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Forgive me, father, for I have read none of your poems since your last New Yorker publication….
I’m still in the process of killing Wilbur off as an influence but I suspect it will be a mess and like all good fathers he’ll linger in perpetuity like pipe smoke on the recamier, yellowing my pages and what not.
So I really like both of these poems: “Anterooms” gives me the willies–it’s like an icy white version of David Lynch’s red room in Fire Walk with Me where the dwarf speaks in reverse and the Kyle McLaughlin character (why can I not remember his name? Agent ???) visits with the living and the dead. Time is all messed up in this ornate waiting room.
I don’t like the line “Dark they are, yet plain” particularly the ‘dark they are’ Yoda-speak bit; it’s syntactically awkward–especially coming from Wilbur’s usual silky hands–in order to make the meter. The meter is a bit mushy too, which is something you don’t see too often (ever?) in a Wilbur poem. The first and third lines of each stanza is written in an acephalous trimeter (i.e. iambic trimeter where thelead unstressed syllable in each line is lopped off). Those are fine, but I’m having problems scanning the middle lines of each stanza. I suppose they’re supposed to be trimeter as well but the line “Time so often hastens by” scans as tetrameter to me (again, acephalous) but I think Wilbur intends it to be trimeter (maybe anapest, iamb, iamb?). Actually every middle line follwing that one could be read as acephalous tetrameter. Maybe it’s the middle lines of the first two stanzas that are metrically squishy?
Moving on to “Trismegistus.”
Hermes Trismegistus was the syncretization of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth whose attributed mystical and esoteric (isn’t that tautological?) epigramattic writings are called the Corpus Hermetica. This includes platitudes such as:
“Everything that is, is double” and
“Malice is the nourishment of the World” and
“For the like always takes to itself that which is like, but the unlike never agrees with the unlike: such Discourses as these have very few Auditors, and peradventure very few will have, but they have something peculiar unto themselves.”
Perhaps more fascinating than the writings of Hermes Trismegistus is Richard Wilbur writing about Trismegistus. I don’t know why; it’s perfectly within his realm.
Wilbur isn’t so much concerned with his writings as he is his existence, his legacy. The first stanza sets up the second where Trismegistus’s existence is questioned. Scribes used to insert all kinds of junk into the texts they were transcribing and scholars used an obelus (the dagger symbol) to mark suspected forged statements. (I have a poem about this that closes my as-of-yet-unpublished collection.) Wilbur is suggesting that his whole set of writings could be a sham but whose legacy endures.
I’m not sure what the reference to Milton is all about or why his tower is pensive. (The tower has long been a metaphor for poetic imagination.)
And I like the ending where the dewdrop reflects the all, which, I suppose could either mean the heavens and the earth or you, the person viewing it.