Sunday, December 29, 2013


Disappointing and mysteriously pessimistic


Some consider him as the missing link between Whitman and Ginsberg, but I am afraid this vision is in many ways warped by considerations that have nothing to do with poetry.

He does not have the inner-directed and outer-sourced contemplative illumination and sensuousness that Whitman’s poetry has. For him nature is a far away and abandoned farmland landscape. For him man’s work is not seen as a muscular and heroic flesh and blood attractiveness but as a mere uncreative exploitation. The Calamus poems are just unthinkable within this poetry that is no rocking cradle for anyone, or actually anything.

He does not have any mystic humanistic dimension that merges together the humanism of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and the mysticism of medieval Christian visionary seers of the past, present and future within the grail of God’s truth and light, like T.S. Eliot. God is hardly a pale moon in the sky. No human-mysticism here in this cold and mute vision of urban life that has lost God and the divine. Such a world lacks depth and mental soul-like inspiration.

It does not have the rude raw rough rustic rotten rotting rusted brutal flowing power of Ginsberg that finds its human force and its beastlike howling in the ruthlessness and awesome total lack of empathy from a God who has selected his people for them to suffer in his name for his own glory and for their own misery, their misery being his pride. There is no howling, yelling, or shouting, not even speaking and murmuring, not to mention the lack of whispering in this poetry that is mute, silent, dumb in the meaning of speechless. The last poem is a caricature of this unspeaking and unspeakable poetry:

“I asked a gypsy pal
To imitate an old image . . .
Snatch off the gag from thy mouth, child,
And be free to keep silence.
Tell no man anything for no man listens,
Yet hold thy lips ready to speak.”

More doomed and desperate than that you die, but luckily I will survive that pessimism. Man is human in his ability to communicate and here the poems conclude on the uselessness to say the slightest little word, not even a cry, a moan, a sigh. Man without communication, speech and language is nothing but a powerless animal.

He does not even have the mythological power Crane embodies in his vision of the Brooklyn Bridge or princess Pocahontas or the Hudson river.

So what does he have if he misses all that, the underground pulsing blood of the lustful life of nature, the throbbing heart of the American city, the guilt-ridden recollection of all the crimes committed in America in the name of some manifest destiny of very bad repute, the cataclysmic power of the devastating river that is bringing life through, via, beyond the death it implies when it gets into a furious spree of “Kill them all, God will retrieve his own!”

Sandburg – by the way the well-named Sandburg – has a naïve, unelaborated charm of simple images that are no metaphors, plain emerging revelations of everyday objects or things or beings, human, vegetal or animal, that-who-which are all silent, wordless, unspeaking, unable to speak, ghostlike, living dead phantoms of the world and the cosmos and whose accidental or eventual contributions to the illusive discourse of humanity will become undecipherable hieroglyphics within one or two generations. So what the heck! Don’t say a word because it may be used against you, as Miranda has it, in court or out of court.

The moon is nearly nothing but the moon, the old moon, dripping, weeping, shedding or pouring her white light over a world that is hardly alive. Poor evanescent, transient, inconstant changing moon that is blind to everything and is just forever engulfed in her successive phases that will never change and never mean anything. Please don’t swear by it and just forget it. This universe is without any permanence, even the permanence the poet’s discourse could provide if it were able to look beyond the surface of things.

A very sad poetry it is because at first it is the poetry of the big exploitative city, and then the poetry of the big meaningless war in Europe with its trenches and its mirror-like two brothers of the shovel and the gun, the shovel that digs the trenches on both sides, face to face, the gun that kills on both sides, face to face, the shovel that buries the dead on both sides, face to face, and the gun anew that kills on both sides, face to face. Yes “the shovel is brother to the gun.” But what a dehumanized vision!

And dehumanized too the skyscraper is. Built by anonymous workers, a certain proportion of whom will die and will be buried within the foundations, the concrete or some forgotten tombs somewhere else unknown of or ignored by everyone. Thousands of people will be working or living there and yet that skyscraper has no real life. All that indeed is nothing but mechanical and heartless agitation. Only at night some phantasmagorical animation may give that skyscraper some semblance of a life: “By night the skyscraper looms in the smoke and the stars and has a soul.” The soul of a bee maybe smoked out of its hive to die along the way under the stars, probably with the benediction of the moon, that great goddess of lifeless death.

And the poet is looking for a refuge in fire, smoke, fog, mist, shadows of all sorts, shade and night. Even his plowboy and his two horses are lifeless because they are not captured in their physical muscular fertile effort but only as a shadowy picture against the sky turning to dusk and night:

“I shall remember you long,
Plowboy and horses against the sky in shadow.
I shall remember you and the picture
You made for me,
Turning the turf in the dusk
And haze of an April gloaming.”

That is really the Twilight of the Gods, of humanity, of life, of the cosmos even. Where is the life-giving manly love and brotherhood of Whitman, the rebirth resurrection and renascence of the mind and the soul of T.S. Eliot, the physical and lustful challenge of man to society, nature, the universe and the cosmos of Allan Ginsberg?

He only finds a human touch when he evokes the shadows of humanity that prostitutes are in our urban jungles at night and in the mist of course. And they are captured as a total absolute deconstruction of their humanity that was anyway alienated to the service of cows before and is turned into the alienation of their service of men now.

“Girls fresh as country wild flowers,
With young faces tired of the cows and barns. . .
Women of night life along the shadows,
Lean at your throats and skulking the walls,
Gaunt as a bitch worn to the bone,
Under the paint of your smiling faces:
            It is much to be warm and sure of to-morrow.”

Unluckily there is no to-morrow really, except oblivion and alienation into non-existence and vanishing.

And that is probably the deeper meaning of this poetry that emerges from a world that was capturing itself as having no future, as not being able to have any real objective. The road of today leads nowhere. It has no end, no destination, nothing but a final point for each one of us and till then no possible satisfaction of any desire or wish. The Sphinx as he says is silent, mute and has nothing to tell us. He, the poet, is nothing but the copper wire on a telephone pole.

“I am a copper wire slung in the air. . .
Death and laughter of men and women passing through me, carrier of your speech,
In the rain and the wet dripping, in the dawn and the shine drying,
            A copper wire.”

And the poet has little say except that he has little to say:

“Your song dies and changes
And is not here to-morrow
Any more than the wind
Blowing ten thousand years ago.”

That poetry then speaks because it is silent. The poet makes sense because he is senseless and meaningless. But he sure is all by himself, apart from everyone and standing alone. Even more alone than Emily Dickinson lost in her father-dominated spinsterhood and reclusion. As he says he deserves to be crucified but with silver nails because it is a once-in-a-lifetime event, the crucifixion I mean, not the poet himself. “Every man is crucified only once in his life and the law of humanity dictates silver nails be used for the job.” And silver nails it will be, for the sake of tradition, from yesterday to tomorrow and everyday in-between those two.

And some pretend that he was a militant of the progressive if not revolutionary working class avant-garde fighting for . . . socialism. . . what’s that by the way?


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