Saturday, April 4, 2009

NPM, I: "The Broken Bowl," James Merrill

I see on other blogs that April is National Poetry Month. So I thought I'd begin to round up a few of my favorite poems and then I'll have them at hand here.
If I regret getting rid of any of my books six summers ago, it is the poetry books. Poems aren't like novels, which you can check out of the library every few years and reread at one go. You want to have them at hand, for a glance now and then.

"The Broken Bowl" is a favorite from many years ago. When I reread it just now, I was surprised at how romantic it is. (It's one of the poet's early works, as you might guess.) I hesitated to post it, but then I thought, no, I still feel this way after all. And James Merrill is no Hallmark card to smile and toss.

NPM is meant to clebrate poetry in American culture. I won't limit myself to American poets, but I did note that the NYT obituary quoted Merrill as saying he was "as American as lemon chiffon pie."

"The Broken Bowl"

To say it once held daisies and bluebells
Ignores, if nothing else,
Much diehard brilliance where, crashed to the floor,
The wide bowl lies that seemed to cup the sun,
Its green leaves wilted, its loyal blaze undone,
All spilt, its glass integrity no more.
From piece to shattered piece
A fledgling rainbow struggles for release.

Did also the heart shatter when it slipped?
Shards flash, becoming script,
Imperfection's opal signature
Whose rays in disarray hallucinate
At dusk so glittering a network that
The plight of reason, ever shakier,
Is broadcast through the room
Which rocks in sympathy, a pendulum.

No lucid, self-containing artifice
At last, but fire, ice,
A world in jeopardy. What lets the bowl
Nonetheless triumph by inconsequence
And wrestle harmony from dissonance
And with the fragments build another, whole,
Inside us, which we feel
Can never break, or grow less bountiful?

Love does that. Spectral through the fallen dark,
Eye-beam and ingle-spark
Refract our ruin into this new space,
Timeless and concentric, a spotlight
To whose elate arena we allot
Love's facets reassembling face by face,
Love's warbler among leaves,
Love's monuments, or tombstones, on our lives.

--James Merrill

1 comment:

Marz said...

"Much diehard brilliance"---this must be an actual Die Hard reference. There's a famous scene with lots of broken glass.