Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The executives

Reading Marjorie Garber's The Use and Abuse of Literature, I came upon her brief discussion, in her introduction, of Auden's poem "In Memory of W.B. Yeats" (1939). Garber uses the "Poetry makes nothing happen" as part of her discussion about whether literature is or should be "useful"—and here she's addressing it through Auden and Yeats, both of whom had political, social and moral impulses guiding their work. I looked up the Auden poem in my copy of his Selected Poems:

. . . Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its saying where executives
Would never want to tamper . . .

That line about "executives" rang a bell. I half-remembered a line and thought it came from a poem by Robert Bly. I have a dozen or so of his poems in a hip 1975 collection of poems, Contemporary American Poetry, edited by A. Poulin (and owned previously by my former sister-in-law). Didn't find it there, but dug out the line using Google (I must have the poem in some other collection). Here's the complete poem:

Romans Angry About the Inner World

What shall the world do with its children?
There are lives the executives
Know nothing of:
A leaping of the body,
The body rolling—I have felt it—
And we float
Joyfully toward the dark places.
But the executioners
Move toward Drusia. They tie her legs
On the iron horse. “Here is a woman
Who has seen our Mother
In the other world.” Next they warm
The hooks. The two Romans had put their trust
In the outer world. Irons glowed
Like teeth. They wanted her
To assure them. She refused. Finally
They took burning
Pine sticks, and pushed them
Into her sides. Her breath rose
And she died. The executioners
Rolled her off onto the ground.
A light snow began to fall from the clear sky
And covered the mangled body.
And the executives, astonished, withdrew.
The inner world is a thorn
In the ear of a tiny beast!
The fingers of the executive are too thick
To pull it out.
It is a jagged stone
Flying toward us out of the darkness.

I'd like to ask Robert Bly: Did you have that line about "executives" from Auden in mind when you wrote this?

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