Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Life and Light

Milly Jourdain

The twittering of swallows in the air--
The faintly distant hum of crowded life--
The rain drops on the petal of a rose--
The fresh juice of a pale and fragrant pear,
Make up the sweet taste of this friendly life.

But when my eyes are blurred with mist and pain
And only through the choking gloom there sound
The crying needs of this poor maddened self,
Stumbling alone among the unseen rocks,
Then let me see a little of that light
Which I have seen in those remembered days.

In a Garden

Milly Jourdain

The air is dry and dead,
The swallows flying low,
When from the church beyond the wall
A bell sounds thin and slow.

Another man has died,
And lies beneath the grass.
He feels no more the heat and cold,
As changing seasons pass.

On this dead sultry day
I wish the sun would shine
On plums and pear-trees by the wall,
But that the grave were mine.

The two poems appear in this order in the collection. Once again, they seem to encapsulate Jourdain's uneasy willingness to depend on herself as a poet. When I read "Light and Life," I feel as if the poet is saying to herself, "I'm looking at my misery and remember good things and writing down what I think I ought to be feeling because I kind of do feel it but I'm also intellectualizing and standing outside the feeling." The poem's details aren't uniformly clean and sharp, though "poor maddened self" and "stumbling alone" do work to reach beyond the ladylike "rain drops on the petal of a rose." But she doesn't do enough work to synthesize the memory and the actuality. It feels like the poem she thought she ought to write rather than the poem that only she could write.

"In a Garden" is better. The poet pulls me into the immediacy of this cemetery, the immediacy of her despair. It is constructed in simple sentences and mostly with plain nouns, and the cadence reminds me of one of those ballads in which every thing goes wrong. I could sing this song. "On this dead sultry day" is a surprise and a shiver. I like this poem.

I bet you all have completely different reactions, however, which is good.

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