Friday, August 15, 2008

More about "THE DANCING"

I didn't want to just leave that poem, "The Dancing," by Gerald Stern without any more comments. So I thought I'd say a bit of what I find so powerful in that poem...

It starts us out in some kind of nostagalic reminscing--the way people get in flea markets and antique shops--"look at this old pickle fork just like the one Grandpa sent flying at that picnic in '59" -- but then the nostalgia turns so precise--"Ravel's Bolero," and every word has so much precise, powerful intent. We are suddenly in a "tiny living room," we are cramped in there and now a family is dancing, which is unusual and evocative as it is, but then, this kind of dancing: with "knives all flashing, my hair all streaming." It's a passion we rarely witness, maybe can never speak about except with distance and by sneaking up on it. The mother is red with her laughter and the father is making that farting noise in his delight, and then these lines:

"the world at last a meadow//the three of us whirling and singing, the three of us//screaming and falling, as if were were dying."

There's this incredible tension in the rhythym of the lines, they have a momentum to them when you say them.

We're here in Pittsburgh and it's 1945, and we're a little immigrant family in a tiny living room. It's nothing too beautiful, by any standards, except these. That it's 1945, and 5,000 miles away our people have been rescued. So we've been rescued. This world has become a meadow again.

Then this last line-- it just makes me tremble.

Think about this history. About the utter unexplainable horror of the Holocaust, and then to know it's over. Somehow this last line perfectly, to me, captures what it is to live in a world where the evil is desperate and yet, finally the evil is conquered. This kind of evil can't be defeated simply by the military power. The God who has seemed so distant and hidden while evil occurred has now said it will end.

So they dance. I love this dancing. I think Miriam and the other Israelites danced like this when they found they were at last free of Egypt... and the people of the Exile danced like this when they were at last home--This wild dancing that is a prayer and a cry:

"oh God of mercy, oh wild God."