A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Poem of the Day: Richard Eberhart

 The Groundhog   

In June, amid the golden fields, 
I saw a groundhog lying dead. 
Dead lay he; my senses shook, 
And mind outshot our naked frailty.
There lowly in the vigorous summer 
His form began its senseless change, 
And made my senses waver dim 
Seeing nature ferocious in him. 
Inspecting close his maggots' might 
And seething cauldron of his being, 
Half with loathing, half with a strange love, 
I poked him with an angry sstick. 
The fever arose, became a flame 
And Vigour circumscribed the skies, 
Immense energy in the sun, 
And through my frame a sunless trembling. 
My stick had done nor good nor harm. 
Then stood I silent in the day 
Watching the object, as before; 
And kept my reverence for knowledge 
Trying for control, to be still, 
To quell the passion of the blood; 
Until I had bent down on my knees 
Praying for joy in the sight of decay. 
And so I left; and I returned 
In Autumn strict of eye, to see
The sap gone out of the groundhog,
But the bony sodden hulk remained. 
But the year had lost its meaning, 
And in intellectual chains 
I lost both love and loathing, 
Mured up in the wall of wisdom. 
Another summer took the fields again 
Massive and burning, full of life, 
But when I chanced upon the spot 
There was only a little hair left, 
And bones bleaching in the sunlight 
Beautiful as architecture; 
I watched them like a geometer, 
And cut a walking stick from a birch. 
It has been three years, now, 
There is no sign of the groundhog. 
I stood there in the whirling summer, 
My hand capped a withered heart, 
And thought of China and of Greece, 
Of Alexander in his tent; 
Of Montaigne in his tower, 
Of Saint Theresa in her wild lament.
--Richard Eberhart 

This is probably Eberhart's most famous anthology piece -- except maybe for "The Fury of Aerial Bombardment" -- as well as a member of a curious subgenre: the mock-heroic meditation on a dead animal. In fact, I can think of only three examples: this one, Thomas Gray's "On the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes" (one of the most misquoted poems in English), and this last, which is one my favorite poems of all time.

The Death of a Toad

          A toad the power mower caught, 
Chewed and clipped of a leg, with a hobbling hop has got 
     To the garden verge, and sanctuaried him 
     Under the cineraria leaves, in the shade 
          Of the ashen heartshaped leaves, in a dim, 
               Low, and a final glade.

          The rare original heartsblood goes, 
Spends on the earthen hide, in the folds and wizenings, flows 
    In the gutters of the banked and staring eyes. He lies 
    As still as if he would return to stone,
          And soundlessly attending, dies 
               Toward some deep monotone, 

          Toward misted and ebullient seas 
And cooling shores, toward lost Amphibia's emperies. 
     Day dwindles, drowning, and at length is gone 
     In the wide and antique eyes, which still appear 
          To watch, across the castrate lawn, 
               The haggard daylight steer.