March 19, 2014

The Blessed Hope of Domesticity...and Benedict Cumberbatch

I have lately been moved by a good deal of poetry. It could be that I'm reading more than my usual ration, what with the whole "English major" and all, but I'd like to think the particular poems which have been thrust via syllabi into my hands are meant, kismetly (no, I did not adverb that word, Kristen Stewart did.), for me. Matthew Arnold (kind of a prick, in my humble opinion, but I like some of his postulations) predicted in his "The Study of Poetry" in 1869 that

More and more mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to 
interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us. Without poetry, our science will 
appear incomplete; and most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy
will be replaced by poetry.

I don't know about replacement, strictly speaking, but I think Mr. Arnold is right in his forecast of humankind's increasing reach for truth and meaning and the increasing succor found in the carefully chosen, evocative words of poesy. There is something intuitively soul-searching about poets, something naked and raw and universally familiar about their successful work; something Alice Notley would affectionately call disobedience--the refusal to meet expectations or follow forms, but a commitment to portray truths only the artist knows. The beauty in this disobedience, I find, is that it turns out the readers (at least some of them) know these same truths as well, and the poem then becomes "obedient," if you will, to the common threads of human experience.

I love every moment I get to spend expanding my learning and every thought I am blessed to explore, but this is all so very much to think about, and there is within me so very very much to write. Some nights, after my little ones are in bed, and my head is swimming with the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Bishop and Allen Ginsberg, and I'm trying to finish listening to the audio recording of Heart of Darkness without retching, solidify a thesis for my "Darkling Thrush"/ "Carrion Comfort" essay, and decide if my MFA emphasis should be poetry or fiction (yep--that decision is already stressing me), I find I am in need of some simple ground to stand on. I think of that thrush, Hardy's thrush--my favorite bird amongst the many poetically present in the works of those fun-loving Romantic and Victorian Brits--and the "blessed hope" trembling through "his happy good-night air." A hope whereof the poem's speaker claims to be "unaware," but, I think, if he were really as unaware and as despairing as he would like to be, he wouldn't hear it at all. And my "blessed hope," my simple ground to stand on, if that makes any sense at all, becomes domesticity. I clear my head and regain my focus by doing something, anything, of the homemaking variety for the benefit of my family.

This is my truth: one of the comments I most often receive on my writing is that it has a certain domestic feel. Often, that's unintentional. It's just there because it's me on the page and that's who I am. If I feel like my children are washed and nurtured, food is prepared, clothes are clean and mended, activities are planned and packed for, I can put my mind to the task of learning and analyzing, absorbing and creating with clarity and care. So yes, folding laundry helps me see the themes of feminism in Tennyson. Filling the freezer with homemade burritos and the pantry with trail-mix snack bags gets me thinking on experimental syntax. And sometimes, not thinking about anything literary at all but instead watching Sherlock (*sigh* Benedict Cumberbatch) while putting away the dishes or sorting the coat closet gives my brain just enough of a breather to help me make decent comments in class discussions the next day. (Okay, lie. Sherlock actually can't  be watched without literary thoughts crossing the brain. The revival of a classic! The modern take! The narrative! The allusions!)

A list, if anyone's interested, of the recently read poems that speak to me:

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop
Carrion Comfort by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Sections 50, 54, and 55 of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam
Lines 470-481 of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh
Ode to A Nightingale by John Keats (Cumberbatch bonus!)
Her Kind by Anne Sexton

Others, I confess, have been my own, and I'm not *quite* ready to share. The small happiness I have in feasting on them is, for now, just mine.

What is your truth? Where do you see it in art? In life?