Friday, November 02, 2007

Russell Edson’s “The Parental Decision”

One of Blake’s best poems is “The Mental Traveller.” A close reading of the thing here is beyond our scope, but essentially it is a terrifying, hallucinogenic vision of the cycle of history in the fallen natural world – a cycle we must escape if we are truly to be free. It only has a few archetypical characters that morph in a cycle. Here are some representative lines.

And if the babe is born a Boy
He’s given to a Woman Old

Who nails him down upon a rock

Catches his Shrieks in Cups of gold

She binds iron thorns around his head

She pierces both his hands & feet

She cuts his heart out at his side

To make him feel both cold & heat

Her fingers number every Nerve

Just as a Miser counts his gold

She lives upon his shrieks & cries

And She grows young as he grows old

Till he becomes a bleeding youth

And she becomes a virgin bright…

[In the end, the poem cycles back to the beginning –]

Till he becomes a wayward Babe
And she a weeping Woman Old

She nails him down upon the Rock

And all is done as I have told

Russell Edson’s weird little poem “The Parental Decision” takes Blake’s visionary allegory of world history and wrecks it by translating it into the mundane day-to-day world of household decisions. Here is the whole poem.

A man splits into two who are an old woman and an old man.
They must be his parents. But where is the man? Perhaps he gave his life for them …

I ask the old couple if they’ve seen their son.

The old woman says, we’ve decided not to have any children.

If modern poems seem weird and impossible to understand, it is often the case that you are just missing another text that the poem you are reading is thinking of.


Roger said...

thanks for the edison citation. I've never heard of this.

The interesting thing, for me, about the Mental Traveller is that the world that must be escaped is the world that we create by trying to escape our woe with joy. "For there the Babe is born in joy/
That was begotten in dire woe/Just as we Reap in joy the fruit/Which we in bitter tears did sow"

So, escaping Blake's world of misery means rejecting both our woe and our joy.

Stephen said...

Would it be equally fair to say: "If modern comics seem weird and impossible to understand, it is often the case that you are just missing another text that the comic you are reading is thinking of"?


Geoff Klock said...

Roger: thats a good point

Stephen: yeah, probably.