work … pure gold)

In summary … this is clearly a personal poem of anger … defining herself in strong Ok terms … about death (and unjust death) … about her challenge of defying death … and beating death and those that have caused terrible death … laughing back at them … returning to life with fire and energy as a female … and devouring terrible MAN … clearly seen by the last stanza …
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

Sylvia Plath on Wikipedia

RIP – SP

We Are Seven – William Wordsworth

We Are Seven

–A simple child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?

I met a little cottage girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.

She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
–Her beauty made me glad.

“Sisters and brothers, little maid,
How many may you be?”
“How many? Seven in all,” she said,
And wondering looked at me.

“And where are they? I pray you tell.”
She answered, “Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.

“Two of us in the churchyard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the churchyard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother.”

“You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell,
Sweet maid, how this may be.”

Then did the little maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the churchyard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.”

“You run about, my little maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the churchyard laid,
Then ye are only five.”

“Their graves are green, they may be seen,”
The little maid replied,
“Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,
And they are side by side.

“My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.

“And often after sunset, sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.

“The first that died was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.

“So in the churchyard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.

“And when the ground was white with snow
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side.”

“How many are you, then,” said I,
“If they two are in heaven?”
Quick was the little maid’s reply,
“O master! we are seven.”

“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
‘Twas throwing words away; for still
The little maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”

William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)

This is a conversation ballad between and adult and an eight year old child on the response of the living after close family members die.

Out of interest the adult asks the little girl how many are in her family and then a difference on the understanding of death is clearly seen. The eight year old has lost a sister and a brother but she has four other siblings still alive two living at home (Conway) and two away. Clearly it is a very close family and when asked the number of family members she is adamant to include her departed members. They are still very much alive to her to the extent she goes to the graveyard and sits with them singing to them and having her supper with them.

The adult has a different perspective taking the traditional view of the dead going to heaven in spirit form. And distancing them from daily life for they are dead and should not now be counted as family. This is not a very comforting view of the departed and the dear little child is adamant that they are still very much alive in her daily life and cannot comprehend the strange view taken by the adult. We are seven is the title of the poem and the last line ends with that emphatic statement from the child – we are seven!

This poem poses thoughts on the extent to which the dead continue to live-on in those still alive.

This poem was written in 1798 at a time when there were many children in a family and many deaths of young children, and of course, the child-birth death of a mother was a common cause of death. Children frequently experienced the death of their mother and the death of siblings. How they coped with this is a very personal affair.

This poem highlights the impact of the departed on the living and to what extent the dead live-on. As people age they reflect more and more on those that have been important to them in their lives. Sometimes to the extend that they might be labelled as ‘living in the past’. But on the other hand you could say past lives live-on anew in the lives of the living. Whether such living is healthy and an aid to living or unhealthy and detrimental is another matter.

And a related question, to what extent do we remove ‘death’ from children and from daily life. In many Asian countries the dead are remembered within the community by having shrines and memorials within close contact to family life.

A Wikipedia link to Wordsworth – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wordsworth

Sonnet V – Edna St. Vincent Millay – Comments

Sonnet V

If I should learn, in some quite casual way,
That you were gone, not to return again–
Read from the back-page of a paper, say,
Held by a neighbour in a subway train,
And such a street (so are the papers filled)
A hurrying man–who happened to be you–
At noon to-day had happened to be killed,
I should not cry aloud–I could not cry
Aloud, or wring my hands in such a place–
I should but watch the station lights rush by
With a more careful interest on my face,
Or raise my eyes and read with greater care
Where to store furs and how to treat the hair.

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950)

A sonnet with rhyming scheme ‘abab cdcd efef gg’ with a clear volta breaking the text into the notice of a death and the corresponding effect on the person hearing the news.

There is an ‘if’ about this poem – If I should learn. But it strikes me as being close to the experience of many who have suddenly been made aware of an unexpected death. Recently I was informed of the death of a friend who had limited life but it was quite unexpected that death would arrive quickly and I was immediately stunned by the news. It took me quite awhile to refocus and become emotionally stable enough in order to share with others who knew her.

The poem relates to such a notification but in a public place and by the chance reading of the back page of a paper being read by a fellow traveller on the seat opposite. It is up to the reader to infer the extent of personal connection with the death. We do not know whether it is a close family member or a work college not seen for several years. I have that feeling it might have been someone from the past such as a previous lover. I think there was quite a depth in the relationship with the ‘you’ in the text.

But this is irrelevant for the poem describes the catering of the emotional shock by a somewhat artificial concentration on the station lights and other text on the back of the paper. Self-control is evident in not wishing to draw attention from others on the train. But perhaps this represents an immediate internalisation of the death in coming to terms with the sudden shock unexpected news. It does not, of course, preclude a private emotive release a little later and under different circumstances.

Edna St. Vincent Millay was an American poet and playwright.  She received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1923,  and she was known for her feminist activism.  A link to her on Wikipedia.

Felix Randal – Gerard Manley Hopkins

Felix Randal

Felix Randal the farrier, O is he dead then? my duty all ended,
Who have watched his mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome
Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it, and some
Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?

Sickness broke him. Impatient, he cursed at first, but mended
Being anointed and all; though a heavenlier heart began some
Months earlier, since I had our sweet reprieve and ransom
Tendered to him. Ah well, God rest him all road ever he offended!

This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears.
My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears,
Thy tears that touched my heart, child, Felix, poor Felix Randal;

How far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years,
When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,
Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal!

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889)

S1 … Felix Randal was a member of Hopkins’ congregation when a minister (priest) in Liverpool, England. So Hopkins gets the news that Randal is dead and therefore his duty as a priest is over. GMH obviously watched the decline of the big-boned handsome farrier as four disorders took control of his body.

S2 … Randal was impatient at the onset of the sickness wanting to get rid of it as it naturally hindered his normal life. But a heavenlier heart helped mend the situation implying a spiritual dimension developed by church involvement under the guidance of GMH – ‘I had our sweet reprieve and ransom / Tendered to him’ – communion.

S3 … Touch and talk helped in his ministration and GMH was very touched himself with the sorry state of the farrier. Sickness endears us to both the individual concerned and the sickness itself. Sickness creates a very personal intimacy between people.

S4 … And there is such a contrast GMH remembering back to the boisterous years when the farrier was well.

We are all touched by similar circumstances in life.

Gerard Manley Hopkins on Wikipedia 

Drowning is not so pitiful – Emily Dickinson

Drowning is not so pitiful

Drowning is not so pitiful
As the attempt to rise.
Three times, ‘t is said, a sinking man
Comes up to face the skies,
And then declines forever
To that abhorred abode

Where hope and he part company,—
For he is grasped of God.
The Maker’s cordial visage,
However good to see,
Is shunned, we must admit it,
Like an adversity.

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

This is all about accepting death when death is inevitable. It is part of human nature to fight for survival. So is our attempt to maintain life to the very end pitiful.

Dylan Thomas has a villanelle in the opposition direction as portrayed by the first lines of his well-known poem – ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’. He commands us to rage against impending death – ‘Old age should burn and rave at close of day’.

The question is when to be accepting of approaching death and view death not as an adversity but as a welcome friend. There is a time to be submissive and a time to burn and rave to squeeze the most out of life. Only at the very last is the former more appropriate – a matter of judgement.

The ED poem implies that death will be the meeting of the cordial visage of our creator. We are inclined to be negative despite the great goodness in God. But didn’t the bible say something along the lines that each hair on your head is of concern and not to be afraid. So do do not worry if you are having a bad hair!

I have taken a view in line with Emily Dickinson in my reply below to the Dylan villanelle, however I have taken a more gentle approach, rather than the pitiful reproach of Emily Dickinson –

Go Gentle and Enjoy Your Last Day

go gentle and enjoy your last day
focus not on the loss of your sight
give a smile as you pass quietly away

a wise man knows how to play
knows exactly what is indeed right
go gentle and enjoy your last day

a good man accepts the pathway
as he enters the door of the night
give a smile as you pass quietly away

a brave man shows strong display
knows it useless in giving a fight
go gentle and enjoy your last day

a grave man will rise up to say
‘the end is turning quite bright’
give a smile as you pass quietly away

so to all I earnestly pray
savour the disappearing light
go gentle and enjoy your last day
give a smile as you pass quietly away

Richard Scutter

… A link to Emily Dickinson on Wikipedia.

 

My Home – Clive James – Analysis

My Home

Grasping at straws, I bless another day
Of having felt not much less than alright.
I wrote a paragraph and put some more
Books in a box for books to throw away.
Such were my deeds. Now, short of breath and sore
For all that effort, I prepare for night,
Which occupies the window, as I climb
The stairs. A step up and I stand, each time,

Posed like the statue of a man in pain,
Although I’m really not: just weak and slow.
This is the measure of my dying years:
The sad skirl of a piper in the rain
Who plays “My Home” If I seem close to tears
It’s for my sins not sickness. Soon the snow
Will finish readying the ground for spring.
The cold, if not the warmth that it will bring,

Is made, each day, to clearly manifest
I thank my lucky stars for second sight.
The children of our street head off for school
Most mornings, stronger for their hours of rest.
Plump in their coloured coats they prove a rule
By moving brilliantly through white light:
We fade away, but vivid in our eyes
A world is born again that never dies.

Clive James (1939 –

This poem was the last poem in the anthology “Best Australian Poems – 2014” edited by Geoff Page: appropriately positioned. There are three eight line iambic pentameter stanzas with rhyming scheme ‘abcacbdd’. As usual  CJ is very respectful of form and structure in his work.

CJ is nearing the end of his life and this has been the case for several years now. As indicated in the text he is not in pain but he has breathing problems and consequently his mobility is limited – the first line could easily be ‘G(r)asping at straws, I bless another day’ – and the simple task of walking up the stairs is a great effort as he has to rest after each step – ‘A step up and I stand, each time’.

The ‘sad skirl’ (shrill whirling sound) of the lone piper playing ‘My Home’ – which is a reference to a traditional Scottish or Northumbrian pipe tune. It is used by military bands as a march past, but a slow march contrasting with quick march pasts such as “Highland Laddie” (information from Wikipedia).

For obvious reasons the spring will be cold for CJ as he anticipates the imminent closure of his life. And reflecting on his life there are regrets defined by his ‘sins’ – perhaps chosen for the s alliteration in this line.

The key to his mental outlook is in the line – ‘I thank my lucky stars for second sight.’ For CJ is referring to his new life in his modified state on approaching death. Ironically it is a golden time for him and he is very thankful that he has this second sight or second chance to look at life from quite a different perspective. Another of his poems is illustrative of this fact see ‘The Japanese Maple’ 

And sight and light are seen in the last stanza in double capacity. For CJ light is fading compared to the children who are ‘brilliantly walking in white light’ for they are the on-going metaphor for the eternal life cycle – ‘A world is born again that never dies’ – and this fact (rule) is ‘vivid in our eyes’. A nice way of putting it by using the word ‘rule’ which associates with school and learning.

And ‘My Home’ gives thought to the duality of the physical place that is home and the spiritual connection to the home of eternal life.

 

An Inevitable

An Inevitable
(a follow-up to ‘An Unseen’ by Carol Ann Duffy)

I watched death come, anticipating, tears, cold,
empty, taking away;
deep winter, hard crunch on barren ground, life-unborn.
Death forever patient, today, tomorrow
each farewell, the future known, an inevitable.

Down the long corridor, day after day, to her room
my hello, her departing,
death, arms wide open, to embrace
bedside waiting, for that moment
when all moments coalesce.

Silence, forever silence
the remnant, memories, imprint
death-gift receipt, for the living,
before a church service, the walk home
the mind a ransom.

Richard Scutter May 2017