Friday, June 20, 2008

18. Pastorale - Michael Hofmann

I’ll skip past the odd but very interesting Days of 1987 with its fabulous opening lines:

I was lying out on the caesium lawn,
on the ribs and ligatures of a split deckchair

Instead, I’ll stop at Pastorale, which is about as far from rural idyll as you can go. The narrator watches the cars racing down the motorway from the verge. He also sees roadkill, old cans, haystacks and sheep, which he describes as “ancillary, bacillary blocks of anthrax.”

Humanity and nature are set in total opposition. In fact, even nature seems to contain oppositions within itself. While the farmer tried to make order, the narrator walked “contre-sens” (more French, perhaps because no English equivalent quite gets that idea of contrariness and senselessness in the one phrase), the cars “razored past” – everything speaks of a split, and death is all around. It’s a ten-line poem, set in five unrhymed couplets, and my favourite two lines are probably these ones following, which compress so much into few words. The narrator walks:

noting a hedgehog’s defensive needle-spill,

the bullet-copper and bullet-steel of pheasants

So another bleak view of the world slicing through a veneer of beauty. You wouldn't expect anything less from MH.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting line:

.. the cursive snout and tail
of a flattened rat under the floribund ivy.

'Floribund' isn't a dictionary word as far as I can see, although it is sometimes used in connection with floribunda: plants with dense clusters of flowers, and specifically roses.

What it does here is echo 'moribund', I think. And, perhaps crucially, the word is used by Wallace Stevens in his poem 'Landscape with Boat', which begins:

"An anti-master floribund ascetic."

And so a possible link with Stevens' treatment of nature and the pastoral. I'm also imagining that it was Stevens who coined this adjective, though I could be wrong. It seems a particularly Stevens word, somehow, florid and earthy, but given a typically darker twist by MH.