Sunday, April 23, 2017

`I Alone Shall Never Know'

Saturday was the 103rd birthday of C.H. Sisson, the poet who has been my happiest literary discovery of the new century. My only regret is not having known his work years earlier and followed the growth of an old man as a new poet. He died in 2003 at age 89. His working assumption, never revised, can be bluntly stated: rhythm is “the essence of poetry.” Several times he cites the French writer Charles Maurras: “Reason may convince, but it is rhythm that persuades.” Here is “Finale,” the last new poem in Sisson’s Collected Poems (Carcanet, 1998):

“Nothing means anything now:
I am alone
-- My mind a vacant space,
My heart of stone.

“A tuneless thing I am,
A broken lyre.
I cannot even boast
A flameless fire.

“There is the work I did
-- Paper and ink --
I have no part in it:
There is no link

“Between the man who wrote
-- And more, was once alive,
And this relic for whom
The end does not arrive.

"Although the life has gone
There is no corpse to show:
When others find it, I
Alone shall never know.”

In his review of A C.H. Sisson Reader (Carcanet, 2014), Vidyan Ravinthiran isn’t shy about expressing his reservations regarding Sisson’s poetry and politics. But he recognizes that Sisson is not a monolith. His work is evidence of a pleasingly complicated sensibility, ever resistant to instant understanding and paraphrase. Ravinthiran writes:   

“Although he wouldn’t be impressed by my leap from literary form to politics`the world is changing fast, and not even formal rhyme-schemes will save us from this,’ quips Sissonit does seem to me that the conservative poets belief, like that of Edmund Burke, in the slow organic growth of an irresistible culture, sits oddly, if at all, with his more periodic, oblique, fractured verse.”

1 comment:

Di said...

Yesterday was Nabokov's birthday.