Sunday, July 29, 2012

"The Breath Of Night"

The following poem by Randall Jarrell is, I think, a nice companion piece to A. E. Housman's planetary "parable" that appeared in my previous post. Jarrell was fond of the stories of the Brothers Grimm, and the poem feels a bit like the beginning of a fairy tale -- idyllic, but with a darkening path, disappearing into a deep forest, ahead.

                                  Lucien Pissarro, "April, Epping" (1894)

          The Breath of Night

The moon rises.  The red cubs rolling
In the ferns by the rotten oak
Stare over a marsh and a meadow
To the farm's white wisp of smoke.

A spark burns, high in heaven.
Deer thread the blossoming rows
Of the old orchard, rabbits
Hop by the well-curb.  The cock crows

From the tree by the widow's walk;
Two stars, in the trees to the west,
Are snared, and an owl's soft cry
Runs like a breath through the forest.

Here too, though death is hushed, though joy
Obscures, like night, their wars,
The beings of this world are swept
By the Strife that moves the stars.

Randall Jarrell, Losses (1948).

Jarrell's poem and Housman's "Revolution" both bring to mind Wordsworth's lines:  "Rolled round in earth's diurnal course,/With rocks, and stones, and trees."

             Lucien Pissarro, "The Dunmow Road from Tilty Wood" (1915)

2 comments:

William A. Sigler said...

Someone (I've forgotten who it was) said Jarrell was the most heartbreaking poet of his generation. Considering the casualties of that generation it's a large statement, but one sees in this well-selected poem the truth in it. There's the attempt to merge the unmergable: traditional verse meters with a more expansive modern rhythm, but also the holding onto some semblance of meaning when it has already escaped.

Contemporary poetry (at least as practiced in the academy) has inherited the broken state, but not the verities and legacies that make such a state painful.

I like the tie-in to Aesop, I wouldn't have seen that, I would view it more as about the war, how life goes on outside and without our comprehension.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Sigler: I hadn't heard that quote about Jarrell -- very nice.

In his biography of Jarrell, William Pritchard remarks of the poem (and of a few others from around the same time by Jarrell) that it "is the sort of poem Jarrell learned to write and then decided was not, somehow, expressive of enough in him and in his country . . . So he determined to explore other stylistic directions." In this, I suppose that he followed his friends Lowell and Berryman (although not to the same degree).

I agree with your comment about it being about life during wartime -- I just thought that it had a fairy tale feel as well.

As always, thanks for your thoughts.