09 January 2006

The Still Unwavering Eye: Layton Redux

      As promised in a comment here, RK has posted an entry on Irving Layton, along with the poems "Against This Death" and the wonderful "Berry Picking."  Go read them.  Please.  Consider it an act of defiance, if you must, of the ludicrous correctness that has spurned him for far too long.  And afterwards, let me know if you can tell the difference between contemporary "correctness" and old-fashioned philistinism, because, frankly, I can't. 
     FOLLOW-UP:  Or, rather, further reading.  Here is (arguably) Layton's most famous poem, and certainly a personal favourite:
The Cold Green Element (1940)

At the end of the garden walk
the wind and its satellite wait for me;
their meaning I will not know
           until I go there,
but the black-hatted undertaker

who, passing, saw my heart beating in the grass,
is also going there. Hi, I tell him,
a great squall in the Pacific blew a dead poet
           out of the water,
who now hangs from the city's gates.

Crowds depart daily to see it, and return
with grimaces and incomprehension;
if its limbs twitched in the air
           they would sit at its feet
peeling their oranges.

And turning over I embrace like a lover
the trunk of a tree, one of those
for whom the lightning was too much
            and grew a brillant
hunchback with a crown of leaves.

The ailments escaped from the labels
of medicine bottles and all fled to the wind;
I've seen myself lately in the eyes
             of old women,
spent streams mourning my manhood,

in whose old pupils the sun became
a bloodsmear on broad catalpa leaves
and hanging from ancient twigs,
            my murdered selves
sparked the air like muted collisions

of fruit. A black dog howls down my blood,
a black dog with yellow eyes;
he too by someone's inadvertence
             saw the bloodsmear
on the broad catalpa leaves.

But the furies clear a path for me to the worm
who sang for an hour in the throat of a robin,
and misled by the cries of young boys
             I am again
a breathless swimmer in that cold green element.

I should also point out that my earlier entry on Layton managed to find itself collected by a woman named Tara Gowland who put together a commemorative blog for Layton.  Nice-- very nice-- to see.   
     By the way, for the report on the funeral proceedings, just click this way

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