Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Yeats, Bidart, elections

I walked by one of Ben Cardin's campaign offices on the way home from work today. It was around 6:30 pm, so the polls were still open. Everyone in the office was on the phone, no one was smiling, and everyone looked tense. I can't believe how much the race tightened up over the weekend.

I guess Michael Steele has been running a TV ad featuring his sister, who has MS. In it, she suggests that Steele supports stem cell research and says she knows Michael would take care of his little sister. I haven't seen it, but Robert's Tuesday afternoon caregiver has--he also knew Steele's sister back in the day--James seems to know everyone in DC. He said the ad had turned him off--he thinks Steele is too slick anyway--but he said he didn't really approve of her playing the victim. Apparently, before she was married to Mike Tyson (and lived in a house he bought her on Goldsboro Road with their two kids--they're since divorced), she dated a person James referred to as a gangster. When James uses the word "gangster" I know he's serious about it. The gangster boyfriend owned a legitimate restaurant, but also what James referred to as a speakeasy with all kinds of dealings going on. The gangster boyfriend put her through medical school. Ah, ill-gotten gains.

On other topics, I read a Frank Bidart poem the other day that I really, really liked. Lines in it reminded me of Yeats' "The Circus Animals' Desertion": "My circus animals were all on show, / Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot, / Lion and woman and the Lord knows what. / . . . / Players and painted stage took all my love / And not those things that they were emblems of."

GUILTY OF DUST

up or down from the infinite C E N T E R
B R I M M I N G at the winking rim of time

the voice in my head said

LOVE IS THE DISTANCE
BETWEEN YOU AND WHAT YOU LOVE

WHAT YOU LOVE IS YOUR FATE

*

then I saw the parade of my loves

those PERFORMERS comics actors singers

forgetful of my very self so often I
desired to die to myself to live in them

then my PARENTS my FRIENDS the drained
SPECTRES once filled with my baffled infatuations

love and guilt and fury and
sweetness for whom

nail spirit yearning to the earth

*

then the voice in my head said

WHETHER YOU LOVE WHAT YOU LOVE

OR LIVE IN DIVIDED CEASELESS
REVOLT AGAINST IT

WHAT YOU LOVE IS YOUR FATE


--Frank Bidart

Such a great poem--I love the way the aphorism, "What you love is your fate" turns in the last stanza--that you are who or what you love, but that love encompasses all of the stronger passions, such that hate is a form of love, or, rather, I suppose, that one might fight against what one loves--that one might not want to be about what one loves.

I guess, most simply and autobiographically, it's a poem about Bidart's homosexuality--he seems quite open about the autobiographical nature of his early poems in the interview with Mark Halliday at the end of In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-90. He, of course, is most interested in how the details of life emerge from the life and become the substance of art--so in this he is like WCW.

But the poem clearly leaps beyond the topical surface layer of the life. The issue of resistance to what we love--to a fear of what we might become if we love too completely or absolutely--is, I suppose, an issue for me now. I think there is a lot of fear in true and real love--not jealous fear or fear of loss, but love involves a letting go of the self, and that's frightening.

And, of course, the end of Yeats' poem, a comment on the Platonic ladder of love, the purest form of love that rises above it (into art, for Yeats, not for Plato), but starts in the murkiness of life. Only that's actually a reversal of the Platonic concept--the perfection of the eternal Form is the starting place for Plato, the various degrees of life and emotion being copies that extend further and further from the original perfection, down into life. But for Yeats:

. . . Now that my ladder's gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and boneshop of the heart.

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