Friday, January 19, 2007

Sylvia Plath, "The Times are Tidy"

Unlucky the hero born
In this province of the stuck record
Where the most watchful cooks go jobless
And the mayor's rotisserie turns
Round of its own accord.

There's no career in the venture
Of riding against the lizard,
Himself withered these latter-days
To leaf-size from lack of action:
History's beaten the hazard.

The last crone got burnt up
More than eight decades back
With the love-hot herb, the talking cat,
But the children are better for it,
The cow milks cream an inch thick.


I'm writing as a guest -- not only to The Poetic Quotidian but in many ways to poetry itself ('up the novel!' says this prose girl). I own Sylvia Plath's collected works (I nearly wrote 'woks', which would actually be a far more impressive and unique Plath collection to own) but never spend extended time reading poem after poem. I dip infrequently and see what's to be found. The title of this one caught me first, and the rest of the poem mirrors its timeless and yet neatly specific feel: Reading it gave me whiffs of the Salem witch trials, Guantanamo Bay, a nameless fairy-tale kingdom, the unemployment line in Los Angeles ... Her line breaks are punchy without feeling contrived, especially in the first stanza. Her imagery throughout is vivid without being specific -- rich, sensual moments (rotisserie, leaf-size lizard, cream, love-hot herb) could be allegories for any number of things, or nothing. Whether or not the poem is read as political (the ennui of a would-be revolutionary?) it has a deftness and obliqueness that appeals more than anything with a finer point on it. The blunted references and pictorial sensibility remind me a lot of Wallace Stevens' "The Emperor of Ice-cream". Both poems share a compactness and confidence that hit hard and bolt-clear.

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