Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Marechera's Love Sonnets. (3)

Sonnet 1, “When Love’s Perished” opens with a piece of self-mockery. The drama of love is cast in a rhetorical idiom.

“Here comes one who in silence
Howled a thousand torments.”

There are cultural echoes here of The Bible, of burial in silence, and the following lines develop the opening with “silence” becoming “polite phrases” and “howled” transforming into “screamed terrible curses”. The first quatrain of the sonnet focuses on the suppression of grief. A typical Marecheran ambiguity begins in lines 5-6:

“One whose slow measured pace to the altar
Raised more dust that buffalo stampeding.”

The “One” is both the poem and the poet: the first line moves exactly at the pace of a mourner. Then, this is undercut with an image in which the dust of burial becomes a commonplace, a profanity. This suggests that the elegiac pace of the speaker shows more reverence than the hurried wailings of the many. “Altar”, here, appears as an image of Death and sacrifice, not Life and marriage. The poet comes to the altar of love's death and the poem's heightened language to its source: altar equals "high" place.

At the core of the sonnet, the animalisation of the speaker develops from the buffalo metaphor:

“The soft sweaty palm in limpid handshake
Hid a grizzly bear’s hairy powerful claws.”

A social gesture of subjection, mimicking the lover’s typical handshake, conceals brutal emotions. And all of this is denied by art, the smooth “mirror” of life, the poem.

The mirror image becomes the traditional sonnet break between octet and sestet. And at this point, there is a shift from the speaker hidden behind the tight lipped, formal phraseology of “One”, to culture and why the poem cannot speak. The poem, “sticky” with “sleep” has become an eye glued shut and unable to see. A lack of “iron” technique has left it weak--a neat pun in "aenemic"!--as has its commitment to political slogans, bon mots, rather than original thought. Culture resembles the inactive, melancholic lover of Romanticism. In a reversal of Pound's Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, the "mottoes on sundials" or the slogans of a particular era have become the new diversion for the out-of-date poet.

The first sonnet concludes with its eyes on what poetry might become. Not a wedge that prevents conversation between Europe and Africa, such that one looks upon the other with dismay (prophetically, Marechera saw Hove’s rejection of his poetry because it was too European for African tastes), but as troubled lover, picking at its “stanza-lips”, threatening awkwardly to shape its words.

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