Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Landor's 'pure' style

It helps not to go looking for a Keatsian richness and profusion of expression when reading one of Landor’s poems. Indeed; at the very heart of Landor’s aesthetic is a committment to cleanness of style that gives many of his poems a purged, even a bleached feel. It is mostly the case that what can strike the reader as a Landorian line purified almost to desiccation—parched, we might say—reveals its richness only upon closer reading.

The 5-line epitaph he wrote for his own tomb in 1831 starts with four mimosas. It is characteristic of Landon, it differentiates him from other nineteenth- and twentieth-century poets, and it is illustrative of what I mean by his cleanness of style that these mimosas are not elaborated, or rendered, or pictured, or compared, or indeed gifted any descriptive adjectives at all. We are told that they are mimosas, and that they are four in number. The effect pares the whole poem down: because the mimosas are the only things mentioned in the poem. There's quite literally nothing else in it. The rest of the text is, we might say, ‘abstracted’ from the particular. We can intuit a tomb as well, of course, because the poem is an epitaph and because that’s where the mimosas have been planted. But Landor’s approach is one that deliberately avoids providing the reader with specific visual prompts.
Lo! Where the four mimosas blend their shade,
In calm repose at last is Landor laid;
For ere he slept he saw them planted here
By her his soul had ever held most dear,
And he had lived enough when he had dried her tear.
Landor is certainly capable of evoking brilliant visual imagery. It’s just that he chooses not to do so here. And this is the distance between a style picked clean, here, and the generous profusion and spillage of images and effects characteristic of, say, Keats, or even Shelley. Landor’s is not a beauty of loding every rift with ore; but the beauty of inflections—not any wrought account of mimosas, but our knowledge of what mimosas look like (the whole poem depends upon us knowing at least that). And, actually, the poem is working not with an image of mimosas as such, but with the shadow cast by the mimosas. At the same time, the poem exhibits an extraordinary degree of formal pattern and finish. The rhyme scheme, a simple-enough aabbb, works back into the body of the poem itself. The lyric’s emotional thrust connects its two agents, Landor and ‘her’ (Ianthe, we presume). The shade/laid rhyme of lines 1 and 2 toy with the open ‘a’ and the ‘d’ of Landor’s name; just as the ‘here’ rhyme of the final three lines lengthens the vowel of ‘her’. It doesn’t overstate things to suggest that the ‘eh’ sound that recurs and shifts assonantially through the poem (‘where’, ‘blend’, ‘re’, ‘ere’, ‘he’, ‘slept’, ‘he’, ‘them’, ‘here’, ‘her’, ‘ever’, ‘held’, ‘dear’, ‘he’, ‘en-’, ‘when’, ‘he’, ‘her’, ‘tear’) literalises a kind of panting, or gasping. This is appropriate to a poem about unconsummated love, I suppose; except that the poem is actually about death—not about love, we might say, but about the shadow cast by love, the lack, the death of love. Not gasping, then, so much as parching. Fiesole’s is a hot, dry climate; the sort of environment mimosas prefer. And then we see, and understand, the way this little poem’s final image sets the whole. To dry a loved-one’s tears looks like a gesture of consolation, but this love is an unreciprocated one. The poem implies without ever quite stating that it is Landor’s death that has, paradoxically, dried ‘her’ tears. And that emotional desiccation, has freeze-dried the whole poem. Cleanness of style, it seems, can be a bones-picked-clean sort of purity.

1 comment:

Cioara Andrei said...

Foarte interesant subiectul postat de tine. M-am uitat pe blogul tau si imi place ce am vazut.Cu siguranta am sa il mai vizitez.
O zi buna!