Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sonnet 4 - Ah when you drift hover - Berryman

As mentioned in earlier post, John Berryman's (1914 - 1972) 115 sonnets were an accounting of the course of a love affair with a married woman.  By this one's number, it's at the beginning. 

It's not an "easy" poem after the first four lines.... but what first four lines they are!  They alone are worth it.  Who hasn't felt so enraptured, connected and complete that nothing else that moment matters - not life, not wondering "...the point of life..."!  Those lines are the gold-standard for describing the drug-like "high" of kissing a lover.  (There.  Now I've made you, dear reader - AND myself! - entirely self-conscious about the next time we kiss.   Yes, even each other!)  

The rest of the sonnet requires a bit more "work" for full appreciation, particularly with the classical references.  (I wrestled with whether to post this poem at all because of that.)  

However, as quick help, "swine-enchanted lover" is a reference to the Odyssey and Circe, the enchantress who turned Odysseus' crew into animals, notably pigs.  (Hmm.... is this where it comes from that women call men "pigs"?)  "Melpomene" was one of  the 9 Muses, the goddesses of dance, music, and song, in Greek mythology.  Each "covered" one area in the arts, and Melpomene was the Muse of tragedy.  "Erato", on the other hand, was the Muse of erotic poetry....so we know where Berryman was headed (if not already there).  He was a lustful, lively - and tormented - man who, like his father, eventually committed suicide (click on his name above for a link to a brief bio).  It's good to have in this poem - and many others - a record of his joy.

Sonnet 4 – Ah when you drift hover

Ah when you drift hover before you kiss
More your mouth yours now, lips grow more to mine
Teeth click, suddenly your tongue like a mulled wine
Slides fire, -- I wonder what the point of life is.
Do, down this night when I adore you, Lise,
So I forsake the blest assistant shine
Of deep-laid maps I made for summits, swine-
enchanted lover, loafing in the abyss?

Loaf hardly, while my nerves dance, while the gale
Moans like your hair down here.  But I lie still.
Strengthless and smiling under a maenad rule.
Whose limbs worked once, whose imagination’s grail
Many or some would nourish, must now I fill
My strength with desire, my cup with your tongue,
          no more Melpomene’s but Erato’s fool?...

                                                      John Berryman

No comments: