The Letter
by Amy Lowell

Little cramped words scrawling all over
the paper
Like draggled fly’s legs,
What can you tell of the flaring moon
Through the oak leaves?
Or of my uncertain window and the
bare floor

Spattered with moonlight?
Your silly quirks and twists have nothing
in them
Of blossoming hawthorns,
And this paper is dull, crisp, smooth,
virgin of loveliness
Beneath my hand.

I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart
against
The want of you;
Of squeezing it into little inkdrops,
And posting it.
And I scald alone, here, under the fire
Of the great moon.

One of the most amazing lines I have ever read: “I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart against the want of you.”

Who hasn’t felt that pain? Who has realized how futile a situation is?

Since I just read all that early feminist theory, I thought I would post some of my favorite poems by some of my favorite females:

Amy Lowell – Absence

My cup is empty to-night,
Cold and dry are its sides,
Chilled by the wind from the open window.
Empty and void, it sparkles white in the moonlight.
The room is filled with the strange scent
Of wistaria blossoms.
They sway in the moon’s radiance
And tap against the wall.
But the cup of my heart is still,
And cold, and empty.
When you come, it brims
Red and trembling with blood,
Heart’s blood for your drinking;
To fill your mouth with love
And the bitter-sweet taste of a soul.

– Fragment
What is poetry? Is it a mosaic
Of coloured stones which curiously are wrought
Into a pattern? Rather glass that’s taught
By patient labor any hue to take
And glowing with a sumptuous splendor, make
Beauty a thing of awe; where sunbeams caught,
Transmuted fall in sheafs of rainbows fraught
With storied meaning for religion’s sake.

The Fish
Elizabeth Bishop

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
–the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly–
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
–It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
–if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels–until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

For the sake of space, I’ll leave it at that for now…

Dada reminds me of Buddhism, as Tzara says. the rest is sauce. But language gets in the way here, as it does in Buddhism, as it does in postmodernism, as it does with ethics. Once we put something into words it is as if we make a system of it, and Like Kierkegaard and DaDa contend, “I am against systems, the most acceptable system is on principle to have none.”

It is because we can only know the world through words (or more generally any kind of sign system) which is why the DaDA manifesto is so inspiring and makes me want to drop out of school and go line on New York City streets and be an artist of the absurd because, “I detest greasy objectivity, and harmony, the science that finds everything in order.. . . Science says we are the servants of nature”

But then I read Eliot and I am reminded that I want to study literature instead.

These DaDa ideals don’t seem too much of a stretch from the Imagist idea of wanting (like the Haiku) to have poetry that paints a picture with words, a picture of the thing itself using words without decoration, without any kind of flair, but rather to use words to simply describe the object, objectively, which is noble, but then we are back to the problem with words, which are always already in slippage and can never simply just describe an object. In terms of DaDa, the use of simplistic language might be appealing, but I would guess that DaDa would think that the Imagist use of language was too “rational”—and sp, of course, they would cut up the words, put them in a hat, and pick the words out at random to make a new poem.

To go back to Eliot, I believe that in light of “Journey of the Magi” that “Prufrock” can be read as a Christian poem about a man vacillating about telling society the religious message he has. For me though, personally, I keep going back to the poem because for me, on a simpler level, the poem has always been about the vacillation itself. I remember first reading this poem and being so confused, and in a way, this poem led me to be an English major.

Now, as I read the poem, I relate to it. It seems a real existential dilemma: how do I make sense of life as I grow old ( I grow old/ I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled… and Do I dare to eat a peach), of a life I have ‘measured out in coffee spoons’? For Kierkegaard, every choice we make is a leap (because every choice is ultimately just as “rational” as any other choice we make); therefore, for Kierkegaard, the leap is in making a choice, and there is always anxiety in all choices because we can never know how things would have turned out if we made the opposite choice, and this seems to be Prufrock’s anxiety in the poem; this is the reason he can’t even feel as if he is the star of his own life since he is “not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be.”

I believe this is why I am constantly drawn to this poem—because, especially as an English major, sometimes I wonder if I haven’t lingered in the chambers of the sea too long, and I am worried that human voices are going to wake me and drown me, but this again brings me back to the DaDa-ist, who remind me not to take life too seriously, and that literature is what matters because “the rest is sauce.”