Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I Rethink Heaven: Roethke's "Heard in a Violent Ward"

In his essay "Heaven, Hell & Middle Earth" (on three of my poems),  Ed Go questions my choices in "Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary in Heaven." I have, essentially, created a Mad Hatter's Tea Party in the next realm.

Go makes a good point.  Do I really want to spend an awfully long time with these malcontents: Humbert Humbert, Nora (from A Doll's House), Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina, Medea, Jane Eyre. Even Holden Caufield. Holden Caufield?

With the exception of Jane Eyre, sensible and passionate and having, I assume, a keen interest in social issues, what was I thinking? Even my father, a prince among malcontents, was uncomfortable with Holden. (I made him read Catcher in the Rye.)

"He's always squeezing his pimples," my father said. We are a squeamish family.

Ed Go wants to hang out with Mina Harker, whose husband Jonathan introduced her to Count Dracula. That went well. Also Deety Carter from a Heinlein novel, Precious Jones, Lois Lane and Janey Smith, who I don't know. Go has a point. These characters are more in the Jane Eyre-vein, accomplished women who've overcome enough to offer sharp perspective and some laughs.

I wrote the poem over fifteen years ago when I imagined each character would now have (now, in the afterlife) a new vision. Or maybe I was starved for conversation. There were a lot of people in my life back then, but . . .

My Heaven was an endstop in amber and I anticipated entertainment? I'm not renegging, and, yes, it's parlor game-ish to decide who'll I want around me. Reading Theodore Roethke's "Heard in a Violent Ward" got me thinking about all this. Eternity with the poets. Hmmmm.

Heard in a Violent Ward

In heaven, too,
You'd be institutionalized.
But that's all right,—
If they let you eat and swear
With the likes of Blake,
And Christopher Smart,
And that sweet man, John Clare.

Theodore Roethke, The Far Field, 1964

"Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina in Heaven" is in The Future Is Happy. Click to get to Amazon.

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