At 12:47 PM -0500 4/1/05, Nancy Gish wrote:
>Please read "The Love Song of St. Sebastion" [...]
>There is nothing IN the poem except an image of murder and S & M.
>Example of "perversity":
>I would come with a towel in my hand
>And bend your head beneath my knees;
>Your ears curl back in a certain way
>Like no one's else in the world.
>When all the world shall melt in the sun,
>Melt or freeze,
>I shall remember how your ears were curled.
>I should for a moment linger
>And follow the curve with my finger
>And your head beneath my knees--
>I think that at last you would understand.
>There would be nothing more to say.
>You would love me because I should have strangled you
>And because of my infamy;
>And I should love you the more because I had mangled you
>And because you were no longer beautiful
>To anyone but me.
Reading these lines, I am reminded of situations that presumably have
little or nothing to do with sex or gender but that nonetheless get
figured in poems as sexual or gendered (or cross-gendered). Example:
when the speaker in Sidney's first sonnet of _Astrophel and Stella_
writes about how difficult it is for him to get onto paper the poem
that he knows he has inside of him, he figures the unwritten poem as
his unborn child, and himself as a woman in labor: "great with child
to speak, and helpless in my throes." Another example: when Donne in
"Batter my heart" wants to experience religious ecstasy, he begs God
to rape him, "for I / Except you enthrall me, never shall be free /
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me." I wonder if Eliot in the
lines quoted above may not be struggling against an impulse to write
beautiful, lyrical, Romantic poems, figuring such poetry as a woman
who seduces him but whom he must subdue, or kill, or at least mangle,
in order to be free to write the poems that he wants to write, poems
that he would love even if no one else did. If so, the "mangling" in
this early poem becomes "dislocation" in his 1921 essay "The
Metaphysical Poets," where he writes that a contemporary poet must
attempt "to force, to dislocate if necessary, language into his
meaning." I suppose one could say that to characterize the act and
the product of poetic creation in terms of violence, whether sexual
or not, requires a certain "perversity" of imagination, but it's a
perversity that's provided more than one poet with a compelling