Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Medbh McGuckian, "On Her Second Birthday"

for Emer Mary Charlotte Rose

In the beginning I was no more
Than a rising and falling mist
You could see through without seeing.

A flame burnt up the paper
On which my gold was written,
The wind like a soul
Seeking to be born
Carried off half
Of what I was able to say.

It seems as though
To explain the shape of the world
We must fall apart,
Throw ourselves upon the world,
Slip away from ourselves
Through the world's inner road,
Whose atoms make us weary.

Suddenly ever more lost
Between the trees
I saw the edge of the forest
Which had no end,
Which I came dangerously close
To accepting for my life,

And followed with my eye a shadow
Floating from hotizon to horizon
Which I mistook for my own.
It grew greater while I grew less,
Gliding like a world, a tapestry
One looks at from the back.

The more it changed
The more it changed me into itself,
Till I regarded it as more real
Than all else, more ardent
Than love. Higher than the air
Of a dream,
A field in which I ripened
From an unmoving, continually nascent
Light into pure light.

My contours can still
Just be made out, in the areas of fragrance
Of its power over me.
A slight tremor betrays
The imperfection of the union
In its first surface.

But I flow outwards till I am something
Belonging to it and flower again
More perfectly everywhere present in it.
It believes in me,
It cannot do without me,
I know its name:
One day it will pass my mind into its body.


From Marconi's Cottage (1991)

In contrast to yesterday, today's poem's title announces the solution to its riddle - without it, one might suspect this was a pregnancy poem, but it would be hard to be certain, given McGuckian's fiercely challenging metaphors. That accessibility makes this among the better introductions to McGuckian (b. 1950), whose strange syntax and imagery demands and seduces an agility and plasticity of readerly response that goes far beyond more mainstream lyric practice. Whereas Plath's metaphors were striking for their application - easily intelligible, though they challenged conventional positive views of motherhood - the entire universe of McGuckian's poetry seems, in one way, alien to the prose of everyday life. But though it is strange, it is also an evocatively convincing articulation of the metaphysical experience of pregnancy and motherhood. The first several stanzas suggest an obscure, as-yet-unrealized potential being formed, the imagery echoing gestation, the womb, the accreting fetus, the interdependent connection building towards schism. The poem also expresses the mother's sense of how her life has changed, her sense of investment in and dedication to the life of her daughter, the shift of the center to that other life. This goes beyond just sentiment to a metaphysical sense of identification with that other life, a sense of living through it, in a dual selfhood, the dependency of the child being at the same time a dependency of the mother, which will culminate in transfer: "One day it will pass my mind into its body."

(More about Medbh McGuckian:

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