Friday, February 27, 2009

Poetry Friday: The Poetry Catalog and Archibald MacLeish

Yesterday, the Poetry Spring/Summer 2009 catalog arrived in my mailbox. This was the first time I'd encountered the Poetry catalog. It's not a list of folks eking out a tenuous living writing verse: it's a women's fashion line. The catalog made me feel bad for poetry. Angry, in fact, on poetry's behalf. Is this its image? This weak, anemic, limp, misty-eyed bunch of blank-eyed women in shapeless clothes? If poetry were this droopy, the heavenly muse would have expired 4000 years ago.

So, from Archibald MacLeish, here's a killer poem to counteract Poetry. It professes not to be about beauty, truth, poetry, immortality ...but it is about all of those things. It's one of my favorites (the qualification for "my favorites" being poems I wish had been written about me). And about it's a little bit about fashion, too.

"Not Marble Nor the Gilded Monuments"

The praisers of women in their proud and beautiful poems,
Naming the grave mouth and the hair and the eyes,
Boasted those they loved should be forever remembered:
These were lies.

The words sound but the face in the Istrian sun is forgotten.
The poet speaks but to her dead ears no more.
The sleek throat is gone -- and the breast that was troubled to listen:
Shadow from door.

Therefore I will not praise your knees nor your fine walking
Telling you men shall remember your name as long
As lips move or breath is spent or the iron of English
Rings from a tongue.

I shall say you were young, and your arms straight, and your mouth scarlet:
I shall say you will die and none will remember you:
Your arms change, and none remember the swish of your garments,
Nor the click of your shoe.

Not with my hand's strength, not with difficult labor
Springing the obstinate words to the bones of your breast
And the stubborn line to your young stride and the breath to your breathing
And the beat to your haste
Shall I prevail on the hearts of unborn men to remember.

(What is a dead girl but a shadowy ghost
Or a dead man's voice but a distant and vain affirmation
Like dream words most)

Therefore I will not speak of the undying glory of women.
I will say you were young and straight and your skin fair
And you stood in the door and the sun was a shadow of leaves on your shoulders
And a leaf on your hair --

I will not speak of the famous beauty of dead women:
I will say the shape of a leaf lay once on your hair.
Till the world ends and the eyes are out and the mouths broken
Look! It is there!

Archibald Macleish, 1930


Shelli said...

so glad you kept the blog :)

Hal said...

probably my favorite poem. wish i could have written it! I did spontaneously recite it to my One True Love once, to the great delight and surprise of her poetry loving heart.

Brenda Bowen said...

Wow -- lucky One True Love!

Hal said...

She is and always will be My One True Love, and I am really the Lucky One to have ever met her. It has been a strange and tortured path of love and loss, a long story that may yet have the truly happy ending!

Niña said...

Thank you for posting this poem I have been searching it everywere.

Niña said...

Thank you for posting this poem by McLeish, I've been searching it everywere!