Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jack Gilbert: Painting on Plato's Wall

In Jack Gilbert's latest collection of poetry The Dance Most of All (which I opened for the first time today) there is a poem called "Painting on Plato's Wall". The title attracted me to begin with - a sense of myth, ancient philosophy and writing on yellowed parchment or even skin was displayed on the clay wall of my mind. Before anything else, let's see the poem:

Painting on Plato's wall

The shadows behind people walking
in the bright piazza are not merely
gaps in the sunlight. Just as goodness
is not the absence of badness.
Goodness is a triumph. And so it is
with love. Love is not the part
we are born with that flowers
a little and then wanes as we
grow up. We cobble love together
from this and those of our machinery
until there is suddenly an apparition
that never existed before. There it is,
unaccountable. The woman and our
desire are somehow turned into
brandy by Athena's tiny owl filling
the darkness around an old villa
on the mountain with its plaintive
mewing. As a man might be
turned into someone else while
living kind of happy up there
with the lady's gentle dying.


I love the image of love (haha) being a something which occurs inbetween other somethings - a quality that arises between us, between ourselves and the things with which we interact: "We cobble love together / from this and those of our machinery / until there is suddenly an apparition / that never existed before." Love is here given a human stamp, a watermark washing through our kind, making us look at love as a human magic - which it also is.

Or perhaps a little more precise, love is something which appears in humans, thereby making humans a conduit for the quality of love. "There it is, unaccountable."

The flowing and easy language of Gilbert's always carries a depth and a certain sense that he possesses a softly deep and sensitive, but also painfully clear and direct part of this universe, and that he is pleased with the normal life, the everyday and the endless opportunities for goodness and beauty and pain and poetry it provides. The depth of everyday life, perhaps. And the love it can hold and emanate.