"Well, most of the time we were on the Anglo-Saxons. Beowulf, and old Grendel, and Lord Randal My Son, and all those things. But we had to read outside books for extra credit once in a while. I read The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy, and Romeo and Juliet and Julius--"
Holden is really well-read. At the beginning of The Catcher in the Rye
, he's reading Isak Dinesen, but, as he tells a young nun he meets at a diner, he's read Shakespeare and Beowulf
, as well. Holden doesn't shy away from poetry the way most teenage boys would. Poetry seems to give Holden solace, even pleasure, especially when he's thinking about his brother, Allie.
Holden would appreciate poet Edward Hirsch. Hirsch doesn't shy away from the forms and traditions of poetry. Harold Bloom described him as "fresh, canonical, and necessary," a poet who embraces both lyricism and form. His book, On Love
, includes villanelle and pantoum, meditations on love in the voices of diverse writers (Gertrude Stein and and Ralph Waldo Emerson, to name a couple). Hirsch approaches the subject of love like a linguistic anatomist--dissecting art and music and mythology and religion--to find the bone and muscle of this emotion.
The book opens with a meditation on the origin of love in a child, the need to escape ancestral grief in order to experience a future of hope and choice:
The Poet at Seven
He could be any seven-year old on the lawn,
holding a baseball in his hand, ready to throw.
He has the middle-class innocence of an American,
except for his blunt features and dark skin
that mark him as a Palestinian or a Jew,
his forehead furrowed like a question,
his concentration camp eyes, nervous, grim,
and too intense. He has the typical
blood of the exile, the refugee, the victim.
Look at him, looking at the catcher for a sign--
so violent and competitive, so unexceptional,
except for an ancestral lamentation,
a shadowy, grief-stricken need for freedom
laboring to express itself through him.
This is a poem about the love of ancestor, or origin, expressed in the features, the collective unconscious, of a small boy. He is a part of something larger that he can't define, yet feels in his body like oxygen or sugar. It's nurturing and necessary.
The first section of the book is filled with personal reflections of love like this. Lessons learned from childhood to adulthood, love of mother to love of wife. The second section of On Love
contains poems of dramatic monologue, Hirsch taking on the persona of many famous poets and writers, all of them examining some facet of love. The "Prologue" to this section explains,
I woke up to voices speaking of love,
always leading me forward, leading me on,
taking me from the bedroom to the study
in the early morning or late at night,
emanations that seemed to come from night
itself, from leaves opening in the study
where many lives flow together as one
life, my own, these ventures in love.
What follows is a patchwork of love, each poem titled for the speaker/poet. Taking on the voice of D. H. Lawrence, Hirsch provides this brief history of love:
After the sweet red wine and the dry lecture,
"The History of Love in Western Imagination"
(history is loveless without imagination)
we could not abide another listless lecture
and so we slipped into the castle library
and pushed highbacked chairs against a door
that refused to lock (so jam the door!)
and knelt to each other in the library.
I confess my fear of patrolling watchmen;
you seemed courageous and sure, as always:
I have learned to adore you myriad ways
of taking us back into man and woman...
And when we lay naked among the books,
the book shelves enclosed a sacred garden
for Adam and Eve safely restored to Eden,
ourselves immersed in a paradise of books.
Edward Hirsch gives readers a Eden of poems in On Love
, each one a fractal, infinitely reflective of the patterns of love between man, woman, child, parent, descendant, ancestor, reader, writer, supplicant, and God.
Saint Marty loves On Love
Confessions of Saint Marty