Sunday, May 06, 2007

A new diction

some for whom war is new, others for whom it merely continues
the old paroxysms of time
some marching for peace who for twenty years did not march for
some for whom peace is a white man's word and a white man's
some who have learned to handle and contemplate the shapes of
powerlessness and power
as the nurse learns hip and thigh and weight of the body he has
to lift and sponge, day upon day
as she blows with her every skill on the spirit's embers still burn-
ing by their own laws in the bed of death.
A patriot is not a weapon. A patriot is one who wrestles for the
soul of her country
as she wrestles for her own being, for the soul of his country
(gazing through the great circle at Window Rock into the sheen
of the Viet Nam Wall)
as he wrestles for his own being. A patriot is a citizen trying to
from the burnt-out dream of innocence, the nightmare
of the white general and the Black general posed in their
to remember her true country, remember his suffering land:
that blessing and cursing are born as twins and separated at birth
to meet again in mourning
that the internal emigrant is the most homesick of all women and
of all men
that every flag that flies today is a cry of pain.
Where are we moored?
What are the bindings?
What behooves us?

--Adrienne Rich, from section XI of "An Atlas of the Difficult World"

I've been reading the Rich's book by the same title on the metro quite a bit. This long poem, with its Whitmanesque structure and lines, has drawn my attention. There are times when reading Rich on politics is reading the same thing over and over--but there are times when that's comforting. I like the circling diction of this poem. The way men and women are conflated as equals through the diction of the lines--the nurse characterized as "her" and "him." And also "patriot," "soul," "country," and "being" become locked in some sort of geometric proof as the syntax and diction work themselves out. The words are unmoored from their politics and set free by forming a new equation, a new sentence. That's something of the same sort that happens with political diction, in which words are repeated endlessly by different persons with the same agenda such that phrases that were once separate become connected in the common mind of the public. I'm not saying that politicians are poetic, just that they make use of some of the rhetorical tricks of poetry. This is what Plato warned against, is it not?

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