Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"You Hear Yourself Resume For A Word Or Two The Conversation That Ended Unhappily Years Ago"

Over the years, Hugo Williams has written three separate poems bearing the same title: "Everyone Knows This."  That phrase comes to mind when I think of the following poem by Stanley Cook, which moves in one direction, but takes a turn at the end.  


Here in the North, often at the end
Of an uphill road the houses open out
To a view, like finding a hole in the roof.
Some attic or chimney pot is silhouetted
Marking the final foothold on the sky.
The wind combs out grey tugs of cloud
And as the threatened snow descends,
Blanking the view, sometimes you hear yourself
Resume for a word or two the conversation
That ended unhappily years ago
And whose unhappiness you know you had better bear.

Stanley Cook, Woods Beyond a Cornfield: Collected Poems (1995).

At one time, I thought that the conclusion of "View" seemed out of place given what comes before.  But I now think that it makes perfect sense. Why?  Because (to borrow from Hugo Williams) "everyone knows this."  I cannot presume to speak for you, Gentle Reader, but I have had a few of these solitary, one-sided, unexpectedly resumed conversations.  And, as a matter of fact, it is sometimes an unwonted, suddenly-opened view in an otherwise nondescript place on an otherwise nondescript day that calls them to life.  (On the other hand, perhaps I am completely off base and "Everyone Does Not Know This." Which means that I should be worried about talking to myself as I wander the streets in search of views!)

As for the final line: "And whose unhappiness you know you had better bear."  Well, that is another matter altogether, isn't it?  Best left for another time.

                Douglas Percy Bliss, "Urban Garden Under Snow" (c. 1946)  


Bill Sigler said...

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed "the gradual pompous dying" of your fine fall "collection," Mr. Pentz. Nicolsons' is my personal favorite, for the clarity of its insanity, but each one captures a special wispy twig from the great abyss of Autumn.

Your earlier Cook poem did leave me a bit chilly, I must confess – too insistent in its efforts to connect the mind with the environment, although the cadence is lovely. This one, however, is perfect: the wind “combing out” the clouds, rarefied (and in these days, expensive) views compared to disrepaired holes in the roof, that imperceptible shift from beauty into pain in one’s thoughts as it concludes. I love that ambiguous “whose” at the end: the thought, the conversation, the person that is addressed/referred to here – all work and add layers of richness. The thought of this as a lost love poem – a torch song so to speak – calls to my mind the Elvis Costello/Burt Bacharach number This House is Empty Now:

“Oh, if I could just become forgetful when night seems endless
Does the extinguished candle care about the darkness?”

An aptly mournful Autumn sentiment…

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Sigler: thank you very much for visiting again, and for your thoughts on the recent autumn poems. Your comments on the "ambiguous 'whose'" of the final line of "View" are right on the mark. "Whose" got my attention when I first read the poem, but you have articulated better than I can why it works so well. And thank you for the reference to "This House Is Empty Now": I haven't listened to that CD for some time -- time for a visit.

Thanks again.