grapple with the imperfections of lived life

Some of the explanation in the Retrospective-Prospective chapter covers the question of pushing beyond. I particularly like the Yeats example in “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” and the claim that “he must begin to grapple with imperfections of lived life.” I would put this phrase up as my notion of what it means to go beyond in confessional work. Also, I have employed this form in poetry before and though it states a change from the past reflection to a present prospective. I find, in general, the interplay of time is a versatile structure. I actually tend toward a past informed by the present a bit more than a present informed by the past. Poetry is a unique space for these revisions of lived life.

I think there is always space for the confessional and material of everyday-life but it should move beyond “this happened to me, really.” Confessional material can be a great tool for grappling with larger concepts of shared obstacles and observations without definite answers. Part of what I see Yeats’ poem doing is using confession to understand how the present revisions the past or vice versa. While Yeats presents the characters of his poetry taking away from his “real” life, the “emblems” of the players on his stage, I think the last lines: “I must lie down where all ladders start / in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart” present a redemption in grappling with lived life. The content opens with a realization of what he deems a misuse and the resignation: “I must be satisfied with my heart.” By the end of the poem these opening statements are infused with some hope in the concept of the “ladder.”

Yeats employs the tools of characters as comparison for the mirroring he feels is incomplete. The descriptions of his use of characters in his poetry create an emotional truth. One way is the repetition of “vain,” introduced in the beginning as categorizing his creative work and then used to describe the Oisin character with “Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose, Themes of the embittered heart.” Yeats comes to realize the true emotion behind his early creative work and is wholly dissatisfied. Yeats also uses distance against the characters he creates in “the name I gave it.” The work achieves more and more separation from the poet as well as the emblems of life they were based on. Another tool I see is word choice like “fanaticism and hate enslave it” or “engross the present and dominate memory.” Strong emotional judgment and abstraction strikes a third blow at the work. The various elements make his distaste so apparent that the emotional truth of the final section becomes necessary as a redeeming quality of the speaker’s life.

One Response to “grapple with the imperfections of lived life”

  1. Melissa Goodrich Says:

    I think you’re right about “the interplay of time” – it seems like retrospective-prospective builds upon the confessional by complicating it (the struggle with confession is that it tends to be so strongly centered on the self or the experience of the self that it cannot move beyond it). But with a tense shift and the metaphorical space to move from past to present, the speaker has created universality – something crucial to almost any work if it is to be meaningful. Also, the separation from the initial “real” events not only allows greater access to people of all shades, but creates a kind of dropping of weight for the poet (by which I mean, once these retrospective confessions are our in the open, it will be easier to let them go *by* looking forward to either the present or the future). In such a way, this structure complicates the roots/starting point of the poem to something more meaningful even for the artist.

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