“Losing too is still ours; and even forgetting
still has a shape in the kindgdom of transformation.
When something’s let go of, it circles; and though
we are rarely the center of the circle,
it draws around us its unbroken, marvelous curve.”
First ,when I saw the poem I thought Rilke was being merely clever .With usages like “losing too is still ours” I thought Rilke was out of form.In the second line Rilke got back to his original form. So I think. Forgetting still has a shape in the kingdom of transformation sounded so much like an epigrammatic saying. But actually it comes out as a poetic image if you look at it closely.Reality is built by consciousness which works only by remembering .Things exist only if your mind perceives them. Forgetting things is consciousness not recognising reality which means that forgetting has no shape or feel but in the world of constant flux when matter remains the same but only transforms into other matter or energy forgetting does not mean things losing their shape or form .The forgetting of things continues to circle around us although we may not be the at the centre of the circle . We are not the centrifuges in which energy flows from the centre to the perimeter but the curve remains around us impinging on our cconsciousnes.
An interesting use of imagery is the illustration of an abstract thought by the use of an abstract image ,concretising an abstract thought by use of an abstract image.In this case “forgetting” , (an abstract thing) is illustrated by the use of an abstract shape ‘the circle” .
A low temple keeps its gods in the dark.
You lend a matchbox to the priest.
One by one the gods come to light.
Amused bronze. Smiling stone. Unsurprised.
For a moment the length of a matchstick
gesture after gesture revives and dies.
Stance after lost stance is found
and lost again.
Who was that, you ask.
The eight arm goddess, the priest replies.
A sceptic match coughs.
You can count.
But she has eighteen, you protest.
All the same she is still an eight arm goddess to the priest.
You come out in the sun and light a charminar.
Children play on the back of the twenty foot tortoise.
A forgotten poet ? It looks like he has not received the recognition due to him. The poem is a personal experience .Two images stand out.The temple is situated in a low level ,probably in a cave which is unlit and and devotees are shown the deity by the priest with the light of a matchstick.One by one the Gods come to light is a beautiful visual exploration of the inner space of the temple as the matchstick’s flame expands and widens the visibilty area. As the matchstick gets smaller and smaller the visibility will go on getting less and less until another stick is lighted up and takes over the darkness.
The second image is the twenty feet high tortoise on which children play .The significance of the image can be understood only if the religious importance of the tortoise is understood as a symbol of Lord Vishnu’s Kurma (tortoise) avatar and children are playing on the stone image as though it is another plaything .The poet’s attitude towards the religious experience is already evident from the flippancy of his disputing the number of arms of the Mother Goddess and the way the “sceptic match coughs” .Now when he lights the Charminar cigarette with the same matchstick which had dispelled the darkness of the temple earlier it is only natural that he will see children playing on the stone tortoise which is worshipped by people as Vishnu.A beautiful poem.
Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea’s movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean’s spray.
What I like about this stanza is the visual beauty of the lines with some interesting images. The poet envies “the dog’s tail” (not the dog).Imagine the frisky doggy tail against the sea’s waves and the dog jumping about “full of the voltage of the sea’s movement”.The lines are more about the dog’s tail than the dog ,its “golden tail held high” and “‘face to face with the ocean’s spray”. The other pretty image is “the wintering birds filled the sky” ,the migratory birds which have come to roost from far away places filling the sky.
The poet and the dog walked together in the shores of the sea. Note that he did not walk the dog. The dog was a friend and a walking companion .
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Auden is witnessing the painting “The fall of Icarus” by Broueghel and is reflecting on how the old masters have looked upon human suffering as a subject theme for art. Auden is touched by the theme of the young boy Icarus who flew to the sun with waxen wings and after the wings melted in the sun’s heat crashed into the sea and died. The irony of Icarus’ unsung death has been brought out in the painting by the way how the world took his death.The farmer went on ploughing, the ship sailed calmly on;someone is eating or opening a window;children skating on the pond’s edge-everything seemed as though the world went on as usual and the martyrdom did not really matter.”The expensive delicate ship” had noticed the boy falling out of the sky but it had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Auden is touched by the tragedy of Icarus ,although the painting itself does not seem to pay any tributes to the boy .Icarus stands as a symbol of the indomitable human spirit but the world does not seem to care.The visual beauty of the painting acts as a powerful image for the poem. The vivid picture of the fall of Icarus portrayed therein suggests a world untouched by the tragedy and the under-current of irony in the poem brings out this aspect beautifully.