Friday, August 16, 2013

A little heavy culture: Is this a love poem?

Althouse commented yesterday about some "electrical engineer" who didn't understand the poem his girlfriend gave him and wrote to an advice columnist about it. Either that or, as Althouse hints, the whole thing is a put on.

Anyway, the line the guy claims not to understand is, "nobody, not even the rain,has such small hands". Well, does anybody understand that line? It's not meant to have meaning along the lines of, "The men's room is the second door on your left."

First of all, though, why does the girlfriend even know this poem? There are millions of love poems out there. Why did she settle on this one? The answer is because it's in the Woody Allen film Hannah and Her Sisters. This reminds me of one of my favourite Dostoevsky quotes:
But let me tell you, the whole trouble stems from immaturity and sentimentality! It’s not the practical aspects of socialism that fascinate him, but its emotional appeal – its idealism –what we may call its mystical, religious aspect – its romanticism…and on top of that, he just parrots other people.
Take "socialism" and replace it with "culture"  and you have a perfect description of this woman. She is sentimental and immature and her terribly meaningful love poem is just something she has parroted from a movie she saw. (Not incidentally, she doesn't seem to have noticed that the guy who cites the poem in the movie is a shallow manipulator of women.)

But let's take a look at the poem itself for a moment.  Here are a couple of stanzas or your consideration:
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
Does anything about them seem familiar?

Here is a hint, imagine that you're a guy raised in classic New England Unitarian  tradition the way Cummings was. You know the Bible well; you know it really well. You have a certain freedom in how you interpret but you've read it over and over again. You know bits like this one from Psalm 104 by heart:
These all look to you,
     to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
     when you open your hand, they are filled
          with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
     when you take away their spirit, they die
     and return to dust.
When you sen forth your Spirit, they are created;
     and you renew the face of the earth.
I think the similarity here is close enough that we have to take seriously the possibility that Cummings isn't talking about human love at all but about God's love. But even if you don't want to accept that, you have to admit that the relationship between the voice in the poem and the person to whom it is addressed is more like human to God than something like, "Hey Baby, I want to know, will you be my girl".

This need not actually imply God as many twentieth century poems and songs make a similar move. The notion that love is the key ingredient in personal happiness is very much a part of modernism and with it comes a tendency to treat the lover as having God-like abilities to transform us into something better than we are. More alarmingly, what also comes with it is a sense of entitlement that says we all deserve to have someone who can love us this way and that they are morally obliged to effect such a change in us.

What do I think? I think the poem is about God beacuse he is the only being it could really apply to:
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
He says, "nothing which we are to perceive in this world"!!!! Do the poet the favour of taking what he actually wrote seriously.

I also think that anyone who would give this poem to someone as sign of their love is a pretentious git.

No comments:

Post a Comment