Friday, July 04, 2014

`Arise and Vanish in the Same Morning Mists'

Yes, of course, the Second Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence. Fifty years on, Adams and Jefferson are dead. James Monroe joins them five years later. Hawthorne is born. So is Stephen Foster. Whitman brings out Leaves of Grass. Vicksburg surrenders and Lee retreats. Calvin Coolidge is born. So are Rube Goldberg, Meyer Lansky, Lionel Trilling, Mitch Miller and Bill Withers. And six years ago, Tom Disch ends his life on Independence Day. Always more than half in love with easeful death, his poems and prose are effortlessly mined for ready-made epitaphs; some solemn, most provocative. Among the latter is “Systems of Mourning” (About the Size of It, 2007): 

“The Irish hire keeners, the English mutes.
Some hobbyists will bronze the loved one’s boots. 

“Revival theaters devote entire weeks
To proofs that Elvis Lives and Garbo Speaks. 

“Vikings consign their chieftains to the waves,
And Amy Clampitt visits famous graves. 

“Sorrowing bees return to ruined hives,
And Hindus burn their neighbors’ grieving wives. 

“A dog will mourn his master like a serf
By pissing on the dear departed’s turf. 

“Some weep in silence, others cry out loud,
And Susan Cheever sells her father’s shroud.” 

No one today writes with Disch’s cant-free, Swiftian precision. In 1995, he collected some of his reviews in The Castle of Indolence: On Poetry, Poets, and Poetasters. In “Death and the Poet,” a subject he returns to obsessively, he writes: 

“Poetry, like so much else that is beautiful, is ephemeral. A butterfly, a nightingale, a sip of wine. It slips away, the particular joining the general. How many marvelously apt haikus have been written—and lost before the sun came up? Several million at least. Any poet must be prepared to see his work arise and vanish in the same morning mists.”


C. Rancio said...

The whole poem is witty, but the last couplet makes it devastating

George said...

Harsh. But last week's NY Times Sunday Magazine gave her two pointless pages in the matter of E.E. Cummings's father's death.