Mar 18, 2011

Edward Hirsch, "Wild Gratitude"

I cannot find Edward Hirsch's "Christopher Smart" on line, which is very puzzling. Here instead is "Wild Gratitude," the title work of Hirsch's second collection of poems; it's no paltry thing in its own right, and it sustains Hirsch's interest in the poet Christopher Smart, who struggled with kindness and madness.

Wild Gratitude- - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More

And here are a few lines I feel legally entitled to quote from "Christopher Smart," a poem I admire for its images and cadences, its called-for repetitions, its beautiful nightmare music. I find it a convincing portrait of what it must be like to be mentally and physically alone, un-right with the world. From Christopher Smart himself, these lines are the poem's epigraph:
"For they work me with their harping irons,
which is a barbarous instrument, because
I am more unguarded than others."

And from Edward Hirsch, speaking as Christopher Smart, here is the opening:
I am a wild ass galloping through the streets
Trailing the dog star, the mad gull. I am
A white raven spilling light through the skies
Like a colorful beacon, trailing the wild ass,
The laden bull. I am the hooves and the wings

Of the mule clattering through the streets

And here are some additional lines:
. . . There
are buzzards shuddering in the vacant branches.
There is a holy ram swallowing its tongue
At the mirage of a watering hole.

It's snowing. The moon is taking off her garments
Like an unruly queen; the desert prophet
Has swallowed his tongue.

The bull is weeping, and mother,

I am naked now; I am wondrous nude.
And it is still snowing.

The clouds are peeling away like the skin
Of a dead man's body. I am fleeing
Into the desert on a wild ass
Trailing a dog star. And believe me,
The ass is dead.

The night is fierce; the desert winds are
Scraping along the ground. The moon is flecked
With the blood of hooves. And it's snowing.
It is always snowing in the country of the mad.

I hope that's enough at least to suggest, movingly, the pictures and music of Christopher Smart's mind, as filtered by Edward Hirsch in his first book, For the Sleepwalkers.

As always, I'll be interested in responses.



Ken Mac said...

like falling off a cliff

Banjo52 said...

Ken, as in "as easy as"? Yes, I bet it is. Thanks.

And I suspect that's why so many readers, film-goers, etc. are so enchanted by madness in the arts, in the abstract--we feel we've been there, or close. And oh, how we hate the establishment, the majority, which tells us where the line is--and how we must not cross it.

But I don't think Hirsch's poem glorifies madness the way other art and its audiences tend to. I sympathize with, and maybe admire, Hirsch's Christopher Smart, but I do not envy him. I tend to like and romanticize animals, but I do not wish for C.S.'s visions, thanks to Hirsch's rendering of them.

Pasadena Adjacent said...
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