Sunday, April 19, 2009

Twenty One Love Poems, Poem #2 - Adrienne Rich



I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
you've been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
our friend the poet comes into my room
where I've been writing for days,
drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
and I want to show her one poem
which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
and wake. You've kissed my hair
to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone...
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
to move openly together
in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.

---Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich's Twenty-One Love Poems, Poem II

Since the inception of poetry there have been a handful of topics poets have gravitated towards, foremost among them love. It makes perfect sense, right? Not only have pop-songs and happily-ever-after romances indoctrinated us into the world of love-conquers-all, but if we're blessed enough to have a caring family when we enter this world then we are very quickly introduced to the transformative beauty of love. It takes a brave soul to write a love poem. Trying to capture something as restless and free-spirited as love seems like an impossible task at first glance, yet throughout history some of the best pieces of writing, including poems, have been motivated by love. Adrienne Rich's second poem in her sequence Twenty-One Love Poems is another link in the astounding chain of love poetry, a chain that includes Shakespeare, Whitman, and, without a doubt, Pablo Neruda. Rich's contribution is all her own: part ars-poetica, part love poem.

“I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.” This straightforward first line of the poem includes a few things worth focusing on. Rarely is the impact of a single word on a whole poem as visible as Rich's usage of “up” in this initial sentence. 'I wake in your bed' is a quick moving way to begin the poem, almost hurried. This start also evokes a somewhat archaic tone, a voice that echoes long ago. “I wake up in your bed,” might not seem much different, but the inclusion of the word “up” has positive connotations. These good vibes stretch to the next sentence where “dreaming” represents a wonderful way to usher in a new day. But there was a separation of these two lovers “much earlier” when “the alarm broke” them from sleep and “each other.” The lover of the poem's speaker has been at “a desk for hours,” working through the early morning, while the speaker dreams love through the lens of poetry. She has been “writing for days” when their friend, the poet, “comes into the room.” This room is a beautiful in a way that only a writer can appreciate: “drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere.” This is pretty much the opposite of writer's block. Amongst this mess of productivity, there is a single poem that our speaker wants to show off. She declares “it is the poem of my life.” And just when she is poised to give this lifework up to an audience, she freezes, or as Rich puts it “But I hesitate, / and wake.” At this moment when a personal triumph is averted by fear, notice that Rich's speaker doesn't “wake up,” instead she “wake(s).” That might be the best piece of evidence for the point that I began this paragraph with.

Awakened by kisses, our speaker tells her beloved “I dreamed you were a poem, / a poem I wanted to show someone...” For most poets, the idea of displaying a poem in its early form is terrifying. We want to polish up the rough edges before unleashing it on the world. It's motivated somewhat by ego; we don't want anyone to think less of us or our writing ability because of a poem released prematurely. And it's also motivated by a quest for perfection: the perfect word, the perfect voice, the perfect line break and form. We believe that if we pour all of ourselves into writing and revising a poem that our sweat will earn a tiny taste of that perfection we're striving for. I'm not saying any of these ideas are right, but to better understand the actions of Rich's speaker it is important to note these things. When she wants to show this poem of her lover to someone it is an astounding tribute of love. From laughter she returns to dreams, but now that she has confronted the truth of her feelings she can elucidate them further. She has “the desire to show you (her lover) to everyone I love, / to move openly together / in the pull of gravity.” The weight that accompanies gravity “is not simple,” as Rich's speaker acknowledges, but she commits to this undertaking. It's a commitment built by love, an emotion as natural as “the feathered grass” and “the upbreathing air.”


Rukhiya said...

This is a tremendously lovely collection! Most poems come from people I've hardly read from and that's what makes me linger here longer- the new vistas for reading. Also, you are doing a great job on the explanations. Glad to have dropped by. Keep up and many thanks! :)

Matthew A Kaberline said...

Hello Rukhiya! Thank you for visiting the blog and sampling some of the poems and essays. I hope you'll return in the future and check out more of them.

Unknown said...

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Unknown said...

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