Wednesday, May 5, 2010

#55 "The Bread Worked, Mr. Wilbur: One More Spring."

Or, Gaia Mater may have just skipped it all together--in deference to our suffering through so protracted a winter. We've been getting summer temperatures hereabouts, since April. Several: record-breaking.

I'm sure the record depredations of the Winter of 2010, which ended only a matter of a couple of weeks ago on the East Coast, had something to to do with the desperation behind "Ecclesiastes 11:1." This entitled poem appeared in the New Yorker about a month ago, and it is testimony to my slackitude lately that before I could get it to the Blog, the old man (89) has gone and done another one for this week's issue! (That one being a nice take on Arnold's "Dover Beach"--both of which recommended.) Twice Pulitzered Richard Wilbur has always been one of my favorites, noted for using traditional poetic forms--here the tercet stanza and even rhyme (a-x-a), of all things--to explore modern themes. (To oversimplify.) Thus:

Ancient preacher said,

Trusting that it may
Amply be restored to us

That old metaphor,
Drawn from rice farming on the
River's flooded shore,

Helps us to believe
That it's no great sin to give,
Hoping to receive.

Therefore I shall throw
Broken bread, this sullen day,
Out across the snow,

Betting crust and crumb
That birds will gather, and that
One more spring will come.

It's a poem about spring, but mostly about Love, especially in the agape/caritas sort of way. Bread, birds, people connect transcendentally in the natural rhythm of give and take. Note the key word "sullen"--a people-adjective primarily, but here gloomily projected upon the natural landscape, "affective-fallacy"-wise. The speaker un-sullenizes himself and Nature by joining with Her in that very traditional love-gift: bread. An item, by the way, symbolically merging the Raw of nature's granary and the Cooked of the man-made world. And the birds mediate between the two.

For Sandro Botticelli and the Ancients, it was always the power of Love that moved the earth from fallow to fecund. The artist's famed "Birth of Venus" above (which I compared in a little different context to Farah Fawcett's immortal poster in MM #7) is really about the arrival of Spring. That's the titular Goddess of same offering Venus the cloak, and those on the left are the warm-west-wind Zephyrs blowing flowers all over the place.

The Greek mythos behind Aphrodite (= "foam-arisen") and transferred to the Roman Venus represented Love in the most primitive form. Not bread; rather the testicles of Uranus were cast into the sea by his son Cronus after he had so very Oedipally cut them off. Later, they emerged from the ocean on the shore of Cyprus quite logically in the fully-grown form of the Fertility Goddess herself. Spring in the mortal world could officially begin; Love had arrived. Sort of like:

Cast thy BROAD upon the waters, for she will amply be restored, after many a day.


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