Tafelmusik

An Illusory Intertwingling of Reason and Response

Literary: Anything waxing literary and Classical goes here. Occasionally I’ll put up a post which is entirely or largely a poem. Those go in Poetry. I even sometimes (though I would be the first to tell you that “literary criticism is bunk”) post some critique.

Tafel :: literary :: critique

Friday, February 18, 2005

“The Garden”, by Ezra Pound

Like a skein of loose silk blown against a wall,
She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington Gardens,
And she is dying piece-meal
To a sort of emotional anæmia.

And round about there is a rabble
Of the filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor.
They shall inherit the earth.

In her is the end of breeding.
Her boredom is exquisite and excessive.
She would like some one to speak to her,
And is almost afraid that I
Will commit that indiscretion.

*****

“The Garden” holds out, “like a loose skein of silk”, the wealthy and wise whom Pound despised, to be soiled by contact with what is less delicate, and in his view, of more worth. Those “sturdy, unkillable infants” who would inherit the earth deserved the earth, since they were the “very poor” generated by the years of privilege which had bred this exquisite, bored beauty.

“In her is the end of breeding.” Yes, we all know that Pound was opposed to any sort of elite. However, the picture of her we see is one of a woman truly deserving of our contempt. Lest we feel justified in loving or allowing the wealthy (in the which case, her mere station — which was Pound’s cause against her — would not be enough to prejudice us against her), Pound ensures that wealth is coupled intimately with a character innately disturbing.

In her “exquisite and excessive” boredom, the woman meandering through Kensington Gardens is a commentary on what the elite had become by Pound’s day. While fortunes were built on foundations both good and bad (the oppressive foundations of wealth predictably dwelt upon by Pound’s contemporaries), they eventually became self-existent entities of a being entirely separate from those who owned them. The elite became no more elite by right and by labour, but elite by mere descent. The woman is not a victorious, worthwhile producer of wealth, but merely an end user of her parents’ and grandparents’ work. She is our decadent.

However, hate for its own sake is never so strong as a justified disliking. Pound never gives us a woman to hate, but rather, nearly an inamorata into whom we see too much to allow us to act upon our love. We feel appropriate and unbiased in condemning her decadence, since we are acting contrary to the strong drawing power she has upon our emotions (hence, contrary to our surface bias): we cannot be reacting unjustly, since we are in love with our beautiful, silken, “end of breeding”.

She is also described as emotionally anemic. Herein, I think, is Pound’s reason for ascribing a greater worth to the “sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor”. Pain produces emotion, and if she is both worthless and without emotion, one might deduce (subconsciously, of course) that those who possess emotion are inherently of greater value.

So he destroys, in an act of beauty, a moral segment of society by its association with her problems. “The Garden” is, regardless, an act of beauty.

The image of the silk blowing up against a wall is pregnant, somehow, with a power which only grows the more familiar the image becomes. At the first, I was able to read swiftly past it, noting in the first stanza nothing more than “ . . . Kensington Gardens . . . dying . . . emotional anæmia.” However, upon successive readings, the opening image rose in my mind to the point that, before remembering even the garden (though that is second), this poem comes to my mind as a white drapery of silk being held (off-camera) so that it hangs next to a river-stone wall of about six feet in height, and perpetually blowing, caressingly, against the smooth stones and grey mortar.

The “exquisite and excessive” boredom is that carried by generation upon generation of women who are familiar with the sound of men’s hearts shattering. The sound, after so long, does not produce in her any more the thrill it once did, and indeed, she secretly wishes both to hear and to not hear the faint cry of one more. Her beauty, though, precludes any hope of her not hearing such a cry.

The tense thoughtfulness which is fondly thought to reside in such unattainable women by the men who worship them is present in her desire (at least from the man’s perspective) to be spoken to, and in her fear that he of all men will be the one to do so. Pound must have felt at least a twinge of desire for this woman whose class he detested and feared, and in whose “breeding” he saw no purpose. Only one who knew the allure of an exquisitely bored woman — of the challenge it would be to demolish that willful boredom — would know her fear.

And, in the fourth stanza, written in the margins only by the imaginations of those who have known and loved such women, her fears are realized; for I know that the indiscretion must be committed. “I will commit that indiscretion.”

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