Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The musical rain; or, Four ways of looking at a lack of heard

I. The brightest thing there could be
 ... these may mean the
same thing, the poem whose appearance is re-
fracted by language and textual tradition (that
is to say, by human concreti-
zations of abstract time), much like the ex-
perience of working in a room with artificial
light: a thoughtless buzzing overhead and
blocking any vision--no matter how late one
works into the night or tarries (now, think of wicks
smoldering down, their slow unsmokeless
burning of the passing day)--of the light of those
formerly studied stars, such that one
hasn't learned to speak their language, but
mostly to know that a language was, long ago
spoken: and, now that the lines of communi-
cation have been broken (having always already been
bent by gravity, slowed in its slowing
wells, its curved and carvèd pits of
stick and commemoration, its granite
walls of implacable devotion to deepest
reds), to curse (for this is the light's profit
on't, taught not how to speak but to be
spoken: not the use of language but the
use by it). A man with a magic
book and a man who, earlier than you, was
able to look at the sky at night as a
being far and away, close to some
homely metaphor, of a distance never to be
conquered, for sure, but far and away the
brightest thing there could be at night: those
chaste stars, those chasèd stars, the
air's unbreathable purity and those
stars' excelling pursuit. Such a man, his
eyesight fading, would seek to transmit and,
so, transform their clarity of vision. (Like the
pilgrim on his way, the poet having once been a
pilgrim, any vision of the stars, any would-be re-
vision of a poem blacks out and backs out of trans-
lation at the cost of lost rhythms and times, the a-
scent much harder, against gravity and
out of its well, outwards and as it were
sootily out of the condensation and
frost-bitten meanings of hell ...

II. But the rest is not music

 ... likewise,
"the youth lies awake in his cedar'd garret and
harks to the musical rain": the covering
roof keeping him out of that rain and,
so, out of the rain, which may become
music at a deepening distance alone (that
is to say, at delay and--absent a
bed of mussed and drily muffling
hay--in a disembodying echo and decay).
He harks not to the 'the music of the rain' but to "the
musical rain", its incidental remaking (and
this is the problem of a poem as a poem, of
any top-heavy cybernetic relation): now
lost is the rain as naked and dripping,
lost is meaning in a youth's contrastively
feverish brain. Instead, there is a strained
tapping and slide, the sound of the rain as it
flickers and slicks the jointed cedar and
drips and naturally slips and anoints
what clasps itself, what tarries, to the migrant
spaces between. (These cannot be starred,
their darkness one of old dinosaurs' bones, in
which a red-shifted and reptile track of the
skies has sunk, having too deeply drunk of
blackest tar, into the deepest-
slumbering pit: as the youth pictures it, having
listened to Darwin, dreaming pre-Cambrian
minds, a matter of memory given over to a
claw-footed lumber, now hard like a daydreamed
fruit in matter of fact unripened, the
tap of leanest finger to greenest
rind). There is not only the audient
youth but, making his situation all the more
lonely (he is not pelted by rain but
sheltered and, having but feeling no pain, he can
be no song to himself: no recording of
sounds, only a distorting of sounds), that
haughty, insentient roof. He must have
a mind of rainwater to regard what ought to have
been his own mass of rain-matted hair, his own
rain-kissed skin and all the other wetted not with-
outs but rain-tossed withins, and not to hear
any misery in the sound of what
cannot, any longer, come in, what his over-
hanging roof--overmindful of body, un-
mindful of mind, the roof as permanent
keeper of wholly impermeant time--but the
rest is not music--just won't allow inside.

III. Still, the sounds drift in

 ... and, still, "the sounds drift in. The buildings are re-
membered" by the echoes of rain, its swift and in-
different pointillism: their pieces in uncertain
unions, only honoring the fact of their flat and
hollowing stops of the drops to fall, then to
catch at the breaks and streak where the nails went
slightly imperfectly in--their grey and
greening bronze and blooming rust, their
rustic thin and ten-penny overtones--where the
joints have grown more cottony still to any
feeling over years for the inclement weather, arth-
ritic and exquisitely sensitive to touch, to the
sapping cold and warming, to the the cycle of a
too-much-with-us and sublimely impossibly
far-and-away frequency of attention. The
sounds drift in, meaning that within is now
not without, no longer: the roof a trans-
lucence to sound, a sparkling skin, and a-
gain the angled room: a darkly
resonant space. The bright sunbrown of the
angled youth: he lies awake: he be-
lieves, he lies like a leaf of grass caused to
quiver and hum, held sheltered by fingers and
over which runs the harmonical breath of the
missing musician, what Whitman, recent to tele-
pathic dreams, would in his better lights look
past (that smoky with meats sweated and
dried, a long practice with poultice, with the a-
spirant departure of water from clothes, he
knows their sputtering sizzle, just as much a trans-
mitter as the spattering roof); like the shore to
which these breakered, these housebroken waves of
sound must drift! Could only they hit and
find their fit of skinny rivulet down
skin, as it cools from the day's worth of work, blue-
shifting, and warming to the sheltered pleasure of the
dark, of the cedar'd garret, of the poem that
he must find himself in. (There's a woman who
knows that it's bathers' bodies are better instru-
mental than the cedar of which more ancient or
plaited, upstanding hair might oily re-
dole.) Such a musical sound is a miracle of
loss, the sound of the rain interfered by the
mindless boards: a sound at the cost of
weltering what otherwise could be signal (only
try, only strain to hear those streamers of
water long down and around those bathing
boys!) but, thanks to the cedar, is not any
longer let in to the skin: is sound for
sure, but only in place--for it is special
pleading for ones, like nuns, to fret not at
narrow rooms--of a youth's special feeling for noise.

IV. Finally, about the voice

Is this roof's cedar that in whose limbs, un-
clothed, the blackbird alit? And if he
did, if so, did he know--even as it was
snowing and going to snow, and although it
wasn't yet night (and so no need for
any artificial or cultural light) but
had for so long of the day been evening--that his
perch would make this music of the rain for a
listener, who listens not in the rain (which,
frozen in the mind, is turned to snow of a
technically memorable kind) but within? Is
this why the blackbird is made not to sing, but--as
if the whole poem--"is involved in what I
know", that knowledge being, finally, about the
voice, its "accents and lucid, inescapable rhythm"?

(Edited 8 March 2011, begun 3 March 2011. After nearly a year, over which I wrote mostly academic prose, this sequence marks a return to writing poetry deliberately. To readers of modern poetry, references to Whitman and, especially, Stevens (no (consanguineous) relation) will be clear; in some phrases and images there are also Wordsworth, Milton, and Shakespeare. More ancient authors must probably be thought to appear here and there, but don't knock yourself out.)