Thursday, October 4, 2012

Wallace Stevens. "Farewell to Florida" in my Chakras.

Elise Stevens & child (Holly?)
I answered a call to read Wallace Stevens' "Farewell to Florida" out loud, and a good choice it was, an exemplary way to positively reward my recent push to say Yes! to opportunity.

It was Bob Quatrone who put out the call. An established (as they say) poet in the New York open mic scene, with no small level of erudition when it comes to poetry and poets, Bob curates the Four Horsemen reading at the Cornelia Street Cafe in the Village.

He was specific in asking for a reader for this poem. I didn't remember having read it. Maybe I did, maybe I didn't. My edition of Stevens' poems crumbled with age last year and I still haven't replaced it.

"Farewell to Florida" isn't necessarily elegaic, though it is, Bob told me, written after Stevens wife died.  What made this such a wonderful poem to read out loud several times before the reading--on the subway platform, while walking crosstown on Bleecker, while on my building's stoop--was its subtlety. Which is subtle. On first read it is, as Harold Bloom has written, Shelleyan and Spenser-like (paraphrase), and that slight formality, that almost clever rhyming surprised me, and not happily.

Cleverness is something to be fought, in poetry.  Any poet worth her lines is enormously clever. Clever is easy, a cheap trick. It was the rhyming that seemed too easy, although I don't encounter rhyme much in poetry I read, unless it is slight as a functional braincell in a Tea Partier's brain. So when I read, "Her mind had bound me round. The palms were hot / As if I lived in ashen ground, as if / The leaves in which the wind kept up its sound. . . " I wasn't won over.

Dissection isn't the necessary ticket to embrace, it turns out.  (Read that sentence both ways.)  The poem itself, in its being, won me over, the poem in my head, heard through the mic, off subway walls and track. The poem feeling its way through my body, blood, organs, weaving through chakras, from sexual to celestial and back again.  The silk of it, the tongue-teasing rhythms like the swaying palms Stevens has written of. I suggest you read this poem out loud several times, and tell me if you agree. Also tell me what you think Stevens means by "I am free." Don't be glib.

Farewell To Florida

Go on, high ship, since now, upon the shore,
The snake has left its skin upon the floor.
Key West sank downward under massive clouds
And silvers and greens spread over the sea. The moon
Is at the mast-head and the past is dead.
Her mind will never speak to me again.
I am free. High above the mast the moon
Rides clear of her mind and the waves make a refrain
Of this: that the snake has shed its skin upon
The floor. Go on through the darkness. The waves fly back

Her mind had bound me round. The palms were hot
As if I lived in ashen ground, as if
The leaves in which the wind kept up its sound
From my North of cold whistled in a sepulchral South,
Her South of pine and coral and coraline sea,
Her home, not mine, in the ever-freshened Keys,
Her days, her oceanic nights, calling
For music, for whisperings from the reefs.
How content I shall be in the North to which I sail
And to feel sure and to forget the bleaching sand ...

I hated the weathery yawl from which the pools
Disclosed the sea floor and the wilderness
Of waving weeds. I hated the vivid blooms
Curled over the shadowless hut, the rust and bones,
The trees likes bones and the leaves half sand, half sun.
To stand here on the deck in the dark and say
Farewell and to know that that land is forever gone
And that she will not follow in any word
Or look, nor ever again in thought, except
That I loved her once ... Farewell. Go on, high ship.

My North is leafless and lies in a wintry slime
Both of men and clouds, a slime of men in crowds.
The men are moving as the water moves,
This darkened water cloven by sullen swells
Against your sides, then shoving and slithering,
The darkness shattered, turbulent with foam.
To be free again, to return to the violent mind
That is their mind, these men, and that will bind
Me round, carry me, misty deck, carry me
To the cold, go on, high ship, go on, plunge on.
by (1879-1955) Wallace Stevens

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