Posts Tagged ‘Macbeth’
This is a famous and often misunderstood line from Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 5), spoken by the unforgettable Lady Macbeth, who says:
The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe topful
Of direst cruelty.
She’s referring, of course, not to sex or the sex act but to the fact that her husband is becoming more and more squeamish about the business of murder, and (she fears) he may not be up to the task of killing King Duncan.
Lady Macbeth imagines herself as a kind of vessel, and her eloquent malediction is her own vivid way of praying to be stripped of the feminine and filled completely, “from crown to toe,” with “direst cruelty” — i.e. masculinity — so that she herself might help her hapless husband fulfill the dirty deed.
It is interesting to note also here that the prefix un– appears with abnormal regularity in Macbeth, almost as if the characters are continually trying to undo the horrible deeds they’ve done — “to cancel reality by appending negatives,” as the Shakespearean Michael Macrone felicitously phrased it — though of course once the deeds are done “all the perfumes of Arabia cannot sweeten Lady Macbeth’s little hand.”
Poetry is a subset of literature, the art form of language, but it also legitimately belongs to another art: music.
Poetry is rhyme and rhythm, cadence and count, meter and metric. Poetry is prosody. It is scansion. It is versification. Those are the elements of poetry that make it a part of the musical.
But poetry is primarily a branch of literature, and the two main elements of poetry are style and theme. (Note: There is such a thing as narrative poetry, which is poetry that tells a story, but those two elements — storytelling and verse — combine poorly.)
It’s important to point out that the word “poetry” is not synonymous with the word “poem.”
Poetry is general; poems are specific.
All poems are in theory poetic, but not all poetry is a poem.
Novels, essays, memoirs, chronicles, short stories, and virtually every other form of prose can be poetic. For example, “The multitudinous seas incarnadine” is poetic, but it’s not a poem.
A poem, by definition, is a self-contained piece, of varying length, with a certain meter, rhythm, and style, all of which combine to convey a theme. A poem can rhyme or not.
The definition of poetry, on the other hand, has confounded writers and philosophers for centuries. Leo Tolstoy captured this well when he wrote:
Where the boundary between prose and poetry lies I shall never be able to understand. The question is raised in manuals of style, yet the answer to it lies beyond me. Poetry is verse: prose is not verse. Or else poetry is everything with the exception of business documents and school books.
But even “business documents and school books” could — at least, in theory — be poetic.
So what is poetry?
Poetry is style: stylized language.
Poetry is concentrated speech. It is density of expression.
Poetry is language at its best.
Poetry is writer’s writing.
Poetry is not, contrary to popular belief, pretentious or flowery language — or, at any rate, good poetry is not.
Poetry is technique. Poetry is skill. Poetry is metaphor.
Poetry is the beauty of language.
Said the surrealist Andre Breton, explaining the possible provenance of some of his strange and early literature.
They rowed her in across the rolling foam –
The cruel, crawling foam — to her grave beside the sea.
Wrote the English author Charles Kingsley (1819 – 1875) — in response to which John Ruskin pedantically said:
“The foam is not cruel, neither does it crawl.”
We talk about our assholes, and we talk about our cocks, and we talk about who we fucked last night, or who we’re going to fuck tomorrow, or when we got drunk, or when we stuck a broom in our ass in the Hotel Ambassador in Prague — anybody tell one’s friends about that?
Said “poet” Allen Ginsberg, in an anthologized interview.
A writer of something occasionally like English — and a man of something occasionally like genius.
Said Swinburne of Walt Whitman.
A man standing up to his neck in a cesspool — and adding to its contents.
Said Thomas Carlyle of Swinburne.
Lice in the locks of literature.
Said Lord Alfred Tennyson, describing critics.
Sergei Yesenin (1895-1925) was a Russian lyric poet who, at age 30, hung himself. Vladimir Mayakovsky, his contemporary and also a Russian poet, angrily and in public print condemned Sergei Yesenin for his “cowardly” suicide. Five year later he, Mayakovsky, then shot himself.
The earliest hints of evolutionary theory can be found in Anaximander, Sixth Century, BC.
A damned good poet and a fair critic; but he can kiss my ass as a man.
Said Ernest Hemingway of T.S. Eliot.
John Keats pronounced his own name with such a thick cockney accent that his friend Leigh Hunt nicknamed him “Junkets.”
Junkets evidently being the way “John Keats” sounded coming out of John Keats’s own mouth.
The “Wicked Bible,” from London, 1632, omitted the word not from the 7th Commandment:
Thou shalt commit adultery.
The first priest was the first rogue who crossed paths with the first fool.
Man is the only animal that knows he must die.
A man may know that he is going to die, but he can never know that he is dead.
Said Samuel Butler.
Death is not an event in life; we do not live to experience death.
The English writer Anthony Burgess — most famous for his novella A Clockwork Orange, which Stanley Kubrick subsequently made into a movie — had eyesight so poor that he once accidentally walked into a bank in Stratford-on-Avon and ordered a drink!
Shakespeare’s name, you may depend on it, stands absurdly too high and will go down.
Said Lord Byron.
“The Shakespeare of the lunatic asylum” an early French critic called Dostoevsky.
The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon;
Where gott’st thou that goose look?
Wrote Shakespeare in Act 5, Scene III of Macbeth.
Now, friend, what means thy change of countenance?
Substituted one William Davenant, in a hacked-up version which nevertheless played for nearly a century.