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Sunday, 12 June 2016

'Poem' by Donald Justice

When I first read this poem I did not fully comprehend what was going on but I knew that I really liked it. Justice was a very experimental poet but also wrote in a wide variety of forms from formal, traditional to blank verse. It is paradoxical in many ways; the first line (which is repeated as the last line) states that the poem is 'not addressed to you', when clearly it is.
How should we deal with this? What is the poet saying to the reader?
POEM by DONALD JUSTICE (1925-2004)

This poem is not addressed to you.
You may come into it briefly,
But no one will find you here, no one.
You will have changed before the poem will.

Even while you sit there, unmovable,
You have begun to vanish. And it does not matter.
The poem will go on without you.
It has the spurious glamor of certain voids.

It is not sad, really, only empty.
Once perhaps it was so sad, no one knows why.
It prefers to remember nothing.
Nostalgias were peeled from it long ago.

Your type of beauty has no place here.
Night is the sky over this poem.
It is too black for stars.
And do not look for any illumination.

You neither can nor should understand what it means.
Listen, it comes without guitar,
Neither in rags nor any purple fashion.
And there is nothing in it to comfort you.

Close your eyes, yawn. It will be over soon.
You will forge the poem, but not before
It has forgotten you. And it does not matter.
It has been most beautiful in it’s erasures.

O bleached mirrors! Oceans of the drowned!
Nor is one silence equal to another.
And it does not matter what you think.
This poem is not addressed to you.

The last lines of Shakespeare's Shall I Compare Thee to a Summers Day are:
    "So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
     So long lives this and this gives life to thee".
Justice makes a similar point, that the poem will not change over time ('You will have changed before the poem will') but the reader will. Poets usually form a relationship between themselves and the poem but in this case the reader is also involved, despite what the poem says. 
I think he also says that the poem is not important (his poetry was often self-effacing): 'do not look for any illumination'.  If we had said to the poet "Ah gotcha! If the poem is not addressed to me, why am I mentioned?", he might have riposted something akin to the answer in Monty Python: "I might be arguing in my own time!".
It's ironic that the poem is profound while claiming not to be ('There is nothing in it to comfort you'). One cannot help being drawn into it and seeking meaning!
Listening to The Doors singing 'Touch me' (it's on the radio!)


Anonymous said...

From the red hot talent that is Sir Tom Eagerly:
Well Bazza old boy. I think if that poem is not addressed to you, then you should not be reading it. Respect a person's privacy: God save the Queen!

bazza said...

Sir Tom, you are a rascal, not to mention a trouble maker!

John said...

Hi Bazza!
I am not really intelligent enough to be able to 'understand' poems, but I am getting a sense that this poem is referring to life and the futility of it, or is that just me?!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - it's reading into the lines ... he's say 'humans are here on earth as a passing shadow' ... we as humans touch the world and go, but our words might stay around ...

Interesting poet - thanks for telling us about him - cheers Hilary

bazza said...

John, Please don't devalue your own contributions. I find your comments to be honest and often insightful! The interpretation of any poem, painting or other creation is your own thing: there is no right or wrong. Furthermore, what you have said makes a useful point. Thank you!

bazza said...

Hi Hilary. Exactly! I generally find his work to be quite accessible and straightforward; this one needs a little more work. Which, to me, makes it more interesting!

Caramella said...

Great poem! Thought provoking and leaves room for different interpretations..

Sherry Ellis said...

I guess my interpretation of the poem is that the poem will outlast the reader. We are here for a short time, but our works last much longer.

bazza said...

Hi Caramella. Thanks for visiting. I love your photo; great style!

bazza said...

Hello Sherry. Yes, I think that's it but I am sure there something else more complex going on as well. I just can't quite determine what it is!

David said...

Hi bazza,
People seem to be seeing this poem as a comment on the fleeting nature of life and the permanence of art, and indeed the more I've read it the more I see it from that point of view. However, when I first set eyes on it, I got the feeling that it was trying to say something about the nature of meaning itself, a sort of exploration of the distance between what the poet intends to say and what the reader interprets, thereby commenting on how meaning is constructed. I think it was Ruskin who said that one should always try to interpret art from the artist's standpoint, but in this poem the writer tells us, "do not look for any illumination/ You neither can nor should understand what it means."
Fascinating poem, bazza, which, as you say, draws you in and veritably dares you to pick away at its message, while all the time telling you not to!
Sorry that this comment has begun to replicate an essay, but all the best anyway, bazza!

bazza said...

Hello David. I don't agree with Ruskin. Although it can be informative and useful to know the artists viewpoint, ones own interpretation is the more interesting and can often be beyond and above what the creator intended.
I think you have made a good point about the examination of meaning but, as the poem says "You neither can nor should understand what it means"!

Dixie@dcrelief said...

I really like this poem, but it will never know my sentiment, either; only you will know.

bazza said...

Hi Dixie. That's a very enigmatic comment! It good to hear from you; I hope the poem had some meaning for you.

All Consuming said...

I know this one well and it's a cracker, thank you for bringing it to my attention again *smiles*

bazza said...

Hi AC. I have started to look at a lot more of his work and I like what I see!

Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar! said...

Hi, alleged human, Barry,

Interesting pawem, my fine human friend. However, I find myself echoing Sir Tom's sentiments. This worries me, old human chap.

Pawsitive wishes,


bazza said...

I might be human Penny - you never know! Yes, it is worrying to find oneself agreeing with Sir Tom. Ginger sends love.