6:44 PM Posted by James Owens

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A necklace of green parrots drapes the banyan tree.
He doesn’t see it; she doesn’t see it.

(Sanskrit, ca. 1000 BCE, translator unknown)

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It is, I suppose, allowable to read these two verses as a straightforward love poem. “He” and “she” are so absorbed in each other that they are oblivious to everything around them, including the beauty of the natural scene.

But where is the poet in this reading, the observer and recorder who is able to note both the closed loop of the lovers’ attention and its setting under the branches of the banyan? This question seems more interesting then the brief love lyric.

Just as the lovers are perfectly symmetrical, enclosed in their single verse and in their reciprocal gazes, in their mutual approach and response, there is also a violent asymmetry in the poem --- the poet gazes at the world, but the world does not gaze back at him. I say “him” because I read the eroticizing metaphor of the first line to be casting Nature in a role as feminine presence --- the parrots drape the tree as the jewels of a necklace lie across the breasts of a woman. Metaphor, this longing to see the unity between terms that are essentially other, is always an erotic maneuver (which, of course, has its feminine expression, too; it just happens to be a male gaze in this case).

So, to what extent am I willing to read this poem as being about the origins of the poetic word itself? Excluded from the hermetic delight of the two lovers, the poet transfers the erotic impulse of metaphor-making to speaking a version of the ever-unattainable natural world, a gaze that will not be returned despite renewed and renewed effort, desire for a world that is already prefigured as a lost world in the need to speak? Otherwise, there would be no need for a poem. Love would be enough.

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3 comments:

Roxana said...

I am so glad I discovered your blog, you know I've been working for some time in this field - which French theorists call "poietics", that is the science of the making, in German it is "Produktionsaesthetik", the aesthetic of production, and I'm always interested in the statements of artists regarding their own making or any making of the work of art. Your analyses are both subtle and right to the point and confirm many of my own reflections on this topic.

anhaga said...

I am glad you discovered my blog, too.

Thank you for bringing these terms, which I had not encountered before, and this field of thought to my attention. I'm very interested. A little searching on google shows that these writers are working in areas where my own thoughts have been tending lately, and I look forward to finding out more about their work.

Bryan said...

Thought-provoking; I've never really thought much about where the viewer is in poetry. Often in my own work there isn't one, and now I wonder why that is. It's funny that it's just as relevant to ask of myself (despite being aware of all context, author background and conscious meaning) as it is to ask about this poem (with no context and very little content to go on).

But perhaps there was a mundane reason for self-omission (custom, preference), or it might have been a conscious effort to exclude the rest of the world, consistent with the (sparse) depiction of the he/she. We also may be blind to a richer cultural/symbolic meaning of both the banyan tree and the parrots—perhaps green necklaces had a particular meaning?

On the linguistic side of it, even the wikipedia article
on aesthetic and poetic
makes this still more interesting for me, since I hadn't framed the problem very formally in my mind (and certainly not in terms of concepts drawn directly from linguistics). Maybe some reading in semiotics is in order.

Amazing what can spring from two ancient lines of text.