terça-feira, 27 de abril de 2010
A propósito de "To Helen",
com um beijo para a Laura Bulger, transcrevo um texto da autoria de Carol Rumens, colhido em The Guardian.
Comecemos por recordar o poema, segue-se o texto:
Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicéan barks of yore,
That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,
The weary, way-worn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.
On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece
And the grandeur that was Rome.
Lo! In yon brilliant window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand,
The agate lamp within thy hand!
Ah, Psyche, from the regions which
"There comes Poe, with his raven, like Barnaby Rudge,/ Three fifths of him genius and two fifths sheer fudge" quipped James Russell Lowell in the "Poe and Longfellow" section of his satirical poem, "A Fable for Critics". TS Eliot compared Poe's mind with that of "a highly gifted young person before puberty".
Edgar Allan Poe's poetry, whatever its limitations, was a catalyst. The current of his imagination flowed on into Europe and helped nurture the French symbolist movement. Stéphane Mallarmé in "Le Tombeau d'Edgar Poe" hailed him as the poet whose angel gave "a purer meaning to the dialect of the tribe". Poe may have seemed to Eliot an intellectual adolescent, but we could retort that he was in fact the grandfather of one of Eliot's most famous lines, "To purify the dialect of the tribe".
A child-like quality is certainly present in his verse. It's in the diction and the idealised childhood eroticism of "Annabel Lee". The Gothic imagination generally seems formed out of nursery shadows and nightmares, infused with adolescent sexual guilt. Poe's vision of love tainted and destroyed reaches an almost ecstatic pitch in "The Raven" and in "Ulalume: A Ballad" (a superbly made poem, better than "The Raven", I think). Poe enjoyed writing burlesque, and these narratives enjoyably teeter on, and draw back from, its brink.
In more lyrical, less Gothic mode, Poe might be a decadent reincarnation of William Blake. His simple rhythms and rhymes are asserted with an emotional directness that renders the simplicity trustworthy. Poe's idealism is purely aesthetic, however. His angels are jealous or demonic; he sings his liebestod in a fallen world.
In an essay, The Poetic Principle, Poe explains his aesthetic, and weaves into it an instructive anthology of poems he admires. Classics were an important influence, as the skill of his versification testifies. In this week's poem, "To Helen", classicism and aestheticism seamlessly fuse.
It's an atypical poem, perhaps, with its air of calm concentration, its almost imagistic focus. Poe, like Yeats later on in "Sailing to Byzantium" tries to transfix a notional Golden Age in verse that itself is timeless and hard. Whoever his personal "Helen" may have been, she is more than an earthly beloved; partly the Helen of classical legend, she is also, the last stanza suggests, a Beatrice-like figure of moral – or, at least, untainted – illumination.
A little patience is required of today's readers, not only with those "Nicéan barks of yore". There is a "perfumed sea" to compound the decorative fantasy. But why not? This sea is "perfumed" because it's an ideal sea, sniffed on board the ideal boat of imagination. The adjective prefigures the flower which, in the next stanza, will give us both the sea's colour and a lovely image of scented, curling hair: the hyacinth.
In the second stanza, a slightly dislocated, Latinate grammar floats the poem towards symbolism. The speaker is the literal subject of "long wont to roam". But, metaphorically, the hair, face and "Naiad airs" have shared the voyage. The "roam/Rome" rhyme that "book-ends" this verse is a subtle touch – a miniature history in a pair of homophones.
The variation in each stanza's closing lines deserves comment. The trimeter line that follows the tetrameter in "The weary, way-worn traveller bore/ To his own native shore," has the cadence of homecoming. "To the glory that was Greece./ And the grandeur that was Rome" are regular trochaic four-beat lines, planted so firmly as to transform the banal thought – and the perhaps rather vague distinction between "glory" and "grandeur".
The last stanza is the amazing one. We don't expect to see Psyche at this point but there she is, in a silhouette as clear-cut as her "agate lamp". If she is the self, or soul, perhaps "the regions which/ Are Holy-Land" denote the Unconscious. The poem ends on its only dimeter line, a curtailment suggesting perfect sufficiency. This is the limit past which poets – and readers – travel only in silence. Unusually, for Poe, "To Helen" leaves a lot unsaid. But, personally, I'd rather have this one exquisite lyric than any number of his narratives."