Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ode on a Grecian Burn, or The Art of Zing! Editorializing

While I was in Virginia a few weeks ago, my parents and I stopped by this used bookstore/antique store in Dayton, VA. The beauty to these shops is that, generally speaking, the man behind the counter has no idea the worth of some of the books he's selling. I left with an armload of extremely old and rare books amounting to a total of $4.50, the charming trail of wood pulp following me out the door.

I hadn't yet looked through any of the books until last night. Actually, old books used to utterly creep me out, and one could chalk my, I'll call it, apprehension, up to the obvious reason: that everyone who had anything to do with the book, whether its writing or its production, was super dead. But for me, the whole aura of the book had about it an energy so alive and so potent that it made me feel like the dead one, being so voiceless and out of range of this brand of thinking, this seemingly encyclopedic skill of what I'll call "schoolboyship." But last night, I took out one of my trophy finds, a collection of poems by John Keats called ODE ON A GRECIAN URN, THE EVE OF ST. AGNES AND OTHER POEMS, put out by Riverside Literature Series. Here's what it looks like:

The reason I bought this book in the first place had to do with, not only the fact that John Keats is my number one pilot, but also because my mom mentioned Ode on a Grecian Urn that morning to me as a poem she very much enjoyed, and it was the first time I could remember her talking about poetry with such an informed lightness to her voice. It warmed the cockles of my heart is what it did.

The reason I thought to take it out last night was because I was thinking about Joanna Klink's beautiful collection Raptus, as I had mentioned in my previous post. I was thinking about sentimentality, and Joanna Klink's wild partaking of this ilk; how she is able to write into this tradition of sentimentality without sounding self-parodic or glib; how she is (and this is Keats talking here) "capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." I wanted to search for the Keats in Klink, which is undoubtably there, in order to buttress her collection to its deserving height. But before I could get there, before I could do the proper garnering, I read some very funny editorializing which I thought I would share with you, my questionably present readers. (Klink review IS coming, but is nowhere near done.)

The first poem of this book is On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer, one of my favorite poems of all time. I might as well post it, though for shame! if you haven't read it. No no, I forgive you.


Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne:
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Now this is all well and good. But this is a very peculiar editor, one whom upheld his anonymity so as to be the infallible voice of the press to which this fine book was bound. After this first poem, there was a note referring to line 11:

"11. That it was Balboa and not Cortez who first saw the Pacific an American schoolboy could have told Keats, but it is not such slips as these that unmake poetry."

For whatever reason, this issued a mighty guffaw from my person, followed by a hearty OH SNAP. Find me that schoolboy of Today's world. I will give him a cookie and a Pulitzer.


No comments:

Post a Comment