Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rabbits and Ghosts

It's been a while since I've written about Wallace Stevens and I read a few poems of his during a planning period yesterday and after spending way too much time with "The Dwarf," I came to "A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts," which opens like this:

The difficulty to think at the end of the day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur --

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

It goes on from there, but I'm most interested in those two stanzas and the insistence, the realization, the recognition that there's a certain bitterness, a certain sadness, at the end of any day -- not just because the day is ending and you'll never have that day again and you have that sort of purple twilight wistful feeling (of the sort embodied in the opening chords of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks) and you know that every day, no matter how good, will end, but also because you can't help, regardless of how you spent that day, but see something else at the end of the same day, fat, content, and peaceful. And presumably not thinking about the day as you are, not happy to see it finally draw to a close nor sad to see it over so soon. Simply red of tongue and full of milk, full of its day in the sun, full of its self in the best sense of that phrase.

And I know that that's not a complete understanding of the poem, or even an attempt at a complete understanding, looking, as it does, only at two of the eight stanzas. And I'm not tempted, over the course of the poem, to read the rabbit, the King of the Ghosts (as the title has it) as somehow symbolic of me, or of mankind, or of Bill Fox, or of Adlai Stevenson, or whatever. Not even suggestive of me or Adlai. But, just as there is pleasure in the whole of the poem, of a poem, there is pleasure in the part, in the shard, in the language of those six lines, in the potential truth even in that fragment.

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