Phyllis Webb was last year’s happy find for me. Several people suggested I read her and then repeated the suggestion when I started writing Ghazals. I started with her selected poems - The Vision Tree: Selected Poems, as that was the only thing available at the library. Webb is Canadian, born in the 20’s, writer, broadcaster and creative writing teacher at Victoria (BC). Sharon Thesen in her introduction to The Vision Tree wrote:
What we are often most grateful for are the poem’s open completions, which do not stop the poem, but which cast their strange felicity back over the other lines, so that the whole poem is gathered into a unity without proposing a closure.
I read and re-read this volume. You just can’t read her work once, it is dense and surprising and multi-layered. I kept coming back to one of her earlier poems “Patience”:
Patience is the wideness of the night
the simple pain of stars
the muffled explosion of velvet
it moves itself generally
accepts the telling of time
These metaphors are startling for me. Then the last four lines. Patience isn’t concerned with details or comparison, Patience is vast, thick and heavy, sharp and piercing. What else is vast? The wide night sky is vast. What are in the night sky? Stars. What goes on for eons? Starlight.
“The muffled explosion of velvet” I imagine the night sky as a big piece of thick, heavy velvet that is shaken out with a crack / snap and once laid over you is so thick and heavy it almost suffocates.
This is clever because instead of using three un-related metaphors for Patience she has used three that are intertwined and the third is a metaphor for her first metaphor – the night sky. So it is all woven in on itself. Makes me dizzy!
Then when she expands the rest of the stanza it is as if she is talking about Einstein. She is talking about time and space. The last word of the stanza – relativity, (the theory of which describes how things stay in orbit) again going back to the night sky and space and also relationships.
This stanza is extraordinary! I wasn’t sure at first if that was what she intended or if I was just reading my own interests into it but I later read an essay of hers in which she odes say she is influenced by “Field Theory” much to my satisfaction.
The second stanza goes on:
But more than these accommodations
patience is love withdrawn
into the well; immersion into
a deep place where green begins.
It is the slow beat of slanting eyes
down the hearts years,
it is the silencer
and the loving now
involves no word.
Patience is the answer
poised in grief – the knowing –
it is the prose of tears
withheld and the aging,
the history in the heart
and futures where pain
is a lucid cargo.
This stanza is quite different from the first, it comes not only down to earth but then down a well. It becomes less abstract and more human – love withdrawn is a very human condition. Silent years of wordless, withdrawn love grieved. Tears withheld as years pass and on into the future, where pain is still a ‘lucid cargo’. You need patience to endure never-ending heart break.
So, in stanza one, two people in orbit – in love, then in the second stanza love is withdrawn so patience morphs, earths. The second stanza is also longer than the first, which intimates that the loss and suffering goes on for much longer than the time of being in love. The lines get shorter too. ‘pain is a lucid cargo’ - what a killer line.
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