Thursday, February 1, 2007

Derek Mahon, "The Snow Party"

(for Louis Asekoff)

Basho, coming
To the city of Nagoya,
Is asked to a snow party.

There is a tinkling of china
And tea into china;
There are introductions.

Then everyone
Crowds to the window
To watch the falling snow.

Snow is falling on Nagoya
And farther south
On the tiles of Kyoto;

Eastward, beyond Irago,
It is falling
Like leaves on the cold sea.

Elsewhere they are burning
Witches and heretics
In the boiling squares,

Thousands have died since dawn
In the service
Of barbarous kings;

But there is silence
In the houses of Nagoya
And the hills of Ise.


From The Snow Party (1975)

This poem provides a counterpoint to Wilbur. The mention of "barbarous" acts being perpetrated against humanity "Elsewhere" implicitly critiques the 'civilized' aestheticism of the snow party and the "silence" of poets who turn away from the ugliness of the world, ignoring it in preference for beauty. Ironically, this poem participates in such a bias as well, focusing on the aesthetic realm, its implicit ethical comment a form of "silence" as well. Choosing the poet Basho for a protagonist, Mahon seems to express a sympathy, or at least empathy, with the desire to use poetry for escape from the darkness of the world. But he remains concerned about the cost of the escape, about what ends poetry can serve. The poem itself is obviously far more subtle and delicately ambivalent than my clumsy explication.

(More about Derek Mahon:


sahadeva said...

What a great poem Evan, and thoughtful commentary. Last year in Japan I was fortunate to catch the first snow while riding a "futsu" (slow) train through a craggy mountain pass on my wait to Matsumoto, a castle in the northern provinces -- it was quite beautiful. Years earlier my father told me of his trip to Hiroshima, of the weight he felt as a result of that cities history. This poem reminded me of both sides of Japan perfectly, and of the struggle of artist to live in these two worlds.

Quotidian Poet said...

Thanks Saha. I know I've written more articulately about the poem in the past, but I think your example and way of putting it get the 'struggle' exactly.

Anonymous said...

wait a minute whose evan? im so confused! i thought his name was derek now im gonna have to change all of my essay! thank god i would of looked so stupid if i handed up an essay about evan and me calling him derek..

Unknown said...

Hey Anonymous,

The poem in the post ("The Snow Party") is by Derek Mahon ... Sahadeva was simply thanking me for posting it. Good luck with your essay, I guess.