Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sara Teasdale - Poem Repertoire vol. 2

"Invictus claptrap," I thought as I began to read this poem.  But I loved the meter.  And the second and third stanza bring into doubt my initial irritation.  Hmmm...

The Shrine by Sara Teasdale
There is no lord within my heart,
  Left silent as an empty shrine
  Where rose and myrtle intertwine,
Within a place apart. 
No god is there of carven stone
  To watch with still approving eyes
  My thoughts like steady incense rise;
I dream and weep alone. 
But if I keep my altar fair,
  Some morning I shall lift my head
  From roses deftly garlanded
To find the god is there.

ABBA rhyme sequence. Very regular syllabically.  The first three lines of each stanza are made up of four iambs (unstressed - stressed).  The fourth line is made up of three iambs.  The effect of this is very flowing, with a discernible marker in between stanzas.

The poem seems centered on location: heart, shrine, place, altar.  Where is god (sic)?  "Not in the heart," answers the first stanza.  God is absent from that silent place, though the word "shrine" implies that there is some expectation that he be there.  Perhaps it is a false expectation.  Nor does any god reside there to give mute approbation or comfort.  The person is alone.

Then comes the hinge, "But if I keep my altar fair."  God is nowhere in the places or situation so far described, but this conditional clause introduces where he might be.  "Some morning," indeterminate, out of one's control or agency, "the god" might appear upon said altar.  But it is too much to say that it is beyond the person's agency, because though this god's arrival is not a matter to be controlled, still it depends on her keeping the altar fair.  And she is doing so.  She is "deftly" garlanding roses.  In the first stanza the rose and the myrtle intertwined without intervention.  In this last stanza, their beauty is being enhanced.

So then, god arrives in beauty.  We participate in the divine not by waiting about for him, not by seeking consolation or approval, but by pursuing beauty, by making that which is beautiful more so by our artistic action.  So the seeming centrality of location is not borne out.

I'm always curious how other people conceive of God in all sincerity.  This conception of God is very forlorn.  He will be absent through the darkness and loneliness, but maybe he'll be present later as a kind of abstraction connected to my action.  How despairing.

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