Tuesday, 25 January 2011

After Roethke

It is C's birthday today. This is for her, a meditation on Theodore Roethke's marvellous poem, 'I knew a woman, lovely in her bones':

A Fantasy After Roethke

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek
(I'd have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek.)...

..Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one,
But that’s just movement as the cat performs,
Beauty enough for cats, for anyone
Because a movement can be more than one
And several is how they spent the day.
And she was several, far more than one,
Just more perhaps of one than anyone
In terms of movement, nothing standing still
For long enough, though they themselves stood still
While moving on, refusing just the one
Mode of movement or fixity of place
And so they kept on moving, place to place.

And this is where they were. This was the place
Where she was moving, every movement one
With the next, each fitting into place
Then shifting on; discarding sense of place.
And he stood by, seeing how grace performs
Itself, and knows its place beyond the place
Provided for it, never perfect place.
You love the many and you love the one
But many may be focused into one.
You want the thing, you want it in a place.
You want it how you want it, to be still,
As poised, he thought, and constant as if still

In movement, loving all that remained still
In her, her sense of being in a place,
Not of it, and the sense he made was still
A point of stillness in her being still.
So when she moved it was more ways than one,
He noted, as she moved by being still.
One might move so and yet remain quite still
He said. It’s life that holds her and performs
The daily ritual she herself performs,
And she performs herself beyond the one
Still moment of performance in the day
That moves past her and will not spare a day.

But this was where she moved, it being day
She moved through, as though perfectly at one
With day, and it with her, day after day,
With nights to come, the body of the day
Turning to sleep and image in the place
They lay and moved in, in a dream of day
Working its way through body and the day
As though her body, his dream, and day were one.
Most time is timeless. Time knows only one
Mode of being, rushing through the day
Ticking off items, the function it performs
Performable, but not what she performs.

They were, he thought, what permanence performs
When permanence is saved for just one day.
So day performs, so anything performs
Itself by moving, being what performs,
Because performance is like standing still
While moving. And so everything performs:
Movement, stillness, whatever thing performs
What happens. And it happens in this place
Or that, the whole being only the place
She moves in and, by moving in, performs.
So she, he thought, must clearly be the one
Who holds the movement still, as if at one

With both the stillness and the movement, one
Moment here or there, then the whole place.
Her body moved, and then she stopped quite still,
Still as the world compacted into day,
Her several parts and all that day performs.

Yes, a canzone, writhing about itself, trying to explore every last small avenue of meaning in those wonderful lines of sensuality and delight.

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