Monday, August 10, 2009

The Cool Web

It occurred to me that this poem's title is a double-entendre in the perpetually hip Internet age, but the meaning works either for words or for websites. I've spent much of my life among words, but I go through stretches in which my faith in them flags and I crave reality (and resent the postmodern notion that there is no reality outside of our words and concepts). Wallace Stevens put it another way in "The Motive for Metaphor."

The Cool Web

Children are dumb to say how hot the day is,
How hot the scent is of the summer rose,
How dreadful the black wastes of evening sky,
How dreadful the tall soldiers drumming by.

But we have speech, to chill the angry day,
And speech, to dull the rose's cruel scent.
We spell away the overhanging night,
We spell away the soldiers and the fright.

There's a cool web of language winds us in,
Retreat from too much joy or too much fear:
We grow sea-green at last and coldly die
In brininess and volubility.

But if we let our tongues lose self-possession,
Throwing off language and its watery clasp
Before our death, instead of when death comes,
Facing the wide glare of the children's day,
Facing the rose, the dark sky and the drums,
We shall go mad no doubt and die that way.

Robert Graves

1 comment:

Dr X said...

My mind immediately went back to this:

It's wrong to say that language and expectation are everything, but they ain't nothing either.

I'm also reminded of something Thomas Odgen, the psychoanalyst, wrote. I have no idea if it's true, but he claimed in The Primitive Edge of Experience that many linguists end up in therapy at some point during their studies because the endless deconstruction of language starts to drive them mad.