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Know How You Get a Song in Your Head, and You Can’t Get it Out?

Today, for UD, it’s been Edelweiss. Because she’s been reading about the death of Natasha Richardson.

She likes what Charles Isherwood says in today’s New York Times:

“Life is an easily breakable possession even for those who abide in the waiting room of immortality, which is to say celebrity. … The freakish nature of Ms. Richardson’s death has already inspired ghoulish tabloid commentary on the curses that seem to descend upon famous families in showbiz or politics. It’s absurd, of course. Not to get all Beckett on you, but life itself is a cursed thing, fated to end before all promise is fulfilled.”

So that was in my mind. That Beckett thought, plus Edelweiss. Also this poem by Roethke.

Elegy for Jane
(My student, thrown by a horse)

I remember the neckcurls, limp and damp as tendrils;
And her quick look, a sidelong pickerel smile;
And how, once startled into talk, the light syllables leaped for her,
And she balanced in the delight of her thought,

A wren, happy, tail into the wind,
Her song trembling the twigs and small branches.
The shade sang with her;
The leaves, their whispers turned to kissing,
And the mould sang in the bleached valleys under the rose.

Oh, when she was sad, she cast herself down into such a pure depth,
Even a father could not find her:
Scraping her cheek against straw,
Stirring the clearest water.

My sparrow, you are not here,
Waiting like a fern, making a spiney shadow.
The sides of wet stones cannot console me,
Nor the moss, wound with the last light.

If only I could nudge you from this sleep,
My maimed darling, my skittery pigeon.
Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love:
I, with no rights in this matter,
Neither father nor lover.

Skittery pigeon. Pickerel. See how his avid language reanimates her, how the power of his love brings back her vibrancy. The poet’s modest self-appraisal – neither father nor lover – paradoxically makes his love seem more intense to us, since its groundlessness is a kind of purity.

Margaret Soltan, March 21, 2009 6:05PM
Posted in: poem

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One Response to “Know How You Get a Song in Your Head, and You Can’t Get it Out?”

  1. RJO Says:

    Wow, that Roethke is something. Going to save that one.

    In a similar context, I have recommended Mary Barnard’s Sappho:

    We put the urn aboard ship
    With this inscription:

    This is the dust of little
    Timas who unmarried was led
    into Persephone’s dark bedroom

    And she being far from home, girls
    her age took new-edged blades
    to cut, in mourning for her,
    these curls of their soft hair

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