Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wyatt: They flee from me

What intrigues me here is the pronouns. The poem opens with one, but there is no antecedent to tell us what or who “They” are. In fact, if you wanted to be deliberately obtuse, you could claim there is little within the poem to say that this is a poem about women in general and a specific woman in particular. ( Though I think it would be really obtuse to ignore the evidence in the second stanza: her “gown/shoulders/arms” and ‘her’ actions:’ softly said’ ‘sweetly did me kiss”. Could you read it any other way?) The juxtaposition of the unreferenced third person plural against the solitary first person adds to the ambiguity. Who is in control of the situation. And who is speaking to us.

The dream like dislocation of the first verse however is a product of the pronouns, and the odd slippage in the metaphors. “Wild, Seek and stalk/gentle/tame/ meek. ‘take bread at my hand” all seem more appropriate to animals. But ‘naked foot” is undoubtedly human.
If you ripped the first stanza out of context and called it “Cats’ you might wonder at ‘feet’ but it might not be too outrageous.
“They Seek Me” says our poet. (Incidentally there is nothing in the poem to gender the speaker but it’s really hard not to call it ‘him’.) The speaker is, throughout the poem, passive (or presents ‘himself’ as passive, which amounts to the same thing here) and that too adds to the dream like quality: things are happening to him which he registers but doesn’t interpret or understand. (or claim to understand). ‘Put themselves in danger ‘ raises even more questions than the poem answers. Is the speaker dangerous? There’s something not quite….well…there’s a lot of ‘not quite’ happening in this piece, which is why I think it works so well. Everything is not quite, but it’s quite enough to know in rough outline.
The contrast between verse one and two in what appears to be specifics, is one of the poem’s strengths. If we come into the middle of a vague recollection, and then we are given a very detailed specific picture(which on inspection isn’t that detailed: interesting how much info the reader is asked to supply). Like a genuine memory, we get a recalled moment which suggests so much but actually doesn’t.

The last stanza seems to falter. The obvious attempt at sarcasm doesn’t work because it’s undermined by the “they” in the very first line. Here is a speaker who claims he’s popular with the ladies, who then seems to want our sympathy because one has dumped him. Doesn’t work. In fact, its hard to see how you could sympathize with the speaker. I suspect you’re not meant to. More on the /I/ later.

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