Sunday, October 24, 2010

`Which But Expressions Be of Inward Evils'

Late Friday, as I read in the living room, the rest of the house asleep, a sharp scream sounded outside, close but not at the door. I guessed female and young, a single discrete sound, no giggling, crying or footfalls. It might have been distress or fooling around, a precursor of Halloween. By the time I moved off the couch to peer through the curtain, the scene outside, illuminated by a cone of dim yellow light, was empty and still. All the windows were black. No cars, pedestrians or cats. Another minor mystery unresolved, but the small jolt of surprise, something elemental, still tingled. I had been reading Selected Poems of Fulke Greville, edited by Thom Gunn. Here is "Sonnet 100" from Caelica:

“In night when colours all to black are cast,
Distinction lost, or gone down with the light;
The eye a watch to inward senses plac'd,
Not seeing, yet still having power of sight,
Gives vain alarums to the inward sense,
Where fear stirr'd up with witty tyranny,
Confounds all powers, and thorough self-offence
Doth forge and raise impossibility;
Such as in thick-depriving darkness
Proper reflections of the error be;
And images of self-confusedness,
Which hurt imaginations only see,
And from this nothing seen, tells news of devils;
Which but expressions be of inward evils.”

Darkness encourages the morbid imagination, even in those of us no longer prey to nameless fears. Thoughts dismissible in daylight nag at night. R.L. Barth, poet, editor and Vietnam combat veteran, uses the first two lines of Greville’s sonnet as the epigraph for “Night-Piece” (Looking for Peace, 1985):

“No moon, no stars, only the leech-black sky,
Until Puff rends the darkness, spewing out
his thin red flames, and then the quick reply
Of blue-green tracers climbing all about.
In night such lovely ways to kill, to die.”

1 comment:

Shelley said...

Years ago when I too was tutoring a student, who was in a low-income program, in her multiplication tables, and she kept having trouble concentrating, she finally looked up at me and said: "My grandma said when the rocket hits the moon, blood will pour out and drown us all."

It was the day before the first moon landing. No wonder she couldn't concentrate on 8 times 7.

We must all listen to children much more carefully than we usually do. They need our ears.