Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Rain and Ruin: something recalcitrant

Jane Holland has posted her compressed version of the Exeter Book's The Wife's Lament. It is interesting how much 'resonance' with the language itself is achieved here. In an earlier post I talked of how the language seems to keep saying certain things over and over, and it's this that gives us the building blocks for the musical composition of poems; it gives us the notes to play on the instrument (the instrument that Ed Dorn speaks of when he says re Gunslinger "It's really just an attempt to meditate what there is left of the available instrument. It's not an epic, but it's going to work that kind of trip.") And it's the repetitions and refrains of the language that lend good poems that sort of 'alienated majesty' that Geoffrey Hill mentions (lifting the phrase from Emerson).

In Holland's 'The Wife's Lament' the rain/ruin conjunction appears in her rendering of the line "under stanhliþe / storme behrimed" (under stone slopes / by storms berimed"). Holland's line runs "in ruins under the rain" ... this brings 19th-century associations: Longfellow's "Upon the ground I saw a fallen nest / Ruined and full of rain", or Swinburne's "For winter's rains and ruins are over" or Wilde's "Time hath not spared his ruin,---wind and rain / Have broken down his stronghold", or Stevenson's lines ..

Bursting across the tangled math
A ruin that I called a path,
A Golgotha that, later on,
When rains had watered, and suns shone,

Going back in time, Pope has

So from each side increased the stony rain,
And the white ruin rises o'er the plain

That 'white ruin' also evokes Auden's lines:

Oh dear white children, casual as birds,
Playing amid the ruined languages.

And Pope's 'stony rain' brings into view the stone/storm conjunction present in the Exeter Book, and in Pound's Seafarer: "Storms, on the stone-cliffs beaten". Coming forward in time, Rexroth, in his Letter to Auden, juxtaposes "The steel rain // Voices in the old ruin".

Geoffrey Hill, in his 'A Postscript on Modernist Poetics', writes "In the act of creation we alienate ourselves from that which we have created, or conversely, the genius of language alienates us from itself. We are no longer masters of a well-considered curriculum vitae in free verse, or blank-verse sonnets, or whatever; the anecdote is no longer the agency of our self-promotion; something recalcitrant has come between us and our expectant and expected satisfaction."

1 comment:

Jane Holland said...

Many thanks for this, David. I'm honoured, I really am.

And I've posted up a link to Sparks from Stones today on Raw Light, so people can jump between us at will!