Softly, the undernotes.
But that is the oversound, a tone fully imbued--and what interests me at the moment is Wright's quiet undersinging, the subtle but invoked other story that so often slips in beside the poems' central image or theme, beckoned sometimes by a single word. Among the pairings of opposites poets like to discuss, complexity and simplicity is a favorite. In Wright's poems of simplicity--gracefully clear in image, spare in word--another note is struck. And this harmonizing moment, or gesture, brings the seemingly simple poems into satisfying complexity.
I follow Frost, of course, in using sound to refer to a quality more like story, for it is Eve's tone of meaning that the birds' song acquires, its oversound. And it is Wright's collateral stories--shuttled in by a figure or allusion, literary or religious--that so please me here. His undernotes.
A favorite sestet: one of Wright's several meditations on the soul's predicament, in this world and whatever one might come after. "Yellow Wings" is credibly a poem about light--for that light (variously whitish, impermanent, and dissolving) is subject of each o[pounds sterling] the poems three sentences. Except the second sentence invokes the soul midway through, and it is the wish of this soul that swamps the poem, drawing everything in: "This is the lost, impermanent light / The soul is pulled toward, and longs for, deep in its cave, / Little canary." Thus subject becomes object--of desire--and this soul, pining and pulled, is the reason the light is mentioned at all. And the little canary, deep in the cave? The soul itself, of course, renamed and figured almost as an afterthought. Recognition dawns: The cave is Plato's cave, the soul there craving its ascent to the upper world of intellect and light.
But it is that afterthought--little canary--that carries such tenderness and pity, sitting alone on its line at the far reach of the sentence. Surely nothing in the allegory of the cave leads to such a consoling, tender tone. Little canary, solitary in that way, might seem more an address--and if so, to whom? Who is the little bird? Is that "you" in the first line not the referred-to self, not a synonym for "one," but a listener the poem is spoken to? Little canary conjures a subplot, almost a frame: storytelling not general, but tendered to an intimate, a lesson carefully proffered--Listen, child, you must hear this. Even the title points us here, to the pivot of that brief two-word line, the tone of which reconfigures everything.
Still the tale of a soul reaching--but not for intellectual enlightenment, not with that tenderness. This is the soul with its delicate, dissolvable wings seeking its right home: a tissue of light.
But the canary underground recalls the mine canaries in their cages, brought along to warn of poison in the air. Imprisoned, too, were those birds in their metal cages--they longed for escape, though not to the world of knowledge, and not to the world of consoling light. The underground cave loses its metaphor and becomes finally the grave-depths in the earth--gritty and physical and dark.
So much work for a single phrase to do--punctuating one reading of a poem, ferrying in another two, which coexist but do not quite resolve. Light and soul and cave carry on in their roles, the poet reserved, almost matter-of-fact in his telling. Little canary--harbinger of danger, listener, soul-self--sings-in Wright's soft undernotes.
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|Title Annotation:||Symposium II: Commentaries on Poems by Charles Wright|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2011|
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