Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"In the life we lead together every paradise is lost."

I’ve spent the past couple of days immersed in the poetry of Robert Hass, writing a review of The Apple Trees at Olema. (Review will be out Thursday—I’ll post the link.) I love Hass’s poems, mostly. He has his weak spots and dreary moments, like any great writer, but my usual response to his work is pure pleasure—the pleasure of words, the pleasure of regarding beauty, the pleasure of peeking into the less well-lit corners of the heart. Even the poems that force me to look at things I’d rather not offer the satisfaction of clarity. This puts Hass in my personal pantheon of delightful poets, who rank somewhere below the maddening poets. They often bring no pleasure at all, but they have the power to disrupt my world. Robinson Jeffers is one of those. What an exasperating crank of a poet he was—angry, preachy, sometimes utterly incomprehensible. And yet, reading a poem like “Apology for Bad Dreams” leaves me feeling that I have slipped into a consciousness I could otherwise never have experienced.

But back to the more lovable Hass, here’s a snippet of “Against Botticelli,” a popular poem of his that I rediscover with every reading. You will find the rest of it here. The final lines explain the choice of art for this post.

In the life we lead together every paradise is lost.
Nothing could be easier: summer gathers new leaves
to casual darkness. So few things we need to know.
And the old wisdoms shudder in us and grow slack.
Like renunciation. Like the melancholy beauty
of giving it all up. Like walking steadfast
in the rhythms, winter light and summer dark.

From "Against Botticelli" by Robert Hass

Primavera (detail), Sandro Botticelli, c.1482

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