Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, July 4, 2011

Mark Levine, _The Wilds_

THIS ONE MAKES Enola Gay feel a bit sophomore-slumpish in retrospect; one wouldn't call it a "return to form" or anything like that, but it has an integrity and energy that Enola Gay didn't quite have, and I expect it to stay with me longer.

Made me think of -- of all people -- Dylan Thomas. It must be fifty years or so since any American poet would welcome being compared to Dylan Thomas, but I have a soft spot for him.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, a cock on his shoulder, it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

That's from "Fern Hill." What with the dew and the maiden and the "wanderer white," the poem does not sound much like anyone writing today, and certainly not like Levine, but --

When you were in possession
of the pods and pens and octagonal plots
and your grappling hooks clattered in summer wind
and you loosed the bitter petal

-- that's from "Hand," and something, the idea of a memory vaguely rural, of a paradise which was lost, or just "summer" (as in "boys of...") rang a Thomas bell for me. Above all, there is a feeling for childhood being paradoxically very near and very far away at the same time ("more distant than stars and nearer than the eye," as Eliot wrote) in "Hand, " "Ontario," "Quarry," and "Grade Three."

Hard to think of anyone who renders being outdoors better than Levine:

We were there yet
sizing up the scenery
through the spokes of
the one wheel moving
this way, the other
that. There were four
corners of us promenading
in the sensation of
walking boots. The countryside
yielded a desert flower
on which a bee
reeled in the rain.
A mill wheel spun.
This was a place
we were in it
in sensation going there.


But it's complicated -- there is a gulf between the human and the wild, even if you're as attuned as Levine, as the final poem, "Willow," seems to suggest:

You take it in or you don't
You hide the sky or else.
Things lived in you.
You, stranger.

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