As I realize that many of my readers are also Facebook friends, I have avoided recently using here material that I have already posted as a Facebook note. However, I dearly love this poem, and I want to talk about it. This poem has two titles—the one below and “Alchemy.” The fact that I can both title the post for the day and put a title within the post permits me to use both titles for today.
“Alchemy” is probably the better of the two titles. I constructed the poem on vague principles of alchemy I learned from my reading (mostly first- and secondhand Jung). As alchemists wish to change base metals into gold, the speaker wants to transform his love interest from a philandering husband’s docile spouse into a wild, carefree goddess. What he wants is foolish, ridiculous, and so he resorts to magic—alchemy. There are other alchemical aspects, but I’ll skip them for now. Transformation is the main idea—both of alchemy and this poem.
I went with “Moonlight Sonata” (well, at least for now) because of the lunar references in the poem. I realized that it’s probably the most obvious, and I am not sure I should be proud of it, but I always get a chuckle from calling her husband “Armstrong.” (Hmmm, I wonder if there’s some slighting reference to American imperialism buried here. If so, it was unconscious, not intentional.) Other moon imagery runs throughout as well, including her rising, liberated, in the end.
Furthermore, the poem is structured on the four traditional elements of alchemy: water, earth, air and fire. The first two lines (the first stanza) are water. The long stanza, the second one, is earth. Stanza three is air. Finally, fire makes the imagery of the last stanza. It’s really not a perfect pattern: the riverbed creeps into earth, along with “oystering,” and the the watery mess continues into the third stanza with thunderstruck. but the mixing of things is also part of the alchemical pattern.
I also enjoy the sound in the poem. I know I’ve talked about my infatuation with sound before, but if I’m going to post poetry and if poetry for me is primarily about sound, then I guess I’ll have to explain some things about sound effects.
It’s possible that what I like about Old English or Anglo-Saxon verse is the meter based on alliteration. In Old English poetry, a line was created by the use of four alliterative “beats”—of which three were supposed to be the same sound and the fourth somehow different, often presaging the alliteration in the next line.
I can’t claim to be consciously following that strict pattern in this poem, but I do notice I tend to use four alterations per line (more or less). “Love and lady, you like lightning wet the” For instance, the four L’s are that four-beat alliteration, and “wet” leads into “whispers,” while “make” and “amazed” share that M sound. I also think those liquids and nasals and semi-vowels make the feeling move, as I said before, like a river.
Interestingly, as I read the poem today, I observe that this one too could be classed as a seduction poem. Does that give the lie to my virtuous stance about “the speaker” in “Card Sharp” from last Friday? Regardless, here is this speaker’s incantation to liberate his lunar love.
Love and lady, you like moonlight wet the
whispers of this dirty night, make me amazed.
The wheat-sovereign moonlight of your hair,
maligned, shines amber-burning on
the husky horizon of his shoulder:
that dewbright gaze penetrates my
riverbed, and then I ponder how that
oystering oaf would look in horns, old goat.
I’m thunderstruck and wonder that with him
—faithless ashes, stewed fumes of passion—
you remain, unlike the moon, unmoved,
aloof in those arms, strong.
Sullied flesh, his melted lusts have left
no earthly claim on you, pale perfect.
Be free: I’d see you smite the air,
ablaze areign away all lovely and alive.
Also entitled “Alchemy”
29 January 1978
Since the woman I wrote this about was actually married, and since nothing ever happened—except perhaps in my imagination—I will leave the autobiography absent from this post. I really enjoyed looking at the websites linked above.
For tomorrow, we’re probably going back to Quetzal County once again. Maybe…