Poetry Has Often Been an Innocuous Demand Term Paper

Pages: 4 (1628 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Literature

Poetry has often been an innocuous demand of social and political change, as it can be quickly developed and then easily smuggled out of any situation in the coat pocket of the writer or another, or even written years later in memory of an event or situation, where life and/or liberty has been lost. The images that Poetry often conveys are as strong as any written in journalistic prose, or they can be stronger. Poetry lends itself to politics almost more than any other form of literature, as it can convey a quip of shocking images and materials that can be approached by the reader as "real" or if not real at least possible and make the reader question his or her authority and knowledge of the world, frequently insular and protected. Two poems in particular bring this to mind more than most. They are in and of themselves a recounting of events, where humanity is degraded, yet both are examples of the point-of-view of the survivor, the silent witness to events that change them and change the world around them.

In "Punishment" by Irish Poet Seamus Heaney the retelling of a debasing punishment for adultery is recounted, from the point-of-view of a "silent" bystander while in "The Colonel" by American poet Carolyn Forche the retelling of a dinner party held in the home of a fearful and sadistic Colonel in Elsalvador tells of his collection of ears of newly departed enemies, some who are listening and others whose ears are "pressed to the ground." (Forche line 33) Each work is demonstrative of witnesses to a struggle of inhuman torture. They collectively recount the images of the tortured, as well as the more important emotional toll that such reality places in the memory of witnesses and bystanders. A foundational quote from Carolyn Forche herself in a print commentary discussing the role of poetry in politics Forche says this: "All language is political. Politics can be read in what the language leaves out, or the worlds the language leaves out, as much as it can be read in what the language makes explicit."

Forche 151-152)

The window into the soul of survivors as a result of the witnessing of human cruelty is explicitly recounted in "Punishment." In the statement of the witness in the poem "I almost love you / but would have cast, I know, / the stones of silence. I am the artful voyeur" (Heaney lines 29-32) and then again "I who stood dumb/when your betraying sisters, / cauled in tar,/wept by the railings."(lines 37-40) Heaney, gives the impression that the memory of the bystander is a part of the ritual legacy, the tribe mentality, that allows such standards and actions to continue. Heaney demonstrates through his description of the remembered body of the dead young adulteress that he will always remember, likely as many other witnesses the extreme depravity of the scene and that it will forever be marked in his memory. "I can see her drowned / body in the bog,/the weighing stone,/the floating rods and boughs." (lines 9-12) the bystander will remember this day as personal failing, a moment when he/she was to meek to act, and in fact would have cast stones with others had he/she been standing in the right location. Heaney closes the poem with the longevity of the scene, the challenges that individuals and groups face to break with traditions that are designed in more brutal times to form a sense of the collective, "who would connive / in civilized outrage/yet understand the exact / and tribal, intimate revenge." (lines 44-47)

Punishment" gives a clear sense of the collective desire of "tribes" of people to exact revenge on those, who through weakness, strength or ignorance to betray the social institutions of a culture or group and yet at the same time the individual desire to stop such madness and allow the "flaxen haired" (line 25) little adulteress and her contemporary innocents to live on with some punishment that is better than public torture, shame and death. Though it is unlikely that Heaney, born in 1939 and living most of his life in academics would have witnessed the depravity so eloquently and intimately described in the punishment the images are fixed in the bystanders' mind.

Hamilton 221) "I can feel the tug/of the halter at the nape/of her neck, the wind / on her naked front / it blows her nipples to amber beads, / it shakes the frail rigging / of her ribs." (lines1-8) Heaney describes in almost erotic but definitely animalistic terms what the young woman, has been reduced to.

At the opening of the work one could almost begin to believe, until the woman's nipples are mentioned, that the victim in this work is not a human but a draft animal striking out in the field for the first time. The cruelty becomes evident when the context of the work is darkened by the eroticism, which also to some degree genders the bystander, and portrays him/her as a meek adolescent boy seeing cruelty yet, being unable to step away from it and the images of her supposed deeds or her naked body, "...her noose a ring / to store / the memories of love." (lines 20-22) This passage eludes to the idea that if the circumstances had been different, and the "crime" had taken place in the form of a rushed and young marriage, where the co conspirator, entirely absent from the scene had not already been married to another, or the young and beautiful "sapling" now reduced to a garish body in the bog had not been married to another that the noose she now wears in her death scene would have instead been a ring (presumably a wedding ring) that would have instead stored the memories of love. The bystander brings the vision of the scene to new understanding with these passages, as if there was a way to avoid this and instead enjoy the fruits of loves labor in a "tribal" yet accepted manner, possibly, as the sanctioned lover of himself, as he almost loved her too. The victim, whose luck has run out is instead publicly destroyed, for choosing the wrong lover at the wrong time. The politics of the work are intimate, yet enduring, a small "tribe" exacting revenge upon a straying soul, likely to cull deterrence for future actions by other weak souls, all of whom are present in the scene (except the unmentioned lover) and are changed by it.

In "The Colonel" the distance of the intimate scene of domesticity, where "His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His / daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the / night. There were daily papers, pet dogs," (Forche lines 2-4) is juxtaposed with a description of the pistol on the cushion beside the Colonel, glass imbedded in the stucco and bars on all the windows. The work gives insight into the effects of living in a state of constant conflict and war, for the "perpetrator" of atrocities, the "voiceless enemy" seen and unseen and the bystander. Each has a message in the work that details their individual connection to the situation. The Colonel's point-of-view, described inexplicably by his protective surroundings as well as his blatant statement here:

The colonel returned with a sack used to / bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on / the table. They were like dried peach halves....He took one of them in / his hands, shook it at our faces, dropped it into a/water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone, / tell your people they can go f-themselves. He / swept the ears to the floor with his arm." (Forche… [END OF PREVIEW]

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