Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wednesday Poetry: "Conversation Among the Ruins," by Sylvia Plath

Striking some new ground in Wednesday poetry with Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), who along with Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, and W.D. Snodgrass is known for advancing the genre of so-called "confessional" poetry. In these poems, it's assumed that the speaker is the poet and that what we're hearing is the poet's actual sentiments and perspectives. (IMHO, I think confessional poetry has ruined many later poems written in the first person, because now students of literature are trained to say "The poet says..." instead of recognizing that a narrator doesn't have to be the poet her-/himself.)

But this poem, "Conversation Among Ruins," has a blip of the first person in the opening line and then moves into a more lyrical mode. Afterwards, the first person is mostly communal--an "our," for instance--so instead of self-centered whining we get Plath trying to negotiate a relationship; the title intimates as much, in informing the reader that this poem is a conversation, a dialogue of sorts, on a ruined property. Plath takes us from the steps of the narrator's "elegant house" and then, through appropriating the imagery of a dilapidated estate, reveals the crumbling of any structure or system--actual or imagined--over time.

"Conversation Among Ruins"

Through portico of my elegant house you stalk
With your wild furies, disturbing garlands of fruit
And the fabulous lutes and peacocks, rending the net
Of all decorum which holds the whirlwind back.
Now, rich order of walls is fallen; rooks croak
Above the appalling ruin; in bleak light
Of your stormy eye, magic takes flight
Like a daunted witch, quitting castle when real days break.

Fractured pillars frame prospects of rock;
While you stand heroic in coat and tie, I sit
Composed in Grecian tunic and psyche-knot,
Rooted to your black look, the play turned tragic:
Which such blight wrought on our bankrupt estate,
What ceremony of words can patch the havoc?


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