Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Wanted: Dead and Alive

This is an assignment I just had returned from an American Literature class. I did well on it--better than I expected. I thought I'd share it here. Unfortunately, you may have needed to be in the class to fully participate in it... unless you've by chance read Emily Dickenson, Whitman's Song of Myself, Spofford's "Amber Gods" and "The Circumstance," Frederick Douglas' slave narrative, Edgar Alan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and "The Man Who Was Used Up," Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative, Edwar Taylor's Meditations, Hawthorne's "The Black Veil" and "Artist of the Beautiful," Emerson's "Experience," and other seminal or not-so-seminal American Literature.

Wanted: Dead and Alive

I was born upon the sea in a land under sweltering suns:
my tongue and every atom of my blood formed from this soil
this air, the grey sky, obscured by no deathly blot.
ghostlike we glide through nature
on every visage a black veil—
wild wartunes endow the living with tears you squander on the dead.
"O graft me in this Tree of Life within,"
again gurgles the mouth of my dying general,
knocked on the head.
with her voice ceased her existence yet she could not sing.
(I had as well be killed running as die standing
—the dead thing in my bosom rising and falling—
I in perfect health begin, hoping to cease not till death.)
forsaken songs rose from that frightful aerie
weeping wailing tunes that sob from age to age,
"gone, gone, sold and gone."
from the symbol beneath which I lived,
and die with overflowing grace doth killing,
cure the sinner, and kills sin right:
we do not play on graves
because these murtherous wretches went on,
burning and destroying all before them the golden dore of glory.
is the grave too sacred for us?
I do not desire to live to forget this,
in one sense it is the elixer of immortality
(posion with the falling dews)—
it cannot be that I shall live and die
a slave as scarcely loving my life, my health.
to be alive is power—omnipotence enough:
we could not but shout to the dead for help!
no man can understand the science of the grave,
look through the eyes of the dead,
feed on the spectres in books;
nature's practices extend to necromancy and the trades,
the notion of putting spirit into machinery.
the lords of life, the lords of life:
beautiful, beautiful, is it alive?
and in the wide arc of some eternal descent she was falling.
there really is no end to the march of invention.

Poet-scholar's statement:

In looking through the course material of the semester, I caught a common theme: the middling areas of life and death. Whether narratives come from the other side of the shade—or as good as do, in the case of the strangely returned Pym—or follow individuals who oddly survive their own death, such as Lackabreath and Wakefield, there is a sense that not only does poetry acheive immortality, it preserves the very act of immortalizing itself. Alternately, the texts may dwell on death—defying it like Rowlandson, lusting for it like Taylor, or philosophizing it like Emerson—and thereby underscore their own vitality by their current survival. Most question that fundamental boundary, or the obviousness of it, using such figures as ghost ships, speaking corpses, living machines, and assembled men. Each text's complexity only tangles in comparison with the others, and any discussion of the matter must exceed strictly academic discourse.

As such, I have constructed a poem about the intersection of these two realms, using lines torn from the texts. I have been liberal with punctuation, and some of the lines might not be entirely recognizable, pieced as they are from different sources. Nonetheless, I hope to have caught some of the sense life and death play in the varied works and, in the process, defamiliarized many of the original meanings.

Yeah, as with other academic work I've posted here, there's a lot of name-dropping. Sorry about that, if you're not of a background which presents to you all of those writers.

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