Thursday, December 08, 2005

freedom is made of brambles

I've spent a fruiless hour or so looking for a poem by John Updike. I read it in the New Yorker many years ago. It's definitely not in his Collected Poems and I'm giving up the search, at least for now.

His theme was irritation, ugliness, guilt, regret,.... negative feelings that retain their hold in memory. The poem tells us to value these sources of pain because they provide hooks into treasure troves of the past to which we've lost our maps. Giving them space in our minds leads to chains of thoughts yielding up precious recollections of times that might otherwise be gone from us forever. Though Updike does not say it, the ancient Greek goddess of memory, Mnemosyne was the name for a river in Hades, counterpart to Lethe: the one of remembrance the other of forgetting.

Though I did not find the poem, I did find some others on dwelling "in a world whose Hell I will" and suchlike.

Here's the closing of the poem, Report on Health
I may not write again. My voice
goes nowhere. Dear friend,
don't let me heal. Don't
worry. I am well.
I am happy
to dwell in a world whose Hell I will:

the doorway hints at your ghost
and a tiger pounces on my heart;
the lilac bush is a devil
inviting me into your hair.
Here is an entire poem, called Omega on time, encirling, and terminations. (Omega is a brand of watch, which, with its jeweled movemement, was much prized before quartz movements became available).
This little lightweight manacle whereby
My wrist is linked to flux and feels time fly,
This constant bracelet with so meek a jewel,
Shall prove at last implacable and cruel
And like a noose jerk taut, and hold me still,
And add me to the unseen trapper's kill.

Other fragments:

In the poem Minority Report, written in London, celebrating America with all its faults, Updike reminds us:
(Brer Rabbit demonstrated:
freedom is made of brambles).

In the poem Wind, he evokes a feeling like the one Vladimir and Estragon dwell upon in the scene from Waiting for Godot that I quoted the other day. Updike writes:
If God has any voice it is the wind.

. . . . .

It is death made loud:
nowhereness bellowing,
now reedy along the copper eaves,

. . . . .

I lie here listening.
God is crying, for-
, demanding for-
, proclaiming no-
, and begging,
let go-oo-ohhh.

In His mouth my body tastes like stale milk.

From Updike's poem Pain:
Pain flattens the world -- its bubbles
of bliss .........

What children's pageant in gauze
filled the skull's ballroom before
the caped dark stranger commanded, freeze?

Life is worse than mere folly. We live
within a cage wherefrom escape
annihilates the captive; this, too,
pain leads us to consider anew.

And finally from Crab Crack:
         If when we die we're dead,
then the world is ours like gaudy grain
to be reaped while we're here, without guilt.
If not, then an ominous duty to feel
with the mite and the dragon is ours,
and a burden in being.

         Late at night
the ghosts of teh crabs patrol our intestines,
scampering sideways, hearkening à pointe
like radar dishes beneath the tide, seeking
the safe grave of sand in vain, turning,
against their burning wills, into us.


This painting is called "Held in Brambles." Click to see full size.

1 comment:

Glenn said...

This reminded me of Cooling, a song by Tori Amos. The song has a famous among fans "Brambles bridge"

Do I hate what she is?
Or do I want to be her?
And don't we love something fresh
anything new, virgin
but woman you've got too many brambles
hiding under these bushes
I said woman you've got too many brambles
hiding under these bushes
but I always liked a good storm
always good for a storm