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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

I've Tasted My Blood; and Poem (two Milton Acorn poems)

this is an audio post - click to play

It's odd — at least I find it odd — and wonderful that two of the best poems that Milton Acorn wrote both depend on images of his mother's beauty and sadness. In I've Tasted My Blood, the first poem in his collection of the same name, he writes in the second stanza

But my mother's look
was a field of brown oats, soft-bearded;
her voice rain and air rich with lilacs:
and I loved her too much to like
how she dragged her days like a sled over gravel.
I suppose a fellow could have some fun getting all freudian on that, but fuck the freudians — I'd argue that the figure of Acorn's mother is a pragmatic, perhaps inevitable, choice made in order for this poem to achieve its full strength, you might say the figure tempers it — let's look at those images and how they might work together.

"...A field of brown oats, soft-bearded." Now that's got a lot going on in its autumn image of ripe grain ready for harvest; you can go right back to Greek mythology with that line, to Demeter and Persephone and the cycle of the seasons. The next line is spring, spring in the sense of the season of freshness, birth and new growth, and spring in the sense of a source of water nourishing all that grows, so I find it quite apt that this line comes immediately after and is allowed to seep up into the the field of brown oats. The last two lines are a stark, guttural depiction of how harsh and wearying life could be in the 1920's and 30's (Acorn's childhood) which are the years to which the poem sinks its deepest roots. Acorn delivers all this texture in five short lines and in simple, direct language.

The rest of the poem is much harder-edged and aggressive, full of anger and sadness at the things the world allows itself to compass and condone so that a person, any person, might be what is described in the first few lines of the second stanza and still be brought in the end to dragging their days "like a sled over gravel." That stanza is the poem's point, its pivot, and its bedrock; its tenderness is also its hard, ultimate truth.

Now Poem (p. 30, I've Tasted My Blood : poems 1956-1968. Selected by Al Purdy. Ryerson, 1969; Toronto : Steel Rail Educational Pub., 1978.), Poem is a reiteration and expansion of the theme around which the previously discussed poem turns. The expansion being the juxtapositions of Acorn's memory of himself as a child and how he saw his mother then

...a goddess of green age
and

...the whole room full of that smile

And how he also remembers her — at what would be an only slightly older age for her — at the time of the poem's writing as

...young
with hair red as a blossom

And of course all of those things also juxtaposed with the final stanza's image of an old woman filling her days with what she has and doing the small things that need to be done. It's a poem of knowledge of change and inevitability, of knowledge of the wisdom and necessity of duty, and of wonder at possessing those bits of knowledge.



update: edited for sense, realized I hadn't finished a paragraph

4 comments:

Brenda Schmidt said...

Wonderful, John. Be glad you don't live close to me - I'd forever be bugging you to read this and that.

Brenda Schmidt said...

...read to me, I mean.

MackJohnny said...

Consider me glad.

Brenda Schmidt said...

Ha! For that I will buy the house next door to you.

Seriously though, Acorn is a poet I haven't read much of. I must remedy that.