Monday, 31 January 2011

Michael C Blumenthal and Senior S and Critical Theory!

The poem was given for analysis in the Critical Theory paper by Senior S (who else?!) The poem was so weird and beautiful, that I spent almost a half hour just reading and re-reading it with no intention to analyse it! 
But the poem is profound in meaning, and speaks of truth. 



And the Cantilevered Inference Shall Hold the Day 



Things are not as they seem: the innuendo of everything makes
itself felt and trembles towards meanings we never intuited
or dreamed. Take, for example, how a warbler, perched on a

mere branch, can kidnap the day from its tediums and send us
heavenwards, or how, held up by nothing we really see, our
spirits soar and then, in a mysterious series of twists and turns,

come to a safe landing in a field, encircled by greenery. Nothing
I can say to you here can possibly convince you that a man
as unreliable as I have been can smuggle in truths between tercets

and quatrains on scraps of paper, but the world as we know
is full of surprises, and the likelihood that here, in the shape
of this very bird, redemption awaits us should not be dismissed

so easily. Each year, days swivel and diminish along their inscrutable
axes, then lengthen again until we are bathed in light we were not
prepared for. Last night, lying in bed with nothing to hold onto

but myself, I gazed at the emptiness beside me and saw there, in the
shape of absence, something so sweet and deliberate I called it darling.
No one who encrusticates (I made that up!) his silliness in a bowl,

waiting for sanctity, can ever know how lovely playfulness can be,
and, that said, let me wish you a Merry One (or Chanukah if you
prefer), and may whatever holds you up stay forever beneath you,

and may the robin find many a worm, and our cruelties abate,
and may you be well and happy and full of mischief as I am,
and may all your nothings, too, hold something up and sing.

A New Critical Reading of the poem:

The New Critics saw the text as an organic whole that communicated its meaning through the usage of words, their action and reaction upon each other. It involves the analysis of the technique employed and also of the tensions present in the poem.

The very first line of the poem begins with a hint at the tension- "things are not as they seem". The poem explains the experience of seeing the nothingness (which we fail to see) that "holds us up" and "soaring away" lands us in a field, "encircled by greenery". The poet conjures up a situation supposedly aroused by the "warbler" (Robin?) and conveys through tensions, the world- in reality and its other, unseen existence. The interplay/subtext of the implied meaning creates surprises and playfulness in the mood of the poem and, skilfully deceives the tone of the writer ( the seeming playfulness and self-depreciation masking the depth of his thoughts).
The poem uses shapes  and contrasts it by nothingness to communicate the ideas to the readers. There is a constant visual awakening of perception towards normal things and things that are no-things. For instance, when the poet talks about the "emptiness... in the shape of absence"- He makes Emptiness a shape, but a Shape of Absence- absence again does not have a shape, but becomes a concrete entity, a character as alive as the warbler or the green meadows. Similarly, the redemption through the bird, becomes one. The bird, from being a redeemer, becomes the act of Redemption itself (in the shape/of this very bird, redemption awaits us..")- another no-thing, becomes a Thing- with shape and a concrete presence. Therefore, the redeemer, redeemed and the act become one. 
The words, or choice of words, give us a sense of movement in the poem- a movement of shakiness, and also of stillness. From the beginning, words like"tremble", "soaring", "kidnapping", "swivel", "land" or even "encrusticating" (which I took to mean the act of crustication or the act of a crust being formed) show a slight sense of movement, of a shift in position (which incidentally also involves a different level of meaning). 
I can also perceive a shift in thought pattern, though I cannot place my finger on the lines or words where exactly they shift. 
But the final three lines of the poem provide a resolution where the opposites seamlessly blend in- the medium becoming the end, the doer becoming the done, and presences and absences dissolving into no-things and shapes- almost like realisation dawning after a deep sense of struggle.