Saturday, December 12, 2009

More on "Dead Mother"

I talked to someone earlier today about the Henri Cole poem "Dead Mother", and it was remarked that the poem read more like a rehearsal of a response rather than a gathering of the conflicting emotions a parent's death unleashes on you. It was remarked that that his may be the reason for the seeming foliage Cole circles his subject with.I agree that Cole is attempting to inoculate this poem against criticism by making the language abstruse, as opposed to abstract.

Abstruse , for me, means clutter, vagueness, a grandly arranged set of unconventionally phrased ideas that have the sound of a hollow tin can once their noise is made. Abstract language, in contrast, leads back to a referents, and everything can be discerned in an intricate network of relationships; the associations, obvious and less obvious, emerge from a careful reading of how unexpected things become analogies for unstated irresolution , or as metaphors for a larger theme the specific topic is only a symbol of.

Even in the tight reins of a sonnet, I suspect Cole sometimes lets his imagination get the better of him and leaves a personal association, a private pun , linger quizzically in a line on the pretext that a scholarly critic might catch it, inspect it, run a gamut of philological tests on the wording, and uncover a deep vein of insight and erudition that would make some latter day jaws hit the floor. It's laziness, I think. The poem seems not an account of viewing a dead mother and experiencing a traumatic reaction than it is the work of someone trying to perfect their reaction; this seems about grief as gristle for the literary art , and that I think is this poem's downfall. It's over-thought, and not thought through.

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