Aug 12, 2010

Yeats and Olds Continued, The Bird Lady, "Adam's Curse"

Maybe everyone has met a bird lady at least once in a lifetime. In a way, the woman in the photo doesn’t exactly qualify because feeding the pigeon nation was a first for her. She kept repeating, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Cynics might urge her to get out of the house more, but I liked her delight in a simple pleasure. Pigeons are probably no one’s favorite animal, but the sheer numbers of greedy, gluttonous birds were impressive, and the woman became a girl again.

Then, behind me, I heard a gruff male voice, a stranger with a thick Brooklyn accent: “Those birds shit all over the place. Somebody oughta shoot ‘em all.”

“Shooting Pigeons in Brooklyn.” Sounds like a Mickey Spillane title. But that was the guy’s comment, and I wondered what I’d done to invite it.

There are certain kinds of tough-guy language and behavior that suck the joy right out of October blue and laughing children. Sometimes I worry about making such statements myself, just as I worry about being too sappy at the other end. Good writers have to walk that tightrope, among others, every time they put pen to paper. (By the way, I've just learned that Mickey Spillane briefly worked as a trapeze artist).

Somehow that’s the kind of decision I was asking for yesterday in comparing Sharon Olds’ “Sex without Love” to Yeats’ “When You Are Old.” Compared to honoring the Yeats, I can probably explain much more thoroughly what I like or respect about the Olds poem—its boldness and ingenuity in making serial sex a metaphor for our condition in the universe, its brazen repetition, its Oldsian decisions about line breaks, its mix of the trendy and the ontological, and on and on.

But “Sex with Love” also strikes me as a chunk of gravel shredding ancient parchment. Yeats and others have a feel for sacred documents; they know how to lay palms upon it, or gently unfurl it. I don’t know if Yeats could be crass if his life depended on it. But maybe that means he couldn’t be realistic either. He paid for that.

Perhaps it’s in this context that I offer Yeats’ “Adam’s Curse,” about work and beauty, poetry and love. The casual elegance of its language might cause readers to miss the fact that it’s written in rhymed couplets. Apparently the poet followed his own directions and labored so hard that we sense only the graciousness of his lines, not the labor that went into them. Isn’t that what he said he was going for, that illusion of naturalness? I wonder if he’s been to Brooklyn.

Adam’s Curse by William Butler Yeats : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.



Brenda's Arizona said...

You are totally correct - I did not see/hear the rhymed couplets. I saw a story unfolding and tried to place myself there as a silent observer. The description of the friend's voice - "heartache On finding that her voice is sweet and low" - oh my. I listened harder.

How many poems, Banjomyn, have you come across that describe conversations, including quotes, like this one? It carries on a dialogue...
Which lost me at:
"There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
Precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’ "
What is being said? That some lovers think love must be copied out of old books?

Perhaps when we see the moon as weary hearted, we feel love is, too.

PJ said...

I'm not going to say that my photography is noteworthy, just that it's mine, but it takes a lot of work to get those images into a post (the editing is killer, you just cannot control light) so I understand, from a visual perspective what Yeats is talking about: it has to be so good that it looks effortless, but it isn't.

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, is your favorite Frost's "Home Burial" such a poem? At least in spirit?

Wordsworth's "Expostulation and Reply." And its companion piece, "The Tables Turned." Shakespeare has a "Winter" and "Spring"? Or is that just the animals speaking? I forget.

Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci." "O what can ail thee, knight arms, alone and palely loitering? The sedge has withered from the lake and no birds sing." And he answers.

If I recall, there's also dialogue in Keats' soap opera, "The Eve of St. Agnes."

Reed's war poems, "Naming of Parts" and "Judging Distances" are de facto conversations as the young recruit filters the officer's words. They were in Sound and Sense; they were GREAT, and I hope they're still around. If I don't get to them soon, please nag me.

I suspect there are dozens, and I'll be infuriated to have forgotten them. Also, I'd say R. Browing's dramatic monologues (and thus J. Alfred Prufrock too) have the spirit of conversation since the listeners are somewhat or very identifiable and "on stage," even though they don't actually speak.

Sorry you asked? As for your other question, I think you've already answered it. Today those old "learned books" might be soap operas, romantic comedies and other, more serious flicks. They show what a writer or a culture thinks love looks like, how it behaves, what its words should be. Maybe Yeats was thinking of the chivalric code and such. Now "it seems an idle trade enough." Yep.

I have to add this because it gives me chills, especially if I've got it right. In King Lear, just before Cordelia and Lear both die, she says something sad and gentle about him as lies there, wet, cold, as much insane as not. Lear says says, "Pray you, undo this button." And moments later, I think, he adds something like, "I am a foolish, fond old man, more crazy than not. But I think you are my child, Cordelia. I have wronged her. Her voice was ever soft, gentle, and low."

For me, Lear is so preeminent among Shakespeare's work that I don't even want to talk about the other stuff. I've said it here before: Hamlet is six great speeches held together by a lot of histrionic jabber and spastic action.

I'll stop now, or I might never.

Brenda, thank you. Great to have you back, making me ramble on. MAKING ME. It's all BRENDA'S FAULT.

But I'm not gonna lie. No matter how much I've foregotten, I get a kick out of remembering such stuff. Question: if you remember stuff that's wrong, or didn't happen, is it still a memory? :)

Banjo52 said...

Paula, sounds like a valid comparison. I've heard one artist after another, in various media, talk about revision. It's a hard lesson, but without it all we get is somebody's spewing. Most likely.

Brenda's Arizona said...

"Question: if you remember stuff that's wrong, or didn't happen, is it still a memory?"

YES! It is still a memory!! Best of all, it is YOUR memory. I am accused of this all the time (by my mother) - that I remember things wrong. No, I just remember them differently. And it is still a memory - much more vivid than others remember. It is, I insist!

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of two poems I've kept tacked up on my refrigerator. I don't know why; it makes me sad.

here goes:

by Philip Larkin

We met at the end of the party
When all the drinks were dead
And all the glasses dirty:
'Have this that's left', you said.
We walked through the last of summer,
When shadows reached long and blue
Across days that were growing shorter:
You said: 'There's autumn too'.
Always for you what's finished
Is nothing, and what survives
Cancels the failed, the famished,
As if we had fresh lives
From that night on, and just living
Could make me unaware
Of June, and the guests arriving,
And I not there.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Wow, what a sad poem, Cousyn! What is the story behind it, may we ask?

Banjo52 said...

Yeah, this is a good Larkin wipeout. He's got more than a couple.

Once again some natural-sounding and interesting rhymes, like "finished" and "famished."

Do you plan to address Brenda's question? Too personal? You know, it wouldn't have to be. Those are two points of view, two ways of being in the world. Some see the world and themselves in a continual, indestructible future, while others can easily imagine themselves as absent, in various ways. So it's not JUST about a failed romance, as I see it.

Anonymous said...

No, actually, it's not personal at all. (And I don't find failed romance very tragic. It's good material, though.)

I think I keep this poem on the fridge (and another), because I'm not sure what it means. But I think it has something to do with one's last thoughts when letting go.

Banjo52 said...

". . . I don't find failed romance very tragic. It's good material, though." I know it's asking a lot, but I'd love for you to expand on that.

". . . something to do with one's last thoughts when letting go."

I wouldn't argue with that. Can it be both: two lovers failing to connect = two perspectives on, two approaches to mortality?

Anonymous said...

I just read your comments about King Lear more slowly. Interesting. And I know you said you don't want to talk about the other stuff, but I'll brave your wrath and ask, any opinion on Measure for Measure?

Banjo52 said...

AH, yes, my wrath is something else, isn't it. Sorry to say, I've never read or seen Measure for Measure. Should I? I know it does get produced, but it's always been my impression that it's not considered one of his biggies.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Billy Collins included in the pantheon of the overrated?

take it back Anis Shivani
take it back now!!!

I knew a woman who fed pigeons. She was a glamor girl from the early days of film. Her husband was a special effects man having orchestrated the parting of the red sea in the 1920(s) version of Ben Hur. A thousand pigeons would descend on the stables parking lot when they arrived in their Edsel.

All are looking down from the glass bottom boat

Banjo52 said...

PA, you actually know/knew someone in the movie business! Does everyone in greater L.A. know somebody who is somebody? How ditzy is it that I’m snowed by that. I taught with a guy who moved to SoCal and taught Barbra Streisand’s kid(s?), which isn’t at all like teaching the kids of auto execs. I humbly submit that most Americans are children of Hollywood, and that can get complicated.

I think I recognize that Billy Collins poem. As I hear it go by, it’s fantastic. That one metaphor of the glass bottom boat conjures so much. Per the Yeats comment in “Adam’s Curse,” I wonder if Collins and others (Oliver, Olds, and more) suffer in reputation because SEEM easy and natural. We’ve been conditioned to think that poetry is supposed to be fancy, twisted, difficult, abstract, elitist. I know I succumb to that myself at times.

PJ said...

PA's true stories are the best.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Yes, love PA's recollection!
Banjomyn, never be amazed by the '6 degrees of separation' possibilities, esp. when it comes to Hollywood. My uncle was a script teacher/prompter for Universal. He used to take us kids to work with him - Iilya and I spent hours/days/weeks on the set of Ironside/
McCloud/Alias Smith & Jones/Columbo
/Bold Ones... .. but nothing like the parting of the seas for the Edsel!

Pasadena Adjacent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pasadena Adjacent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sandy said...

Dropping by quickly to see your blog. Love this post! I'll come back and read more soon. I think I'm a bird lady, I love feeding the ones in my yard and drawing or sketching them.

thanks for your visit by the way.

Banjo52 said...

Sandy, welcome. Hope you come back. If you do, you'll eventually see that I'm a bit of a sap about birds too. (I just had to revisit my Feb. 18 and saw some there, for example, but also various posts on "mere" backyard birds).

PA, did I remove your posts or did you? I didn't know you could do it, and I didn't mean to . . .

Lovers' Lane