Spoor of Desire: Selected Poems
is available for $16.00 from FootHills Publishing, P.O. Box 68, Kanona NY 14856 or see www.foothillspublishing.com.

Tourist Snapshots is available for $8.95 from Randy Fingland, CC Marimbo, P.O. Box 933, Berkeley CA 94701 or see www.ccmarimbo.com.

Dada Poetry: An Introduction was published by Nirala Publications. It may be ordered on Amazon.com for $25 plus shipping. American buyers may order a copy from me for $23 including shipping.

The other books are also available from the author William Seaton. Write seaton@frontiernet.net.


A categorized index of all work that has appeared on this site is available by looking under the current month in the Blog Archive section and selecting Index.

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Flyin' with the Muse: Kirpal Gordon's Eros in Sanskrit

Kirpal Gordon will perform at 4 p.m. on Saturday, August 13, 2011 as the Northeast Poetry Center’s Distinguished Visiting Poet at 7 West Street, Warwick. Award-winning saxophonist Claire Daly and her band will appear as well.
SPEAK-SPAKE-SPOKE is now available. See www.kirpalg.com.


Prose poetry, from Baudelaire and Rimbaud, Mallarmé and Gertrude Stein, through Bly and Russell Edson, has tended toward the surreal and Kirpal Gordon’s Eros in Sanskrit (Leaping Dog Press) nods to that tradition (hearing, for instance “screams within glass jars” in “Hetaera Collects the Fragments of the Splintered Glass”). And Gordon is an unusually literate poet, with an authentically catholic education. Among the influences he explicitly acknowledges are Kabir, Rilke, Pound, and Kerouac, and he pays hommage as well to Duke Ellington and those noble Billies, Strayhorn and Holiday.

But the more significant aspects of the work are, what has become so difficult to be in this belated age, innovative. Even to readers of the littlest of magazines, this voice, this manner, this vision, is fresh. Poetry is surely the most densely significant form of language, and by this standard, Eros in Sanskrit, though printed as prose, is hyperpoetic. Fortunately, Gordon is immediately engaging, often charming (who could resist his address to the reader as “lover”?). In fact, his specialty has long been sitting on the ridgepole between dualities, yoking moist and dry, self and other, physical and spiritual, high and low culture.

To shift metaphors, he’s the old-time department store floorwalker, with a spiffy suit of language and a rhetorical figure in the buttonhole, and the man, like a manic Groucho, manages somehow to cover every floor at once: in “Puberty/Colonialism/Spring” he constructs a symbolic frame that conflates adolescent Oedipalism, anti-imperialism, and the old reverdie riff, adding data to each and casting the most suggestive nets of association among the three. Throughout the text mother metamorphoses to lover and then to destroyer as sparks of hard-won vision fly.

As I tend to do as well in Pound’s Cantos (or the oeuvre of W. S. Burroughs, for that matter), I find myself mining Gordon’s book for lyric fragments, often of such surpassing beauty that I lose interest in themes or overarching structure. Gordon, in fact, acknowledges classic imagism by troping on Pound in “How Paint Peels: Petals on a Wet White Wall,” but he justifies the play with his own coups in both melody and visual imagery. One can only think of Williams and Zukofsky when encountering such solidity: “on the oak deck he left behind him: pant of bloodhound, patter of cat paw.” (“Curved World”) Similarly, he stands up to the comparison with Under Milkwood suggested by this passage about a NYC childhood: “It seemed every clump of corner store had a watering hole with beefy barkeepers streaming with brogues, cursing like troopers in apron and tie among crumbling corduroy, quarter beer & pipesmoke blue-gray serving toothless stumble bums rum-soaked, shuffling shoeless in greatcoats.” He also is capable of tossing off a line that Cole Porter might have appreciated: “a young woman wears the look someone else already looked worn out in.” (“September in Venice Beach”) And the next moment the reader can only think of Gerard Manley Hopkins: “Sound manifests the world our maws mutter, shudder & spout at.” (“Eros & Sanskrit) One can only sigh in appreciation at the lyric lines concluding “She Walks on Water Street”: “Should she push past dusty daylights indigo end to your match meeting her cigarette, would her exhale dissolve your reflection, pulling you out of yourself – isn’t that what Venus rising over bridge lights already foretells?”

Gordon is serious, every spell he sings is meant as a cunning means with the end, as for the householder in the Lotus Sutra, of luring us as well as his own tender ass from the burning house of phenomenal reality.

He not only feels the heat, though; he sees the glorious light as well. Like a California gold-panner, he spots the eternal gleam in mundane phenomena, allowing him to invoke myth naturally and powerfully so that his classical references fit seamlessly with immediate experience in the same way that a good symbol will function as “realism.” And, though there are startling theophanies of Dionysos and Christ, it is most often the feminine embodied in Isis or Venus or Kora, that serves as his “other,” at once the goddess, the beloved, the world, the other half of self. “Coitus has turned the curved world inside out.” (“Curved World”). Plato, the troubadours, and the Bauls of Bengal who sing love-songs to Krishna have known something of the same dialectic.

But his route varies, obliging the reader to maintain a high alert as the author, for one instance, retools the Eden story to recount the sixties (in “Regarding Paradise”). In “Incident at Naoussa” Gordon no sooner manages to convey the charm of a most pleasant Greek town, when he turns the experience upside-down, to a via negativa, deriving its profundity not from observed detail, but from unsounded depths of ignorance and absence.

Gordon’s eros is not merely erotic and divine: his compassion for others animates the page and creates a politics born of the simplest of home-truths -- we are all in this together. “There are no signs of Indians,” another of Gordon’s sententiae, neatly erases itself as he (like Cooper, Melville, Twain, and all the other hip Americans) evokes the non-white “other” (who may be native American, African-American, or an incarnation of Mailer’s White Negro) in pursuit of an accurate survey and thus triangulate toward reality. The indigenous locals tell him America is “infecting [the Amazon River] first, then bleeding it dry,” and why? The guide “hugged the air around him & winked your country, she is mighty that way.” In a couple of gestures, the cat is out of the bag: the marginalized prophet, the blundering imperial giant, the dependent union of each with its enemy/remedy.

Like the pilgrim who, when asked by a merchant of Vanity Fair, “What will you buy,” responds, “I buy the truth,” Gordon knows that we are generally being suckered. For him the first layer of illusion, the acquisitive, is marked by “the division of labor, spread of wealth & demand of gender role.” (“Epilogue”) With venal temptation quelled, the lures of sensation may be, not defeated, but enlisted to speed this very contemporary pilgrim’s progress. He boldly spins out eloquent jive in “Letter in Lady Day Spring Tones”: “We told you slingin’ rhymes & tellin’ jokes/talkin’ about time served while sellin’ folks toasts could get you violated & now you’re waitin’ in Brooklyn County Detention waitin’ to get de-loused or pronounced brain dead en route to the Big House: scuffled (don’t say it snuffed out)/shuffled off to Buffalo/man . . .a deadbeat scheme of cosmic slop instead of a sweet sumpin sumpin nice & neat.”

Gordon’s themes reflect a vision informed by a Vedantist version of the perennial philosophy incarnated through precise takes on everyday America. He’s out to smash dualities from the get-go, and even his own insights get the head-knock treatment that just might lead to enlightenment. The overture poem “Eros and Sanskrit” hedges its bets like the wisest: “yes, no, both & neither.” “The bird is in the field as the field is in the bird.” The poetic project is to “sing & get sung” with a yoni/mouth and a lingam/tongue. Articulation of the world assumes such polarities; pronunciation of the language requires them. Gordon is well aware that they vanish in ecstasy: “Beyond a lunch pail Aristotle’s single pole/double throw switch there’s a human throttle which, when you embrace me please, we equal infinity.” (“Tree Mend Us”)

But there’s no need for clumsy paraphrase and halting reduction, because Gordon’s poetry is there: impassioned, erudite, melodically beautiful and complex and the man, like Bunyan’s Christian, sees the most astonishing sights and encounters the most potent frights and delights of this human flesh as he moves on, stepping ever closer to enlightenment. His own verse provides the redemptive denial to his prophet’s cry: Are all the wild seeds gone? (“August in California’s Central Valley”) No one is more precise or more graceful in limning the “knots & blooms” of the heart. For a susceptible reader this volume offers a plenitude: “As for me I always hoped beauty might be enough” (“Beauty and Belief”). And Gordon is enough of a Platonist (or did he simply imbibe the brighter conceits of Augustinianism?) that those enamored of truth and love will find the categories dovetail here. Without a doubt it is Aphrodite’s doves at work. The reader can join the procession: “Let the trumpets sing: the naked god lives.” (“Life Size Remains”)

Like much of the most moving Greek and Chinese poetry (two traditions to which Gordon is attentive) his theme is the catch-22 of desire: the bound loveliness and evanescence of worldly things, including most prominently oneself. We can only rejoice and lament. Poetry excels at delineating contradictions, ambiguities, and ambivalences, and Gordon’s hand in Eros in Sanskrit is unerring as he constructs those little machines of words that recreate his moments of sublimity and then allow the reader access as well. There is always slippage in these transactions, as there is always transience in the apple of the world, but Gordon looks straight on in the face of loss, and makes of it a lovely melody.


N.B. A cd entitled SPEAK-SPAKE-SPOKE, not yet issued, accompanies the book. Listen to it before you read. Gordon, in concert with the gifted and swinging saxophonist Claire Daly and other musicians, has created what strikes my ears as the very best jazz/poetry collaboration of our generation. The music goes beyond accompaniment; the words beyond lyrics: they sing and dance together, and your mind will find itself following right along.

A Library's Commonplaces and Curiosities

I am afraid that my library will lose its animation no later than its owner. I am uniquely familiar not only with the contents, more or less, of these particular volumes, but with their meaning and history, what tale each tells of my taste and the history of the times. A box of old books is among the most valueless of objects. Yet, during its use, like one’s wardrobe, one’s pantry, or one’s bank records, the library sets forth the little that can remain of an individual consciousness in concrete form behind; it is like other human constructions, a precise and rich vein of data.

Traces of my library’s beginnings remain – but, wait, it has as well a prehistory, though for this earliest era the artifacts are oral, lost, or legendary. As a child I patronized libraries, and I remember to this day the nook where Walter R. Brooks’ Freddy the Pig books stood in the Sioux City library. Perhaps showing off a bit, I brought Herbert Zim’s child’s book of reptiles to kindergarten and described it as “my favorite book.” Natural history and Indian “lore” (as it was then called) were my favorite subjects apart from fiction. Calling myself a curator, I set up a little museum just inside my dormer window with every available exhibit carefully labeled: arrowhead, petrified wood, turtle shell, British penny. By later elementary school I had developed a taste for science fiction, particularly Judith Merrill’s annual anthologies and a good many less imaginative trips to Mars. (One work I encountered then and relished again only a few years ago is Karel Capek’s War with the Newts.) Detective fiction had its day as well, and I read a certain amount of popular fiction like Auntie Mame and On the Beach, but by my middle school years, my library consisted largely of collections of comics. I must have at one time owned twenty-five Pogo volumes. (This predilection ran smoothly into a collection of Jules Feiffer books starting with Sick, Sick, Sick.)

These have all been long discarded (though I continue to think Feiffer and, especially, Kelly are first-rate artists). My Pocket Library Poe (25¢) lingered until two years ago when I found a handsome Library of America Poe at a library used book sale and dumped the yellowed volume from which I had so relished “Hopfrog” and “The Masque of the Red Death.” Long gone was the Henrik Willem van Loon Story of Mankind (with his own odd line drawings) and the collection of American short stories that included Dorothy Parker’s “Big Blonde.” I must have discarded at some point the Signet edition of Joseph Gaer’s How the Great Religions Began from which I learned enough to decide to depict the legendary meeting of Lao Tzu and Confucius inside a shoebox when my sixth-grade teacher asked each student to picture a historic event.

Am I alone is thinking that, while I could discard either a few of my books or nearly all, I would find it very difficult to accept any loss between? Though I moved about a good deal, especially in my younger years, I often moved nothing but books and artworks, along with a few brooms and some old clothes. The only time I sacrificed a significant quantity of books was when heading to Nigeria to teach thirty years ago. At that time I shed not only the greater share of my library (including many books whose loss I later lamented) but also periodicals: Poetry magazine, Evergreen Reviews, a complete set of the first five years of the New York Review of Books. I am wise enough to confess that with Shakespeare and Homer and Chaucer and perhaps a copy of Middlemarch one could be worthily occupied for a good while. Though free of the wish to accumulate other possessions, I have not rid myself of the wish to read everything.

My voracity may have given my good parents pause during my teen years. Though quite frugal about most everything – I never saw the inside of a motel room until I was in high school as we always camped on vacation – they were extraordinarily permissive about books. My mother was a teacher and set a high value on education; my father, a businessman trained as a lawyer, understood, and my brother and I were given credit cards for Kroch’s and Brentano’s which then billed itself as “the world’s largest bookstore” but which went of business during the 90s. There the left half of spacious basement floor was devoted to quality paperbacks.

It was the golden age of literary paperbacks. As far as I was concerned, that basement held the glories of world culture. There were the Signets with splashy art and poor glue, the more substantial Anchor books with the marvelously well-designed covers (including some by Gorey), Alvin Lustig’s avant-garde black and white designs for New Directions. The habitual reader came to love as well the understatement of the old Penguins with their color-coded border that trusted to the title and a small and simple black and white image. (The same trust in their materials appeared in the Dolphins with the recognizable swoop of understated color and minimal art or the even sparer Scribner’s with only author and title.)

With every visit to Kroch’s I would return home with a stack to place at the head of my WWII surplus bunk bed. I often read simply from the top to the bottom of the stack. My habits have changed but little. Because I found them at the library book sale during a few days ago, the last three books I have read are Disraeli’s Sybil, Kafka’s Amerika, and Auden’s Forewords and Afterwords. (I have since picked Liu Hsieh’s The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons off my shelf where it had sat untouched for a decade, but that was chasing after a particular strain of information.) So my reading, like my life, has been desultory, a matter of blind reckoning, as I once termed it, and I can only make the most of it. I have almost never purchased new works, least of all abstruse works, always impossibly expensive. The topics that I studied most intently I know only from library volumes, but I know them none the less for that.

I promised the reader a few curiosities. Far from being a collector, I have very rarely bought new books at all. Limiting oneself not only to used but to cheap used imposes a salutary discipline on the reader, just as shopping for shirts in the Salvation Army, the buyer’s currency is not cash but taste. To wade through the heaps and keep vision fresh for the attractive is a skill.

Though no bibliophile I have happened on a few rarities, for the most part in thrift stores and emporia offering any book for a buck. I have all five of Paul Carroll’s Big Table journals, beginning with the one featuring Kerouac, Burroughs, and Dahlberg that was banned by the University of Chicago and their Review. (At one time these appeared now and then in Chicago used book stores and I used to buy them up and give them to people who would appreciate their art and historical importance.) I have a copy of Robert Creeley’s Jargon 33 chapbook A Form of Women (1959) in which the poet was generous enough to inscribe some kind words some decades after I had paid 75¢ for the book with the haunting cover. I have also the 1937 New Directions annual which I spotted in the Champaign-Urbana Salvation Army in 1965. It stood next to the 1938 edition, but my friend and fellow-writer Al Davis had his hands on that one. In a dusty Chicago shop, I spotted Kenneth Patchen’s An Astonished Eye Looks Out of the Air in a fine 1945 Untide Press limited edition and still it consorts with half a dozen or so of his books in the black and white New Directions covers. One of the few books that came to me new since childhood is the very fine Trianon Press facsimile of Blake’s Songs of Innocence. For Christmas of 1966 my parents asked what book they might buy me and this was my choice and I still protect it in the mailing box addressed to my student apartment.

What would even these curiosae mean to a new owner? They would undergo some metempsychosis, I suppose, as they did indeed when they arrived in my hands, some bearing among their leaves traces of earlier lives. And a wealth of palpable books! Their implications end not even in sleep.

Two Graffiti

1.

AWE
SOME
BITCH

In spite of the gallery shows of Keith Haring, Banksy, and others, the vernacular manifestations of graffiti survive. Riding my bicycle under a nearby underpass, I saw the poem above. Apart from the setting – the underpass with its associations of underground and underworld -- and the basic black spray-paint medium, the work asserted its outlaw status by use of a taboo word. Though intellectuals are untroubled by other vulgarisms, the gender-based insult implied by “bitch” remains unacceptable and retains some shock value.
Taking the final epithet as an aggressive jab, one might read the phrase as a slightly misspelled sigh of disappointment for a love gone wrong, a sour grapes dismissal of the unobtained object of desire. Why are you depressed? “Aw, some bitch.” In this case the vague “some” implies that all women are the same.
However, much like the even more forbidden “nigger,” “bitch” has uses which are affectionate, even tender. (In addition it is used by the militant feminists of Bitch magazine.) In fact, the initial sound “aw,” rather than being a sad sigh, could mark admiration beyond words, a judgment affirmed by the completion “some” to make the most popular adjective of praise in our day: “awesome.” The harsh plosive and fricative of the concluding “bitch,” then, intensify, rather than reversing, this expression of wonder before his own encounter with the ewige Weibliche.
In the precise balance thus outlined between elevation and denigration of the woman and between joy and distress for the persona, this text exemplifies the tendency of poetry to suggest ambivalences, contractions, and dialectics.


2.

MOANS OF PASSION
LACK OF TRUST

LOVE ASUNDER
ABANDONMENT RAGE

The site for these lyrics was a freight car resting on a siding. Since the locomotive that intruded on Thoreau at Walden, railyards and trains have been antithetical to the beautiful though they were painted by Italian Futurists in the 20s. Railway equipment implies a gritty industrial setting with ponderous, unforgiving machinery associated with hobos and film noir dodges and chases.
The simple and direct narrative is clear in the spatial arrangement of the verses. The first pair of lines was painted on the front end of the car and the latter two on the back end at the same height, clearly constituting one unified work. The progression is linear from love to suspicion and then to breakup, both of the couple and the persona’s state of mind.
The initial “moan,” of course, though of ten used in a sexual context, may sound ominous as it more often denotes misery. Merriam Webster in fact defines all moans as arising from “pain and grief.” Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Black Snake Moan” is a lament for lost love.
Indeed the passion is instantly succeeded by distrust. In the spare economy of the text, the reader knows nothing of the specifics of the case. They cannot matter. The crisis occurs offstage or unrecorded and on the rear of the car the story continues: “love asunder.” Here one can only just barely imagine the wielder of a can of spray paint using the word asunder. One finds the word in Caedmon’s Genesis, and Chaucer’s Summoner says that “Freres and feendes be but litel asunder.” Its choice here is extraordinary and, by itself alone, lifts the diction to a lofty, almost dizzy, level.
The tumbling syllables of “abandonment” (one’s only clue to the nature of the separation) end with the single impotent syllable: “rage.”

How I was Hired to Teach in Nigeria

Several decades back, Patricia and I responded to an advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle seeking professors for the Polytechnic University in Ibadan. We sent off curricula vitae and were pleased to receive an interview appointment for me at the Nigerian consulate. Showing up promptly at 8:30 a.m. as instructed, I found that all twenty-five scholars who had been granted interviews were told to arrive at the same time. We could at first not even all crowd into the office waiting room and for hours I and other candidates were obliged to loiter in the hallway outside. Halfway through the morning I gained access to space on a chair inside and could peruse the journals depicting sunny Nigeria on its way to prosperity through oil reserves and benevolent government. There was no break in the interviews for lunch, but I was more fortunate than some in that my surname, while past the alphabet’s middle, is not absolutely at the end.

At perhaps 1:30 p.m. I was called into a room somewhat less brightly lit than the space to which I had become habituated. I made out before me the figures of seven men, most wearing grand and exotic robes, though a few favored three-piece English suits. Once introduced to these dignitaries, I took the seat before them only to hear that there had been an error. There was no present opening for an English professor – what they wanted was Patricia teaching art.

Though it was a Friday, I arranged for her to see them on Saturday (with the advantage of a more precise appointment time). She impressed the august panel and was offered a position. I was told that I could certainly teach in a nearby secondary school, so I completed an application for the Nigerian civil service. We did the paperwork for visas and began to plan our sojourn in the tropics. The visas seemed unaccountably delayed. We were given ever receding dates and almost five months passed before we received a letter informing us that a wife’s receiving an appointment and taking it up accompanied by her husband was an unnatural arrangement to which they could be no party. Of course, had I been the one with a secure appointment, the hiring would have proceeded smoothly. As it was, the deal was off.

We were disappointed, having been studying the area for months in preparation, but we decided we could not pursue our West African destiny. We had, as it turned out, no need to do that, as it caught up with us perhaps eighteen months later when my application, having slowly percolated through endless layers of languid bureaucracy, resulted in my receiving a job offer as Education Officer 10.

Months after we had arrived in the Niger Delta, when Patricia’s position came through, she was not allowed to accept until I had submitted a letter (with the required witnesses and tax stamps requiring visits to perhaps three bureaucrats’ offices in two cities) giving my permission for her to work.

Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" as Structuralist Charm

“All the world know the beauty of the beautiful and in doing this they have [the idea of] what ugliness is ... so it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to [the idea of] the other." (from Legge's old version of ch. 2 of the author he called Lao Tzŭ)


As a metaphysical principle, of course, Lao Tzu's proposition may be tested against any phenomenon, but it has special relevance to the examination of literary texts. Literature has always excelled in dialectic. Often poetry arises in the tension between true and not true, between sweet and bitter. Metaphor always declares that the tenor both is and is not the vehicle (to use I. A. Richards’ terms). In a relatively recent restatement of this principle, Paul de Man identifies, as an essential characteristic of literature, “the self-reflecting mirror effect by means of which a work of fiction asserts, by its very existence, its separation from empirical reality.” Later, he suggests that even a critic structures his work “in terms of a series of dramatic events: reversals, repetitions, about-faces, and resolutions.”

These considerations illuminate a reading of Shelley in particularly useful ways — Shelley is, after all, a definitive type of the alienated self-conscious modern artist. His “Ode to the West Wind” is a programmatic statement and self-portrait, and both the program and the portrait are projected in antinomies so dynamic as to resemble an engine’s pulsing pistons, or, more accurately, the turning of a gyroscope.

One may begin to examine the oscillations with a common initial response to the poem’s tensions: the recognition of the wind as a quasi-divine animating pneuma which revivifies the poet and promises a future bloom of his faculties. To this system one may associate the suggestions of hymn-like entreaty (for the poet’s ego-driven desires), of revolution (for the fulfillment of society), and of apocalypse (for the collapse of dualities, a state beyond enlightenment).

Not far behind this reading, though, lurks its sinister counterpart: if spring is near, then a following winter is equally implied with every contrary discomfort and threat. Apart from the threats to the poet’s comfort from a winter of depression, suffering, repression, and ignorance (to follow the thematic registers noted above), the whole progression assumes a static cyclic quality against which the poet’s emotions, while poignant, are absurd. His descent is merely the low point on a psychic roll which, like the year and Sisyphus, will meaninglessly rise and fall. Similarly, in the Purana with which Zimmer begins his Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization, Indra, the old divine monarch, is humbled and taught detachment by the vision of universes coming and going, “an innumerable host,” out of every pore of the body of Vishnu. How then to assert the self?

One may step one stage further back (the poem itself rings all these changes) and regard the repetitive ups and downs as exemplifying the soul of vitality itself, its rhythm or heartbeat, hence rendering any intensely experienced moments on its course self-validating. Then, however, the reader recalls that the poem's starting point is negative and, while balance is apparently present, autumn and sorrow are more potently present than their contraries, destroyer is mentioned before preserver, the seablooms tremble, etc.

To take this dance only one step further, the sense of exalted energy is undeniable. The wind is wakening. Pleasure is seen as torpor. Indeed, the poem itself is evidence of Shelley's poetic vitality, the gift for which he was praying. Thus the victory is inherent in the words on the page. As we hear in Oedipus (l. 896) the dancing of the chorus is itself evidence that the land is well-regulated.

The rhyme scheme and stanzaic organization support this movement as each tercet contains its own successor and opposite, unstable, impelling progress, and yet each stanza is finished off by a couplet which suggests settled balance. One feels neither the forward linear movement of a wholly stichic form nor the rounded volumes of a stanza’s completion. By almost being sonnets, yet not quite, the parts of the poem tease the reader and resist definition.

On a smaller scale the same dialectical cunning is apparent. Note, for instance, the pairing of ashes and sparks as an image, or of chained and tameless. Note the provocative “if” in the last line.

Acoustic elements are likewise active in structuring Shelley's engine of contraries. Initial “w” is a key sound, announced in the title and the strident first lines. These “w”s embody the wind and increase through the poem (as a matter of fact, the tabulator of lines with w’s in each ten lines of text will discover the following pattern: 1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5). Thus they first appear to represent a passage in time, a phenomenon with a distinct beginning and end, an entity free from the eternal recurrence. The words are carefully selected, though and strengthen the overall structure at the same time as they cast doubt on it. The next occurrences of the sound after the opening line are in “wintry” and “winged,” the first implying death and the second new life. The pair after these is “will” [“be a sepulcher”] and “waken,” again two wholly opposed aspects of the action of the wind.

The wind is the opposition, the tension, but in no harmonious sense. The dialectic is never resolved. Shelley experiences no place where the joy and pain of interpenetration cease; rather, by imagining such a place, he renders both joy and pain more acute. What might have been a lament on the conditions of human life or a panegyric to the cosmic design, becomes, though its beauty, a bit of magic warding off despair and psychic dissolution. The order of words, though only intensifying the agony of existence, strikes a redemptive pose. The tension of bipolar oppositions is at once foregrounded and ameliorated.