Tuesday, December 26, 2006

From John Ashbery's "Soonest Mended" (Commonplace Book)

Don't worry about the meaning of this passage at first. Just read it out loud a few times and listen for the rhythms, and the vowels, and the subtle shifts in tone. It seems quite goofy (brushing teeth?), and then the last four lines punch through your defenses making you feel sentimental and hopeful and sad without having any idea what was just said.
And you see, both of us were right, though nothing
Has somehow come to nothing; the avatars
Of our conforming to the rules and living
Around the home have made -- well, in a sense, "good citizens" of us,
Brushing the teeth and all that, and learning to accept
The charity of the hard moments as they are doled out,
For this is action, this not being sure, this careless
Preparing, sowing the seeds crooked in the furrow,
Making ready to forget, and always coming back
To the mooring of starting out, that day so long ago.


Roger said...
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Roger said...

yeah, this one always gets me. I also like The Painter.

"They tossed him, the portrait, from the tallest of the buildings;
And the sea devoured the canvas and the brush
As though his subject had decided to remain a prayer."

The end, the only thing left is the 'as though' of a prayer, not even a prayer, a person, a painting, nothing itself. There is only the 'as though.' Total breakdown of everything except simile.

pat moler said...

certainly an interesting piece of work.

Jonathan said...

He uses this tactic of repeating a word in the same sentence (but on another line) fairly often. I borrowed that tactic in my own work. Makes for interesting sounds.

"though nothing/ Has somehow come to nothing"

I'll keep in the same line most of the time, however.

One time the famous philosopher Wittgenstein said of Georg Trakl, "I don't understand any of his poetry but it's pure genius". That's a paraphrase. The quote could go for Ashbery as well. Many of his poems I most enjoy are indeciferable.

My poems have an Ashberian quality, but are much more linear. I feel if I become too random I'd fail where Ashbery usually succeeds.

His playfulness and creative mind at his age is, for me, the most astonishing attribute of his latest poems.

Unlike, say, William Wordsworth, Ashbery doesn't show any signs of icing over.