From Mary Orovan a Touch of e.e. cummings if You Like
by Robert Mueller
These Elective Affinities, what are they? You do not have to believe ce personnage distingué in Goethe’s novel who has a way of explaining things. Thus der Hauptmann, supreme intellect with superb practical bent, can speak of a situation to which his old friend the Baron (and spouse) have invited him. Put, or putting himself, in charge, he can explore it fully, and in the new relations as he finds them discuss and explain fully. The upshot is that the Wahlverwandtschaften of the novel’s title relate analogically to any sort of relations, such as salts and acids, where the expelled element sinks back down and is recuperated. Similarly, the main actors in the tale, four in number, may cross in their quadrant of attraction and distancing to express their wishes and their choices.
But you need not be so schematic about it. You may make of your Elective Affinities what you want. Free mating choices spring into action, and in Mary Orovan’s poem “Pornography in the Park”, another green light positive from her chapbook Green Rain (Poets Wear Prada, 2008), the couples are the delight, especially if ornithological and filial; are they and we:
And Pale Male and Lola,
our City hawks, atop the Carlyle Hotel,
always Valentine’s day.
— Not her heart so much as her feeling them, as freely given, natural but not stumbling in the way, not there before, but more than natural, and “all over the City”.
The affinities are called forth, and that is how it meets the terms, when poems of this kind feel like the anthologized poem of e.e. cummings, “Darling! Because My Blood Can Sing” (in Modern Verse, ed. Oscar Williams (New York: Washington Square Press, 1954)). Keeping first with Orovan’s poem, we note its abundance, not so obviously in its climaxing or even in singing, and not at all in cadencing, but, still grasswise, in flying off:
Edgy music in the Ramble
wild timbres and rhythms
love on the fly everywhere.
I think it’s because the birds — hawks and grey owls, “puffed puffed pigeons / followingcirclingfollowing” — are “we”, and e.e. cummings’ delights — in expressive oddness, expressive joy — are likewise those of a shared choice, in all circumstances, including where “they . . . turn men’s see to stare”, and thus of a standing together and against. They stand together against valuing war, as the poem crafts its own terms. As a greater plus, it and they are in fact thrown together, even without the squeezing typical of cummings. In Orovan’s phrasing, meanwhile, a turning in, a clasping of word to word, is equally natural, and part and parcel of confidence. Where we unite with her inflections, we can sense the kinship, if we want it.
And it is all to the good, this pressure of closeness crosswise implied in the one poet, demonstrated in the other. In both, to press (or compress) the point, the feeling is affinities and delight, and they are together. Here is cummings’ poem:
Darling! Because My Blood Can Sing
darling! because my blood can sing
and dance (and does with each your least
your any most very amazing now
or here) let pitiless fear play host
to every isn’t that’s under the spring
—but if a look should april me,
down isn’t’s own isn’t go ghostly they
doubting can turn men’s see to stare
their faith to how their joy to why
their stride and breathing to limp and prove
—but if a look should april me,
some thousand million hundred more
bright worlds than merely by doubting have
darkly themselves unmade makes love
armies (than hate itself and no
meanness unsmaller) armies can
immensely meet for centuries
and (except nothing) nothing’s won
—but if a look should april me
for half a when, whatever is less
alive than never begins to yes
but if a look should april me
(though such as perfect hope can feel
only despair completely strikes
forests of mind, mountains of soul)
quite at the hugest which of his who
death is killed dead. Hills jump with brooks:
trees tumble out of twigs and sticks;
By dint of non-grammaticalities, by syntactical flips and by contextual re-encounterings (of another dimension), the poet serves his heart up to aggressive agreement. The result is at once miraculous, comical and resurgent. It is indeed alive, in other words. It is Orphic and perhaps Medusal (in a good way), and more than natural; it is welling, angelic, in still other words. But whom does the speaker, wholeheartedly and full-thronged with his partner and with his parti-colored partnering, take to himself more overarchingly than agreement itself, than affinities? In no sense, however, is this wholesome banding of affinities a type of Baudelairean correspondence; just as in no sense (because the phrase that this pulsing and impulsive self-realizing triggers, “but if a look should april me”, itself makes no sense) is the poem a reaction. It does not take place on a stage, either. It has to do with causality, and who but poets can recognize that virus? And who knew it? And so it is spontaneous and always, and keeps going without period end.
Clearly the poet of Green Rain has been apriled. Having always been, in this text anyway, in April, she stays, for “April”, with its truth, truth of brooding, breeding, always. And thus following in the circle of this much more being, she must surely cede to this opening; she thus inclines to more than mere necessity:
We can’t hide from solace.
Everywhere we are swaddled
In the palest green of new buds
And baby grass.
Oh, my. Yet Orovan’s best-looking green comes in the final poem of her chapbook, the title poem “Green Rain”. From the brash and sunny “Apricot Trumpet Vines” to the precious detailing in gorgeous aroma cum nostalgia of the mallard life-cycle, the descriptions inflame in today’s voice, in one tempting possible choice. The “second green coming” doubles dwindling light while nonetheless heralding its, the mallard’s, own April in September, as if a part of us, is if our own rebirths, our own “multiple visits”. Indeed, each ovation to nature’s prattle-sparkle glows again, so that who can bear to undo this feeling in joyous company, as when
Dahlias, fuchsia meringue,
slicked mint purple stems,
on their leaves,
bubbles rainbow in the sun
The truth is that we know what they are, and have no doubts. Thus is Goethe’s sweet and sad novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften an appropriate nature hike in its attention to growing aspects and things. In fact, you may not have to look beyond the first short chapter. You come to know, quickly, these Elective Affinities. By stroke of fortunate openings, the once-thwarted young lovers are found already in place. If what it is is what it comes then to us, our novel is already at a new beginning and new amorous triumphing. Our relations, their adult relations, their firmly won appreciating of organic growth and balancing, will show themselves already directing their actions, their choosing what you want. And so right off you know many things about them, such as that, at the peak of his baronial career, our dear Eduard has too been apriled. A sweetness starts with him, and he gets to get things going by going to meet his wife Charlotte, so that they can do what they would do, fully emphasized, as “we”. In the meantime, it is Eduard at his best bringing the inclinations of the moment to their appearing promise. He is, to paraphrase freely, brought to this end by April: “Eduard hatte in seiner Baumschule die schönste Stunde eines Aprilnachmittags zugebracht.”
Let the telling out of the story lead to other circumstances, and does the Baron think to go round to his possessions to find his wife? Nonetheless, let’s come to rest here. Goethe, like cummings and Orovan in their better times, will heed the look of April, will find his choice and winning amends in the spirit of April.
Copyright© 2015 by Robert Mueller. All Rights Reserved.