“desire that remains desire”: on the ghazal pt.5

March 31, 2014 § Leave a comment

Poetry: desire that remains desire. Love?
The poet: a cinder never quite burned out.
–John Thompson, Ghazal XIV, Stilt Jack

This can’t be more than a footnote to my earlier posts on the ghazal as I’m overrun just now. But Im reading on my endless bus trips to and from campus, and enjoying immensely (the book, not the bus, where I think I’m beginning to show signs of Bus Traumatic Stress Disorder), the poet Peter Sanger’s Sea Run: Notes on John Thompson’s Stilt Jack. (Xavier Press, 1986). It’s a meticulous line by line commentary on Thompson’s Stilt Jack, and has also confirmed some of the haphazard thoughts I’ve had about the ghazal–most specifically, that as a form it isn’t as random as initial impressions suggest. I include one example here of Sanger’s notes on the above couplet from “Ghazal XIV.”

“This couplet quotes from Jackson Mathew’s translation of Sections XXX and V of Char’s ‘Partage Formel’. Thompson uses Mathew’s translations in his thesis: (a) A poem is the realization of love — desire that remains desire; (b) The poet, a magician of insecurity, can have only adopted satisfactions. A cinder never quite burned out. Thompson intended these quotations as a tribute to Char and expected readers to uncover their source. Any question of propriety becomes more complex when one considers, as Thompson probably knew, that Char’s source in quotation (b) above was probably a passage in A Defence of Poetry where Shelley describes Dante, whose very words are instinct with spirit; each is as a spark, a burning atom of indistinguishable thought; and many yet lie covered in the ashes of their birth, and pregnant with the lightning which has yet found no conducter.” p.21

It’s one of my favourite couplets from Stilt Jack, and the commentary works as a kind of archaeological excavation, revealing layers of complexity and allusion, line under line.

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