(Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”)
I know, I know. I am not the measure of all things. There is much I don’t know… more than enough to make me blush. It is also true that I haven’t followed trends in poetry for a long, long while — not since William Carlos Williams — though I confess to reading some Robert Pinsky recently. Still, I desire to see words used to communicate… words that hint at a meaning and don’t require me to go after them as if I were a desert wanderer forced to turn over every rock in the hope of finding a hidden spring. I don’t mind being teased with a sylph-like thought that appears and disappears. But I know the difference between a tough crossword puzzle and an encrypted message from private thoughts.
I came across a poem in the March edition of “Harper’s” which strikes me as being one of these encrypted messages. The poet, W.G. Sebald was a German scholar who, rumor had it, would have won the Nobel Prize for Literature if he hadn’t died in a car crash in 2001. A book of his work will be published by Random House in April and one of his poems, “Timetable,” appears below.
by morning, I study
the grounds of my coffee
By midday I cut
a slice for myself
from the hollow pumpkin of summer
And not until dark do I risk again
the Cretan trick
of leaping between the horns”
Okay, I get the individual words… I even like the image “the hollow pumpkin of summer,” and the “horns” referred to are probably those of the moon’s phases. But when the words are strung out in a line, what do I get?
I get a headache. If anyone can decipher this poem, please share because,
in the morning, I, too, study my coffee grounds
And not till dusk,
having sliced myself hollow with the doubt that I understand anything,
do I admit the horns of my dilemma
and leap into bed.