Poetry and the American; American love poetry
This is poetry on the American produced and recorded by station KPFA in Berkeley California and read grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. This program is a discussion of American love poetry by Mary Ellen Anthony Ostroff and Robert Bellew. And in more reality saying we fall in love and I don't miss you know what else is worse than having. Though I have been in many a law and there is not else in living. And I would rather have my sweet the rose leaves die of grieving than do high deeds in Hungary to pass all mins be leaving. For this program we're going to discuss some American poems about love. The poems we've chosen are Emily Dickinson's. I cannot live with you Robert Frost meeting and passing the quote of Bristol by John Crowe
Ransom the stranger by Jean-Marie and he CUMMINGS Yes is a pleasant country and of course the poem we've just heard which is by has replied. Love is in most people's minds. One of the main provinces Bowa treat. I imagine it's rather an expression of a general wishfulness on the part of our whole society. If you'll go along with that don't you think that little poem of poems with which we began is an especially appropriate one. Well I certainly think so I think this the sentiment rings clear and tempting in any time but particularly in this age of circling satellites and fallout and compounding pressures of a highly specialized culture. I think love and I don't this sound really wonderful and well I do think LB has summed up very well.
One of the main songs of bullets through the ages especially in. An earlier tradition although this is certainly not a song that we don't hear anymore. But you know I wonder if this poem isn't a particularly apropos introduction to American love poetry in another sense. I mean as a nation we might celebrate the sentiment for love in idleness in the poem but isn't that because it's in a poem that is as a nation we really don't take poetry very seriously. And the sad truth is that most people in our country certainly don't believe in idleness. So I've always been in favor of the four day week. That's where I think it relates very I think I'm glad I was wrong about that. But the four day weekend I don't this are not necessarily related when we get that four day week then we want to spend the rest of our time in slamming banging from here to there you know all over the place anyway. There is one terribly telling thing about the poem in this respect and that is its title.
Remember the poem calls this and in morality. I think that title does suggest something that's rather special about American poetry and has been for a long time and I think it has to do. Perhaps if one can say these things so generally that has nothing to do with that Puritan tradition that makes such an awful lot about love itself as an immoral thing. You mean don't you mean sex. Well I guess that's not the same question. Why did you put your finger on the issue. I think that historically without knowing any detail that up until you might say perhaps the two first great poems and that may itself be significant. Poetry really about love in America was divided into two categories there was the noble sentiment which really didn't involve much passionate thought or the
discussion of what the wages of sin was and even later as I think we will see in some of these poems at least that we're talking about today this what what would you call it a neural lag somehow the refusal to not the refusal of the inability rather to to accept love. Frankly openly and so forth must always somehow involve a terrible anguish in a problem. Yes this seems really doesn't very much part of the Puritan tradition I think you know when you mention a sort of division in the tradition of love or dealing with the theme of love in American poetry that when you talk about the sort of the ideal idealisation of love the romantic tradition that that was never really that was never real in America that we have a lot of LARP that passed from my life in the very early days but with the first people who we consider poets in America. Oh I suppose poll here his romantic devotions are all pretty much two dead ladies it's all and never more
with Paul and then we move to oh who are some of the others well. Emily Dick and Emily Dickinson had a wife and temporary. Yes I think the point really rather is that when we do get to significant poets you take well Walt Whitman who for all his limitations over the Certainly a significant artistic figure there is about his poetry it seems to me in relation to love. It is a preaching it is a Jeremiah I mean it isn't a natural like setting in the sense that you don't have to argue with somebody about it it just is. His whole poetry writing to you was fighting it. It's obvious you know he's demanding that we accept the body and love and all that. And this is the where on his side maybe more or less none the less one can see the strain. I guess what we never do seem to have anymore or at least in American poetry we never seem really to have have the purely the poem of seduction for instance that we got in the 17th century tradition. We don't get the the pure love song. Very often I think I think there are a couple of exceptions to this but they're very important.
But in general they have the mainstream of American poetry seems to be very very deeply or very deeply to run in this rather Puritan groove doesn't it. Yes straining against it all but terribly influenced. We mentioned Emily Dickinson of course the Puritan tradition was very much a part of her background. But among other sensitive souls she could never bring herself to accept in in toto some of the more austere dogmatic Puritan theology she wanted to terribly but she never was quite able to there was always that doubt in the poem. I cannot live with you she imagines rising to heaven where she will prefer her loved ones face to Jesus. The poet says your face would put out Jesus that new grace grow plain and foreign on my homesick I owe you that by
the way. Well she's just saying that she prefers the face of her loved one to Jesus face which is certainly going certainly a strike a Puritan and Jesus faces that new grace which grow playing in homes and I mourn her and she goes but she also refers to the sordid excellence of paradise. Both these references would strike a Puritan as irreverent if not asked for black. Yes just bless and of course Emily Dickinson was not by any means irreverent but. In the poem we're going to hear today I cannot live with you. She is simply telling her or loved one of her complete adoration and but we should note that while she's doing this the poem is stated in in terms which are Puritan. The poet cannot live with her love because that would be life and life is over there behind the shell. The sexton keeps the key to that wonderful images and it is not
with how and how deeply involved it is with the whole Puritan tradition that life is shut off there someplace it's verboten and verboten by my home by an officer of the church and also a divine judgement Paradise and Hell are all elements and all and it seems to me that the fact that you say that she couldn't accept all these things and that so all these doctrines and that's true but the power of the poem comes from your sense of her the that these doctrines are in her fiber. And by denying them that's where the power of the of the love that declaration of love comes from because it isn't just verbal. You feel with her this is when she says paradise. This isn't a metaphor this is something that's an icon ising only real. Problem. Well suppose we hear this poem. I cannot live with you. It would be life. And life is over there behind the shelf. The sexton keeps the key to
putting up our life. His boss Ellen like a cup discarded of the housewife quaint or broken a new or saves pleases old ones crack. I could not die with you for one must wait to shut the other's gaze down. You could not and I could I stand by and see you freeze without my right of frost death's privilege. Nor could I rise with you because your face would put out Jesus that new grace grow plain and foreign on my home sick guy. Except that you that he shone closer by. They judge us. How for you serve heaven you know. Or so to.
I could not because you saturated side and I had no more eyes for so I did excellence as paradise. And where you lost I would be there my name rang loudest on the heavenly fame and where you saved and I condemned to be where you were not that self were held to me. So we must keep apart. You were there. I hear with just the door ajar that oceans and prayer. And that pale sustenance. Despair. Well the poem is a very moving one alright. And in the reading is the proof of I think our discussion of this sense of Puritan background.
You know I'm suddenly I suddenly thought listening to that reading out and apropos of our discussion of this theme that it's really very interesting to consider the titles of these poems that we're we've chosen to talk about today I don't think nobody's mentioned this before and it occurs to me it's quite fascinating that we get. I cannot live with you then. This Frost poem meeting and passing which suggests separation Ransom's the equal or burst Well that may not be so clear from the title although as equilibrium means keeping a very delicate a very hazardous balance something threatening is implicit in that the stranger by greed and of course pounds and in morality these themes are really. The remark by the titles although perhaps in the Frost poem that's that's a little deceptive Yes I think that the Frost poem is interesting. Well give us some relief from his relentless agony. The poem is I think
a natural one about love it's I suppose you can take it as a poem about the first time Frost met his wife though. In any case it is about a couple who later obviously become very close. And this is the man looking back on their first meeting and seeing what it man and there are a number of interesting things one is that like you know a few other great love lyrics it has a mathematical image sort of in its center as a kind of contrast. And in the end the really really touching part is the conception at the end of the experience that all young lovers go through of exploring each other's past together finding out what they have been and have they have you know that mathematical image is one that doesn't treat me a
good deal. That sense of the large male footprints mingled in the dust with the smaller footprints of the girls. So they're quite you see in this image is really not. Not the two people quite but something up yet more than one. But there's a great deal that we could remark about the point really and I think it's probably a lot better to have the bomb itself so let's listen to a reading of it meeting and passing. As I went down the hill along the wall there was a gate I had leaned out for the view and it just turned from when I first saw you as you came up the hill. We made it but all we did that day was mingle great and small footprints in summer dies as if we drew the figure of our being less than to look more than one as yet.
Your parasol pointed the decimal off with one for us and all the time we talked you seemed to see something down there to smile at in the US. Oh it was without prejudice to me. After wood I went past what you had by us before we met. And you. What I had but I guess. It seems singularly appropriate that Frost should meet his wife on a walk down the hill. They stop to look at the view yet this is a bad ass. Absolutely perfect. Yes she's going to be even need and I hear he's very much immersed in nature and is well this is a contradiction all right of this thesis isn't it. Yes I think so. And I could jump in prophecy coming to you. Well let's let's turn to this poem by John Crowe Ransom the
equilibrium is what exactly. Oh you define tequilla breasts more or less what you have. Well as one who keeps a very hazardous a very precarious balance. You have a sense of a balance that is you know just barely maintained and done and a dangerous balance in some senses if it if it were lost then the dreadful consequences would follow. And it's plural in the title equal a bris. Well the poem is about two lovers who are denied the consummation of their love by some moral commitment which is never really defined in the poem. We don't know exactly what the reason is that they cannot come together but we can imagine one of them has a wife or husband perhaps children or possibly some immense religious obligation to whom or which some allegiance is owed which does not allow them to give themselves to each other. A tormenting and perhaps not uncommon situation in the poem the irresistible force of love drawing together is given in a very richly sensuous terms and the
immovable object so to speak which is forever between them is honor. Apropos of the general Puritan theme we've been discussing I find these lines in the poem interesting predicament indeed which the US discovers honor among thieves. Honor between lovers. Here we have lovers equated with thieves and a surreptitious quality is attributed to love it's something to be stolen rather than something which is your natural rights for dessert. Yes I think it's a pretty complicated equation but you're certainly right about that being part of it. The whole poem is quite complex but I think an important thing to remark about it is the development in the end where ransom as narrator of the poem sees the lovers as perilous and the very last line. It seems to me that we get some kind of sense of unfathomable mysteries. It's like the perilous in the sense that you get in in the quest perilous for the Grail something in the way almost of religious moral in the perfection of the
equilibrium of these two lovers frozen in a constellation at once terrifying and awe inspiring in the magnitude of the passions which have produced it seems to me the quality of this perilous and beautiful thing he finally sees and is they've struck a new and perhaps original balance. He gives the traditional balance between heaven and hell. You can go without your body to heaven on earth. You can live totally in the flesh in hell. Well the lovers don't follow this old dichotomy. Yes instead of either or they are neither nor. Strange and wondrous balance. I think it's in that that resolution of the poem where we see the integrity of the lovers to their opposing devotions has become an eternal thing that the great power of the poem resides. Well there and in the very language the brilliant and often savage imagery but rather than discuss that
let's hear the poem itself. The equilibrium. Full of her long white arms and milky skin he had a thousand times remembered sin alone in the press of people travel he minding her Jacinth and myrrh and ivory mouth. He remembered the quaint orifice from which came he that flamed upon the kids still code words came down spiral from the head grade of this from the officious tower ill sped body. It was a wide field ready for love on her body's field with a gaunt tower above the lilies grew beseeching him to take if he would pluck and wear them bruise and break. I was talking. Never mind the cruel words embrace my flowers but not
embrace the swords of what they said the doves came straightway flying in and said. Honor Honor they came crying. Importunate are about two pure two wives clamoring on his shoulder saying Arise leave me now and never let us meet eternal distance now command ifI predicament indeed which thus discovers honor among thieves. Honor between lovers. Oh such a little word his honor they feel. But the grey word is between them. Cold as steel. At length I saw these lovers fully were coming to their torture of equilibrium dreadfully had forsworn each other and yet they were bound each to each. And they did not forget and rigid as to painful stars and twirled about the cluster of night their prison world they burned with fierce love
all was to come near. I don't or beat them back and kept them clear of the strict lovers they are ruined now I cried in anger but with puzzled brow devising for those Juba did and brave came my discounting. And then what would you have for spin your period out and draw your breath. I kinder secular him begins with death would you ascend to heaven and bodyless dwell or take your body's honorless to hell. Haven't you heard no marriages no white flesh tender to your letter EAS your male in female tissue sweetly shaped subline the way and furious blood and skin great lovers lie and held the stubborn ones infatuate of the flesh upon the bones stew brick they rend each other when they kiss the pieces kiss again. No end to this.
But still I watch them spinning orbited nice and flames were not more radiant than their eyes. I dug in The Quiet Earth and rock the tomb and made these lines to memorize their due equal or bursts lie here stranger tried like close but on touching each other's side moldered the lips and ashy the tall skull let them lie. Perilous and beautiful. Well that's a poem I guess that begs no comment. There's an interesting contrast here to me between this and the next poem in the ransom poem The human eye Guinea seems a result of a conflict
between two noble concepts. Love On the one hand and honor on the other things that seem beyond the control of the people concerned. Well the people seem in a sense not to have failed at all. There is a failure in the next pawn though I think the failure is one within the individual. It's a failure of will. Would you agree with that. Yes that's true here we have another love poem which is a poem of loss. Now this is a very important theme in the whole history of love poetry the world over. But I suppose one could see this as especially again fitting somehow in the context of our discussion of American love poetry here. I have been thinking of the poem really as. A very tender I think a very beautiful lyric but the in the poem the poet speaks of having seen this ideal and being seized by this momentary madness all of a sudden there is that magical one but the
poet feels really as you say it's a failure of nerve. Doesn't really have the courage finally to follow that madness of illumination which is Let us pray the the greatest reality of all available to us to its to its end. Well suppose we have a reading of this go on the stranger. Now upon this hideous year I sit in Denmark beside the key and nothing that the Fishers say or the children carrying books can recall me from that place where sense and wish departed me was very shores take on the whiteness of a nun or I beheld a stranger there who moved ahead of me. So tensile and so dense are made that like a thief I followed
her. Though my heart was so alive I felt myself the equal beauty. But when at last a turning came like the branching of a river and I saw it she walked on she would be gone forever. Fear then so wounded me as fell upon my ear the voice of blind men dreams and broken me the smile I dreamed as deaf men hear. I stood there like a spy my tongue and eyelids taken in such a necessity. Now upon this beauty is year the rains of Autumn Fall where May she be. I suffered her to disappear who hunger in the prison of my fear. I'd lean and brush that stride but cold and melting pride for whom the river like a clear melodic line and the distant carousel where lovers and their beasts of
play rose and fell that wayfarer where the swan adorn with every wave and Eddy the honor of his sexual beauty created her out of sorrow that never perishing is a stately thing. You know I think that after that poem we ought to find some kind of an affirmation. Oh the Greek does find a poise to affirm as the consequence of its tragedy but I think we need something without tragedy in the first place. Well Cummings is the person you turn to for that sort of thing. This poem we've chosen doesn't have a title it's usually referred to by the first line yes it's a pleasant country we find here the old familiar Cummings affirmation of creation in his metaphors of yes as opposed to I suppose know little of
it if you like you know isn't the opposition in this particular poem the other side of the coin here is the word if. Which is I suppose a word that comes from logical argument that that's that's what the F stands for You think that this is the rational process the solitary mind thinking doubting of yes as he makes a seasonal metaphor here if related to winter yes. Relate to April the tenderest month of the spring and that relates to the two lovers there implicit in the pot. Would you say though that because of that if the poem takes in part the form of argument I mean Cummings feels obliged to argue for love as natural and simple as the way it ought to be without getting messed up with a lot of the ifs ands and buts of our world. Well the poem says yes you're right about it's having to contend with another attitude of course. Finally we know it's an affirmation exactly that kind of poem in fact you mention we hardly get any out in American poetry. It's a seduction I think
tradition that goes far back for which we should be grateful. Well since we're here we all thought. Well then let us close with a reading of this poem by E. Cummings. Yes it is a pleasant country if so wintery my lovely. Let's open the year both is the very whether or not either my treasure when violets appear. Love is a deeper season. That reason my sweet one and a pearl where we hear. You've been listening to poetry on the American produced and recorded by station KPFA in Berkeley
California under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center and distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the NYU Radio Network.
- Poetry and the American
- American love poetry
- Producing Organization
- pacifica radio
- KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- Episode Description
- Discussion and reading by Miriam and Anthony Ostroff and Robert Beloof.
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- Twenty half-hour programs designed to further the enjoyment of poetry.
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Performer: Beloof, Robert, 1923-2005
Performer: Ostroff, Miriam Virginia
Producing Organization: pacifica radio
Producing Organization: KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
Speaker: Ostroff, Anthony, 1923-
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University of Maryland
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- MLA: “Poetry and the American; American love poetry.” 1959-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 5, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-7s7hv66m>.
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