Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Thursday, March 07, 2013

"Like a tower"

Journey's end
"Journey's End" with Tretower castle by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
You can find something I wrote about this piece here.
Poem as tower

Unterecker, A Reader's Guide to William Butler Yeats (p. 107):

By staring at any poem long enough, however, by searching for all possible correlations, we can begin to apprehend details of the internal organization of poetic art. Only if we learn to read Yeats in this way--which is, in fact, a kind of inverse process of composition--can we ever understand what Yeats is trying to make out of poetry. In one sense, each of his poems is no more than a statement architecturally conceived. It is a linguistic design (and so static) which says something (and so seems to be in action.) Like a tower which thrusts up and bears down, which falls in toward a center and which is pushed out by its weight, the poem achieves a repose assembled from precarious antithetical violences.                      

Oddly,

the paradoxes of action and repose above quote reminded me of Augustine's Confessions, where he says, "But you, O Lord, are eternally at work and eternally at rest. It is not in time that you see or in time that you move or in time that you rest: yet you make what we see in time; you make time itself and the repose which comes when time ceases." Later he says, "You are for ever at rest, because you are your own repose."

To be eternally at work and eternally at rest is to have reached perfection, completion, fullness: as is sought in the making of that framework of words called a poem.

7 comments:

  1. A fabulous connection between Augustine's description of God and prosody is born in the entry--ahem, little the Palace bower--above. Even Robert Graves and Randall Jarrell have not come up with anything more majestic or more apt. Miz Youmans writes: "To be eternally at work and eternally at rest is to have reached perfection, completion, fullness: as is sought in the making of that framework of words called a poem." A better definition of what a poet seeks to accomplish in a poem I have never read.

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  2. Thank you, Miss Mary Boxley Bullington, exuberant painter and committer of poems--much appreciated!

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  3. I was about to argue that Yeats' poems are never at rest, because they are so alive on the page. Then I thought about it for a moment and I will grant that Yeats has a solidity, or maybe a completeness of his own. That might be what Unterecker means by repose here.

    I don't claim much knowledge of poetry, but I love Yeats. Thanks for pointing to the Augustine passage. I love his humility and awe when faced with the limits of his understanding.

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  4. I see you already used the idea of completeness, which I just skimmed right past the first time I read the post.

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  5. So you read it twice! Thank you. Rereading is the best reading...

    Just came back from a long class on Maximus the Confessor. Read a somewhat turgid translation of his no-doubt dense letter to one of the Byzantine eunuch chamberlains... Fascinating. Moving, even, despite the thickets of prose.

    I go back to Yeats from time to time and each time fall for his poems all over again. If you want to have a clearer grasp of "the big picture" and how the symbols develop and so on, I highly recommend the Unterecker book. I'm enjoying what he says about poetry in general as well. But I am not sure anyone ever gets to the bottom of Yeats. So many of the poems are shifting and mean something different at different phases of life.

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  6. Being two things at the same time, depending on whether you're looking from the outside, or from within.

    The 'repose', yes, one I happened to use as a take-off point for my photography exhibits recently.

    So can well relate to these paragraphs.

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  7. Anil,

    So glad you came by--I have been under the thumb of winter bugs and not doing much internet traveling. I shall have to go see what you have been doing on the other side of the world! Exhibits, you say: very good!

    I like what you say, and also that there is some mystery about what is "outside" and what is "within."

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.