24 September 2008

Thou and thou

Between buildings and meetings and appointments, I've been reading Glass and God by Anne Carson (which "conflates all but two of the pieces from Glass, Irony and God with the full text of Short Talks"). I will have to agree with Michael Ondaatje when he says, "Her long poem 'The Glass Essay' is one of the best of our time." In it, she reads Emily Brontë's poetry while on a visit to her mother in the aftermath of a five-year relationship's end.

One of the remarkable things about it is how she explicates Emily's poetry within her own poem. After quoting "I'll come when thou art saddest" in its entirety (but for the last line of the first stanza, "From evening's chilly gloom"), Carson muses,
Very hard to read, the messages that pass
between Thou and Emily.
In this poem she reverses their roles,

speaking not as the victim but to the victim.
It is chilling to watch Thou move upon thou,
who lies alone in the dark waiting to be mastered.

It is a shock to realise that this low, slow collusion
of master and victim within one voice
is a rationale

for the most awful loneliness of the poet's hour.
Her discussion of Charlotte's comments on her sister's work adds yet another layer to the poem's multidimensionality. She walks along the moors, lies awake at night, thinks of her suffering parents, and tries to process the internal fragments of a dead relationship. It's harrowing reading, but one of the most satisfying poems I've ever experienced.

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