Big river giving up what made it
It. No fighting visible
But all the colossal loss of self
Flat silent under a hemisphere
Of stillness. Then I'd only been
Three or four years on the dry land
Still wrapped in native wonder. I recall
This much: a level the lowest possible above
The sea and it
Was greening gold, sheep safely grazed, the lark
And curlew signed it differently, water
Holed and threaded it so that it blinked between
More dry than wet, more wet than dry,
An earth dissolving into steppingtufts and mud, the water
Salting. How I loved
My game of pondering a route
Dryfoot and intricate to the farthest out. I thought myself
Out there where the wavering decided on
The sea, the river,
Biggest imaginable, lapsed without any trace
And on the brink of guessing at a place
Of nowhere, nothing, no one evermore
I reached up for love's
Always waiting to be reached for hand.
After yesterday's poetry post I'm inspired to carry on awhile with some of my favourite poems. David Constantine is a name you may not be familiar with. However, in my opinion he's one of the UK's most thoughtful and interesting poets and short story writers (in fact he's just won this year's BBC National Short Story Award). David used to be a lecturer in the German Department at my old university, and he was a constant source of inspiration to me. His quietly captivating lectures, seminars and tutorials cemented and enhanced my own natural love of literature. I owe a great debt to him. He was one of the guiding intellectual lights of my life.
His poems are understated, carefully worked, subtly suggestive, resonant with myth and allusion. Estuarine is one of my favourite poems of his, a poem I've mentioned before on this blog. There are many things I like about this poem. First of all, what a wonderfully tangible description of a river estuary - ... a level the lowest possible above / The sea and it / was greening gold ... ; ... water / Holed and threaded it so that it blinked between / More dry than wet, more wet than dry, / An earth dissolving into steppingtufts and mud ... Second, what an astonishingly new, pristine, innocent, unclouded vision of this watery landscape he portrays as seen through the eyes of a very young child (but recollected through an adult mind). Next, what original and beautiful language he uses to encapsulate this vision - ... the lark / And curlew signed it differently ... ; And on the brink of guessing at a place / Of nowhere ...
But what does it all add up to, what do we take away from the poem, what's the meaning? I think that the colossal loss of self is the clue. Estuaries are places where a river loses its identity in its comingling with mudflat and salt marsh. Where does the river become the sea? It's a confusing, amorphous area, a no-man's-land (yet a beautiful land). A child, feeling a little lost in this place and in need of reassurance, can reach up to grasp the hand of a parent - I reached up for love's / Always waiting to be reached for hand. Can we find the same reassurance as adults? Whose hand can we reach for? Or can we rationalize the 'lostness', because of our greater maturity and experience, and offer a helping hand to those who may reach out to us?
This is a marvellous poem, I think. Further resonances come from the Biblical allusions ( ... sheep safely grazed ... ) and the Wordsworthian overtones (Still wrapped in native wonder ... ) In fact I can never read this poem without being strongly reminded of Wordsworth's The Prelude and its emotions 'recollected in tranquillity'.
I would love to hear anyone else's responses to this accomplished and lovely poem.