I feel like American Literature is out there, deliberately, just to antagonize me. Reading through Richard Wilbur’s Marginalia, the influx of logic (or rather illogical), useless pseudo-intellectual phrases, and an apparent lack of beauty and depth coupled with ill-structured stanzas and a pretense of philosophical thought all ploy against my very faculty of reasoning to delve into the mystifying beauty of English Poetry. The poem in its entirety is conspiring against all I believe in. How am I ever supposed to indite a critical “appreciation” of this 18-verse monstrosity? Am I being thick? Or is this really unnatural to comprehend? “Textile scum”? Whatever am I supposed to make of this compound word?

Things concentrate at the edges; the pond-surface
Is bourne to fish and man and it is spread
In textile scum and damask light, on which
The lily-pads are set; and there are also
     Inlaid ruddy twigs, becalmed pine-leaves,
     Air-baubles, and the chain mail of froth.
Descending into sleep (as when the night-lift
Falls past a brilliant floor) we glimpse a sublime
Décor and hear, perhaps, a complete music,
But this evades us, as in the night meadows
     The crickets’ million roundsong dies away
     From all advances, rising in every distance.
Our riches are centrifugal; men compose
Daily, unwittingly, their final dreams,
And those are our own voices whose remote
Consummate chorus rides on the whirlpool’s rim,
     Past which we flog our sails, toward which we drift,
     Plying our trades, in hopes of a good drowning.

American Literature is an admixture of obscurity and ambiguity. Their poetry, even more so. This is my wild guess at the first verse “Things concentrate at the edges”:

  1. The word ‘concentration’ has a two-fold meaning where in its human sense it means focusing on, giving full attention to, and deliberating, consciously and subconsciously as we do in our everyday life. In its visceral sense, the word means exerting pressure on, stressing, or saturation.
  2. The word ‘things’ could mean the concrete objects around us or the abstract emotions, feelings, thoughts, intentions, motives. In its former sense the poet personifies the concrete objects around us by giving them the faculty to ‘concentrate’.
  3. ‘Edge’ implies a margin (hence the title Marginalia), a boundary line, a perimeter that bounds a certain concrete or abstract object.
  4. Marginalia might refer to the separation of duality that exists in our life in varying forms: awareness and unawareness, life and death, permanence and temperance, and of course what is inside the ‘edge’ and that which lies outside.

I feel there is a faded coherence in the aforementioned guesses. I just can’t connect the dots for which a plausible reason is my sheer disgust for the way the ideas of the verse are presented, and also of course the question “What in the name of all that is considered POETRY is the poet trying to say?” I do try my best not to let my prejudice against American Literature come in the way but one cannot help it.


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