Thursday, November 6, 2008

it's not that we're scared, it's just that it's delicate


A thousand doors ago
when I was a lonely kid
in a big house with four
garages and it was summer
as long as I could remember,
I lay on the lawn at night,
clover wrinkling under me,
the wise stars bedding over me,
my mother's window a funnel
of yellow heat running out,
my father's window, half shut,
an eye where sleepers pass,
and the boards of the house
were smooth and white as wax
and probably a million leaves
sailed on their strange stalks
as the crickets ticked together
and I, in my brand new body,
which was not a woman's yet,
told the stars my questions
and thought God could really see
the heat and the painted light,
elbows, knees, dreams, goodnight.
-Anne Sexton

In our discussion of Anne Sexton's poetry today, I made a suggestion that was fairly quickly dismissed. I posed an argument that the poem (transcribed above) is laden with sexual undertones. Before this the discussion was mainly centering on some vague feeling of loss that the poem conveyed, that it is a reflection on a time lost, peaceful, serene. The discussion was less a discussion and more a popcorn machine popping sporadic comments, but purity was mentioned, innocence, childhood. Given that it seemed established that this was a lament on some loss of innocence, I really didn't think it was a giant leap to my reading: that the poem is a reflection on the moment before losing her virginity, and how that changed things. I mentioned something about the language; how she was laying on her back, the stars "bedding" over her, her new body "not a woman's yet," "heat," "elbows, knees" etc. which was received with some hearty, but probably mostly nervous laughter. Cotton just said "well, I've been around the block, but I don't see that."

Eh. So I probably seem like some kind of pervert to my fellow classmates who don't know me, but I swear it's in there. I'm not crazy.

I got the feeling that my line of discussion was so quickly dismissed because we had some visitors in the class. A prospective student and her parents, who got up and left before our discussion of the next selection. We also neglected to discuss "Housewife" I think for the very same reason (there's no getting around the undertones (overtones) in that one. Actually, maybe there is, because a few of my small group members really thought she was talking about a house). I think we would have discussed it had they not been there, which was disconcerting to me, because, if that was the case, then we're sacrificing honesty and truth to gain... what? Why should we pacify prospective student's parents when they come to visit, making our University look like a resort of some kind; what is that? It's academia, not Club Med. We're also lying to the student, I think. And do we really even want a student body that is unwilling to roll up their sleeves and address some stuff that isn't comfortable? (I hope this doesn't come off like I'm senselessly bashing Southeastern, because I really do like my school. And it's really annoying how much people complain about it.)

I understand the need to be delicate when it comes to questionable literature, but we also need to be real. This is a constant problem in the English department here; where to draw the line.

My sentiment is that the line is unimportant, that closing your eyes to something does not make it go away, that truth is more important than anyone's sensibilities, and that we should be "wise as serpents, and gentle as doves."


c. said...

"Actually, maybe there is, because a few of my small group members really thought she was talking about a house," what is the world coming to?

I really did pick up on the "undertones," but I thought I was just being overcritical and oversexed. I think we should look for a commentary.

katie said...

I think that's a very insightful comment to make... you're just being a good student. Sometimes intellect gets smothered by fear.

Steve Mitchell said...

I didn't mean to belittle my small group members... it's not such a bad thing that they didn't pick up on the nuance. They had lots of great things to say. So I wouldn't say: "what is the world coming to?"

I just meant that perhaps that motif is not as strong as I thought it was.

I'm no expert on the subject. Not even close. I hope it doesn't seem like that's what I was saying.

RLS said...

steve :) I feel like I haven't seen you in ages...