Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Medbh McGuckian, "She Which Is Not, He Which Is"

An elm box without any shape inscribed
Like a tool in the closed vessel of the world;
I will be flat like a dream on both sides,
Or a road that makes one want to walk.

My words will be without words
Like a net hidden in a lake,
Their pale individual moisture
My eyes will not be the eyes of a poet
Whose voice is beyond death;
This face, these clothes, will be a field in autumn
And the following autumn, will be two sounds,
The second of which is deeper.

The sky for me on any one night
Will be the successive skies over the course
Of a year, for time that I love
Will have cut up and entered my body;
Time will have gathered the roots
Of my last spring, floating rather
Than anchored, and thrust them between
The two planes of my cheek and brow.

Even now, his lips are becoming
Narrower and bloodless, ever-searching,
Razor-like; unforgettable time,
During which I forget time, a new sort
Of time that descends so far down
Into me and still stays pure.

I imagine his house as a possible setting
For the harmony between one drop of water
And another, one wave and another wave,
Where the light accustoms one to light
And each occurrence is a touch.

When we pass through some darkness,
The waiting has pulled us.
Without the help of words, words take place.

Compared with this absence, weighed,
Diluted in time presence is abandonment,
Absence his manner of appearing,
As though one received from outside
The energy to accept the swept room
As much as the sweeping.

Though each instant of light
Wipes away a little of it
We shall not lose the way
In which things receive it:

Carry me who am death
Like a bowl of water
Filled to the brim
From one place to another.


From Marconi's Cottage (1991)

I can't say for certain that this poem should qualify as an elegy, much as I can't say 'for certain' what many of Medbh McGuckian's poems are 'about'. Certainly her father's impending and actual death was a major force in this collection and the one after it; I considered choosing a number of other poems that arguably are more clearly elegies. What I love about this one, however, is its very puzzling nature - the final stanza seems to imply death as a character, perhaps even (one of) the poem's speaker(s) - is death then the "She Which Is Not"? Or, since the poem interrogates both time and absenve vs. presence, it seems that the dead could be "He Which Is" most present in the vacant life of the mourning titular "She". McGuckian's style is particularly suited to interrogating such issues - the limits of life, being, sense - for at a formal level they push the limits of syntax, sense, meaning, perception. In contrast to Muldoon's "Incantata"'s equivocation, McGuckian's verse seeks to talk about death, and what it means to the living, by a new way of saying.

1 comment:

Paula said...

The last stanza simply turned me speechless. It is like a mute cry, asking for love and caring but not really daring to ask.
With best wishes,