Sunday, February 10, 2008

Richard Wilbur

A Measuring Worm

This yellow striped green
Caterpillar, climbing up
The steep window screen,

Constantly (for lack
Of a full set of legs) keeps
Humping up his back.

It’s as if he sent
By a sort of semaphore
Dark omegas meant

To warn of Last Things.
Although he doesn’t know it,
He will soon have wings,

And I, too, don’t know
Toward what undreamt condition
Inch by inch I go.

source - The New Yorker - 04/02/2008

thanks to Nick Bruno for this

PS: Mon. Feb. 11: some interesting e-mail dialogue with my friend Raphael Bendahan on this poem today. Raphael wrote:


what a terrific poem...

Honestly though, I didn't get the line "Dark omegas meant/ To warn of Last Things". is this some kind of omen of impending death, or transformation? I'll look up omega and find out but I'm just a lazy reader I guess.

Wikipedia says:
Omega (the last letter of the Greek alphabet) is often used to denote
the last, the end, or the ultimate limit of a set, in contrast to Alpha, the first letter of the Greek alphabet. In the New Testament book of Revelation, God is declared to be the "alpha and omega, thebeginning and the end, the first and the last".[3]

I wrote back:

Those lines made me stop too. But there is value in that kind of intellectual leap (even if it's a bit of a stretch), and it does resonate in certain ways with the rest of the poem. The Last Things could refer to end of the creature's life as a caterpillar, and of course the end of the narrator's life by metaphoric extension. But I think this line also has an ulterior purpose: to fulfill the Alpha and Omega of Wilbur's rhyme scheme.


Andrew Shields said...

That one seems to be getting people's attention; I posted a link to it, too!

R. W. Watkins said...

My earliest exposure to Wilbur was his occasional haiku (surprise! surprise!), and this piece seems to have the feel of a haiku sequence or 'garland'. Nice pick for discussion, Brian.

Brian Campbell said...

Thanks, Rob.

R. W. Watkins said...

By the way, Brian, have I told you lately how I feel about government-paid-and-appointed poets...? As far as I'm concerned, it's an airtight way to ensure artistic mediocrity and impose literary gag orders.

Check out:

Brian Campbell said...

Agggh! I'll have to return all my poet laureate cheques right away! Not to mention my Stalin Prize, which I have hidden away along with some fine skeletons in a closet somewhere...

What is that link again? What you gave me lead to kind of 411 message on the Literary Kicks website. That review I've put on my blogroll, but I couldn't readily find an article directly about gov. appointed poets.

R. W. Watkins said...

There's no article--it's a poem by me entitled 'The Poet Laureate of Canada is a Government-Ass Licker'.

Brian Campbell said...

Sorry, can't find it using their site search bar...

Brian Campbell said...

...but just found it by putting quotes around your title in Google.

Rather a lot of *ahem* jissom for a Minister of Justice in Harper's party.

But fun, Laytonesque.

I would take away the word "false". You don't need two adjectives there -- layin' it on a bit thick, donchya think -- and that opens the question, what is true immortality, and do you believe in it?

Anyway, any claim to immortality here is obviously false so you don't need to shove it down our throats. The turds, cum & jissom are enough. Quite a *cocktail*, if you ask me.

Brian Campbell said...

Actually, I was thinking about your poem this morning, and thought it would be a good exercise for you to write a toned down version, one that *might* get into the Dalhousie Review. If you stuck more closely to the actual facts of what you're writing about, rather than indulging in your own XXX-cartoonish fantasies, you might capture the truly etiolated character of the sucking up that actually goes on.

The reality is the present government really, really, really couldn't give a flying fuck about culture in Canada.

Read, for instance, Yann Martel's account of a scheduled meeting with top writers that went on... and his "book project" to try to awaken Stephen Harper. (You need only type Yann Martel in the search bar on this blog to find it).

The Poet Laureate position -- created under a previous Liberal administration, methinks -- is usually a dried up, puppet-on-a-shelf like figure (una mierda seca, the Spanish would say). He has no access to the Minister of Justice, let alone his daughter or anybody else's daughter for that matter: the Minister he is answerable to is the Minister of Heritage (ok, Ministery of Heritage and Culture, methinks -- but stuffy isn't it?), the least important minister in Cabinet, with a little bit of input from and believe it or not, Foreign Affairs (some word play possibilities in that) -- although funding for foreign representation was cut completely from the budget under this so-called Conservative gov.

There is a social value aspect to his tiny stipend & responsibilities that go with. Check out the poet laureate website, and what is actually done before setting down to write. The laureate doesn't have to compose odes to the Queen or anything like that. He's mostly a harmless drudge, oh so harmless, and that's what's so harmful.

As it is, your poem tells us more about you than the actual situation.

A subtler version, rather than this "Newfoundland Screech" version, would probably pack more punch. If of course done well.

In other words, a little taste of bunghole, with some crumbs of dried up turd, sneaked in towards the end, is probably enough.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I'm familiar with Yann Martel's approach to the Harper government--I read it here on your blog months back.

Harper and his ignorant cronies don't care about anything, except hockey, 'United-Statesifying' the country, and promoting--via legislation--the antiquated morality of their 'owners': the right-wing fundamentalist Christians and their lobby groups. What turns my stomach the most is the fact that (supposedly) libertarian artists and writers don't bother to speak out; they seem content to paint their little landscapes and write their little odes to "our rocky coastlines..." or whatever. Get off your arse, people: If your compositions and statements made during interviews don't inspire a situation whereby federal politicians enter and exit the House of Commons in a shower of bullets and spattered blood, then you have ultimately failed as artists...but succeeded as lapdogs.

Brian Campbell said...

Here here! Brave words! (Woof woof).

Are you willing to fire the first shots, or do you just want to "inspire a situation?"