Oct. 30, 2009

She Dreamed of Cows

by Norah Pollard

I knew a woman who washed her hair and bathed
her body and put on the nightgown she'd worn
as a bride and lay down with a .38 in her right hand.
Before she did the thing, she went over her life.
She started at the beginning and recalled everything—
all the shame, sorrow, regret and loss.
This took her a long time into the night
and a long time crying out in rage and grief and disbelief—
until sleep captured her and bore her down.

She dreamed of a green pasture and a green oak tree.
She dreamed of cows. She dreamed she stood
under the tree and the brown and white cows
came slowly up from the pond and stood near her.
Some butted her gently and they licked her bare arms
with their great coarse drooling tongues. Their eyes, wet as
shining water, regarded her. They came closer and began to
press their warm flanks against her, and as they pressed
an almost unendurable joy came over her and
lifted her like a warm wind and she could fly.
She flew over the tree and she flew over the field and
she flew with the cows.

When the woman woke, she rose and went to the mirror.
She looked a long time at her living self.
Then she went down to the kitchen which the sun had made all
yellow, and she made tea. She drank it at the table, slowly,
all the while touching her arms where the cows had licked.

"She Dreamed of Cows" by Norah Pollard, from Death & Rapture in the Animal Kingdom. © Antrim House, 2009. Reprinted with permission.

It's the birthday of Ezra Pound, (books by this author) born in Hailey, Idaho (1885). Pound was born within a few years of James Joyce, William Carlos Williams, D.H. Lawrence, Marianne Moore, Hilda Doolittle, and T.S. Eliot, and he was instrumental in promoting the careers of each one of these writers — as well as many, many others. He was a champion of modern poetry and prose; Richard Ellmann and Robert O'Clair proclaimed that it was Ezra Pound "more than anyone who made poets write modern verse, editors publish it, and readers read it." He was extraordinarily generous with his clout, often described as "the poet's poet." Pound's mantra was "Make it new."

He'd earned a grant to study Romantic languages and literature in Europe, and then returned to the United States and got a teaching position a Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. But his rising academic star fell four months later when he allowed a stranded vaudeville actress to sleep over at his place. His landlady disapproved, his college superiors were notified, and in the ensuing scandal the 22-year-old Pound was dismissed from his professorial duties. (He later claimed all accusations were "ultimately refuted except that of being 'the Latin Quarter type.'") Nevertheless, when the college fired him, they also gave him the rest of his year's salary, and with it he headed back to Europe.

Pound spent time in Venice and moved to London. He believed that William Butler Yeats was the greatest poet writing in English, and he was determined to find him and apprentice himself to the master. He befriended Yeats in England, worked as his secretary for a while, and even lived with him for a period in a cottage at Sussex. Once, when Yeats was lecturing on at an informal gathering about the intersection of poetry and music, Pound began eating two red tulips to get some attention.

Later, in 1914, Pound would marry Dorothy Shakespear, the daughter of Yeats's former lover. It was that same year that he met T.S. Eliot, whom Pound is credited with "discovering" after pushing for the publication of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in Poetry magazine.

Pound lived in England for eight years, and his Kensington flat became a hive of modern literary activity. He helped found the Imagist movement, along with H.D. — pen name of Hilda Doolittle and declared its principles to be "direct treatment of the thing," to use only words that "contribute to the presentation," and in regard to rhythm: "to compose in the sequence of a musical phrase, not in the sequence of a metronome."

He wrote a famous poem called "In a Station of the Metro," which goes:
"The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet black bough."

He wrote it after getting off a train at La Concorde station in Paris and seeing a succession of beautiful faces; he found expression for his emotion came not in speech, he said, "but in little splotches of colour." At first, he wrote a 30-line poem about it, which he destroyed. Six months later, he wrote a poem half the length of the original, and then a year later he wrote this two-line poem, which consists of just 14 words.

Pound spent most of his writing life on The Cantos, a modern epic. The first was published in 1917. He completed 109 of his Cantos; an additional eight were incomplete but published. The first of The Cantos begins:
"And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship.
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas
Circe's this craft, the trim-coifed goddess."

It's the birthday of the second president of the United States, John Adams, born in Braintree, Massachusetts (now part of Quincy, Massachusetts) (1735), who said, "A pen is certainly an excellent instrument to fix a man's attention and to inflame his ambition."

It's the birthday of journalist and biographer Robert Caro, (books by this author) born in New York City (1935), who has spent the last 30 years writing a four-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, for which he has read 34 million documents at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, and he has conducted more than 1000 interviews. The third volume of the biography Master of the Senate came out in 2002 and won the Pulitzer Prize for biography.

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