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“I want you to tell me if grief, brought to numbers, cannot be so fierce”: Stanzaic Form, Rhythm and Play in Paul Muldoon’s Long Poems

“I want you to tell me if grief, brought to numbers, cannot be so fierce”: vers longs et strophes ludiques chez Paul Muldoon
Martin Ryle
p. 143-156

Résumés

Cet article analyse trois longs poèmes de Paul Muldoon, et constate que c’est surtout au niveau de la strophe que fonctionne le rythme de ces œuvres. Depuis longtemps, les vers de Muldoon ne montrent aucune réglementation métrique; la trace du pentamètre iambique, souvent audible chez ses contemporains Seamus Heaney ou Derek Mahon, n’y apparaît plus. En comparant “At the Sign of the Black Horse. . .” de Muldoon avec “A Prayer for My Daughter”, le poème de W.B. Yeats auquel il répond, nous noterons d’abord que la forme des vers de Muldoon semble refléter la tempête que ces derniers évoquent: celle-ci aurait détruit les rythmes réguliers qui chez Yeats affirmaient la présence de l’auteur. Si Muldoon nous parle néanmoins d’une voix distinctive et distinguée, pour ne pas dire (post-)romantique, c’est que ses poèmes emploient d’autres moyens formels. La strophe, surtout, joue un rôle important dans le travail esthétique qui fait des expériences douloureuses — du “grief”, pour reprendre le mot de John Donne — le thème d’une poésie notamment ludique

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  • 1 Kendall sums up the role of Heaney (and other established writers) in Muldoon’s early poetic develo (...)

1Comparison with an influential near-contemporary, and a still more influential precursor, will illuminate some rhythmic and other qualities of the poems by Paul Muldoon with which we are concerned. We will begin with Muldoon’s sometime mentor, Seamus Heaney (Kendall 14–19)1; later, we shall turn to W.B. Yeats.

“Alphabets”, which opens Heaney’s The Haw Lantern, commences thus:

A shadow his father makes with joined hands
And thumbs and fingers nibbles on the wall
Like a rabbit’s head. He understands
He will understand more when he goes to school.
There he draws smoke with chalk the whole first week,
Then draws the forked stick that they call a Y.
This is writing. A swan’s neck and swan’s back
Make the 2 he can see now as well as say. (Heaney 1983, 1–3)

  • 2 Two poets admired by Muldoon (Muldoon 2006b, 53-81, 89).
  • 3 First published in Muldoon 1973.

2The metrical pulse is immediately discernible, over-determining the rhythm and syntactical shape of the lines. However, the poem’s artifice seeks to make itself inconspicuous. The plainness of the diction (suited to the child’s point of view) works with the unobtrusive half-rhymes to suggest conversational, rather than rhetorical, speech. The pentameters are varied only by familiar kinds of irregularity: inverted feet, lines with one syllable too few or too many, enjambments. The voice and rhythmic movement are distinctively Heaney’s. However, his line departs from the underlying metrical norm in ways well established in poetry in English since the early twentieth century: in Wilfred Owen, Edward Thomas and Robert Frost2; among Heaney’s contemporaries, in Philip Larkin and the Belfast writers Michael Longley and Derek Mahon. Ars est celare artem: this art of the measured line prefers to make metre unobtrusive. Muldoon’s early poem “Good Friday, 1971. Driving Westward” is cast from that same rhythmic mould: it starts “It was good going along with the sun/Through Ballygawley, Omagh and Strabane” (Muldoon 1986, 9).3

  • 4 “Alphabets” was the 1984 Phi Beta Kappa poem at Harvard (Heaney “Acknowledgements”). “The More a Ma (...)

3Let us contrast Heaney’s lines with the opening of Muldoon’s “The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants”, published (in Quoof, 1983) shortly before “Alphabets”.4

At four in the morning he wakes
to the yawn of brakes,
the snore of a diesel engine.
Gone. All she left
is a froth of bra and panties.
The scum of the Seine
and the Farset.
Gallogly squats in his own pelt.
A sodium street light
has brought a new dimension
to their black taxi.
By the time they force an entry
he’ll have skedaddled
among the hen runs and pigeon lofts.

The charter flight from Florida
touched down at Aldergrove
minutes earlier,
at 3.54 a.m.
Its excess baggage takes the form
of Mangas Jones, Esquire,
who is, as it turns out, Apache.
He carries only hand luggage.
“Anything to declare?”
He opens the powder-blue attaché-
case. “A pebble of quartz.”
“You’re an Apache?” “Mescalero.”
He follows the corridor’s
arroyo till the signs read Hertz.

4After the fully rhymed opening couplet, the first stanza offers many ghosts of rhyme: “engine/Seine/dimension”; “left/pelt/light/lofts”; “panties/taxi/entry”. Counting the lines in both stanzas, and noting that the second, too, has many half-rhymes (“Florida/earlier”; “a.m./form”; “Esquire/declare”), we realise that each stanza is a sonnet, or the ruins of one.

5Muldoon’s stanza involves as much artifice as Heaney’s, but it has not exerted the same influence on the shape of the lines. In this extract alone, these have from two to four stresses (it is hard to say which or how many syllables we should stress); the syllable-count is anywhere between four and ten. We can hardly speak of metre, or even of its ghost, in the absence of any predictable recurrence of stress-count, stress-pattern or syllable-count. The short lines favour terseness, but the rhythms are otherwise close to those of natural utterance: the comparison with Heaney highlights the formative power of the pentameter, and the doubtfulness of any claim that its cadences approximate those of speech. In other stanzaic poems by Muldoon where the lines are longer, it is often even less possible to speak of recurrent or underlying line-patterns.

  • 5 Muldoon foregrounds intertextuality in his critical lectures (Muldoon 2006b and 2008). Wills, Kenda (...)
  • 6 See also 207, on the “increasing obsession on Muldoon’s part with arbitrary formal constraint as su (...)

6Its rhythms have attracted less critical attention than other qualities of Muldoon’s poetry. Intertexts and allusions, and the political contexts of his work, offer commentators readier openings; as does his fondness for associative word-chains, and for arcane formal constraints in rhyme and structure.5 This critical neglect of rhythm reflects the difficulty of formulating an account in rhythmic terms of lines so metrically undetermined. Indeed, the initial point to make about rhythm in these long poems is a negative one: that Muldoon does not tie himself down. “Among contemporary poets”, Clair Wills observes, Muldoon is “remarkable for the high degree of verbal patterning which his work displays” (Wills 1998, 84).6 This heightened patterning, however, often involves little metrical constraint.

  • 7 Wills notes the possible influence of Frank O’Hara and the New York School (Wills 1998, 84).

7Strong patterning nonetheless means we cannot hear Muldoon’s poetry as free verse. These stanzas show a formal artifice as foreign to Elizabeth Bishop or Frank O’Hara as to Heaney.7 Heaney’s half-rhymes seem self-effacing in their avoidance of full rhyme’s highly audible constraint; Muldoon’s half-rhymes—“Apache/attaché”, “Mescalero/arroyo”, “quartz/Hertz”—are flamboyantly clever. They foist an international lexis into the key places of an anglophone line; they flaunt a near rhyme for the near-unrhymable “Apache”. We follow the narrative’s corridor along past an internal rhyme-word, “arroyo”, whose meaning we perhaps don’t know, till the stanza is tied up with a flourish of consecutive stressed monosyllables.

  • 8 Kendall writes (114) of “the incomprehensions and irretrievabilities” of the poem, mirroring the “c (...)
  • 9 Bernard O’Donoghue emphasises this Joycean dimension of Muldoon’s work (401, 407, 417). Joyce’s “Th (...)

8Artifice is offered as a primary element in the reader’s pleasure; if we don’t enjoy it, we won’t enjoy Muldoon. Behind the intricacies of the verbal surface, hidden structures often determine its forms. Wills, for example, notes what readers of the volume Hay are (as she says) unlikely to detect: that several of its longer poems use the same ninety rhyme words in the same order as they appear in “Yarrow”, the concluding poem of Muldoon’s previous volume (Wills 1998, 207). Whoever registers this may well wonder at it. The poems’ referential and narrative ambiguities heighten this sense of artifice. “The More a Man Has. . .” solicits interpretation only to rebut it.8 In these first stanzas we cut from scene to scene; the relation between the two protagonists and their tales remains unclear to the end. We find proper nouns, “Farset” and “Mescalero”, whose denotation we may not know. Mangas Jones’ “powder-blue attaché/case”, with its quartz pebble, is a decidedly surrealist object. Reading on, we cross an intertextual hinterland we can never wholly map. Tim Kendall identifies numerous allusions (108–117), and points out that the fifth line of Muldoon’s tenth stanza—“for thou art so possess’d with murd’rous hate”—is also the fifth line of Shakespeare’s tenth sonnet. One more formal correspondence probably undetected by the reader, this also strikes what we must call a more serious note. The line could stand as epigraph to the poem, whose language and speakers are indeed possessed by hateful powers. Like the later work of James Joyce,9 this poetry is attuned to multiple writings, stories and languages. But through its ludic indeterminacy there runs a countering impulse, an injunction to value and to judge.

9The rhythm of such poetry must somehow enact the movement to and fro between the proliferation of language and the creation of ponderable meanings. Something fixed, something like metre, must counter its centrifugal energies. Muldoon’s line is radically underdetermined: rarely end-stopped, metrically unmarked, free to expand within flexible syllabic limits. The stanza, if only in its rhymes, remains a mode of order. Stanzaic recurrence, on the page and reading aloud, is the major element of orderly repetition, and offers a better point of focus than the line for anyone seeking to establish the rhythmic element in the poems under consideration. Alongside its conservative and recapitulative working, this stanza comes to function as a principle of generation. That claim could be supported by further discussion of “The More a Man Has. . .”, but we shall turn instead to “At the Sign of the Black Horse, September 1999”.

  • 10 The same stanza is used in “Incantata: in memory of Mary Farl Powers”, in Muldoon 1994; some of its (...)

10This long poem, which concludes Moy Sand and Gravel (2002), offers itself as a rewriting of Yeats’ “A Prayer for My Daughter” not only because Muldoon quotes many phrases from the earlier poem, and not only because of the thematic parallels we note shortly, but also because its stanza has the same shape (aabbcddc).10 But this “shape” is a matter of rhyme-endings only. Muldoon’s line is of anything from five to 23 syllables, with no fixed relation between those syllables and the highly variable stress-patterns. Rhythmically, that upper limit of 23 syllables is about the only thing that holds it in check.

  • 11 Poems in complex stanzas include (as well as “The More a Man Has. . .”) “Immram”, “Long Finish” and (...)

11By the time he composed “At the Sign of the Black Horse. . .”, Muldoon had written several substantial poems in similar stanza-forms, complementing his long poems in terza rima.11 Here, he handles his eight-line stanza with a confidence, and a communicated pleasure in that confidence, which indeed recall Yeats. Both poems are public as well as private, and their art is rhetorical. But their stanzas, although “the same”, look and sound very different. Here is Yeats’ opening (Yeats 211):

Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
But Gregory’s wood and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof- levelling wind,
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

With these pentameters echoing in our minds, we hear all the more clearly the disorderly internal rhythms with which Muldoon, at the start of his considerably longer poem, is already battering at his stanza’s little room (Muldoon 2002, 73):

Awesome, the morning after Hurricane Floyd, to sit out in our driveway and gawk
at yet another canoe or kayak
coming down Canal Road, now under ten feet of water. We’ve wheeled to the brim
the old Biltrite pram
in which, wrapped in a shawl of Carrickmacross
lace and a bonnet
of his great-grandmother Sophie’s finest needlepoint,
Asher sleeps on, as likely as any of us to find a way across
the millrace on which logs (trees more than logs)
are borne along, to which the houses down by the old Griggstown Locks
have given up their inventory.
I’m happy for once to be left high and dry. . .

12Some thematic keynotes are sounded here. Irish and Jewish names—“Carrickmacross”, “Asher”—place the infant son in a line of descent from hunger and pogroms and forced migration (other poems in the volume have referred to the Jewish lineage of Muldoon’s wife). Exposure to tempestuous weather figures, as in Yeats, exposure to the dangerous element of history. The phrase “sleeps on” opens the question, in both poems, of whether childish oblivion is mere false security, or also images a surviving or attainable “radical innocence”—a phrase from “A Prayer for My Daughter” several times quoted by Muldoon. The millennial aura of Yeats’ poem, which when first published appeared immediately after “The Second Coming” with its reference to “twenty centuries of stony sleep”, is mirrored in the date—“1999”—of Muldoon’s.

  • 12 Adorno returned several times to the theme. See for example his comments on Schoenberg’s Survivor r (...)

13Muldoon confronts the serious implications of his subject: he three times names Auschwitz, taking as his interlocutor not only Yeats but Adorno. Adorno’s warning that to write poetry after Auschwitz is impossible is one theme of “At the Sign of the Black Horse”.12 However, the rhythmic quality of these lines is incompatible with Yeatsian high seriousness. The weight of Yeats’ utterance depends on a suspended, recurrent integration of syntax and speech-phrasing with metrical and structural form: every one of Yeats’ ten stanzas consists of either one or two sentences, and every stanza-end coincides with a sentence-end. Muldoon eschews that kind of stability: here (unlike in “The More a Man Has. . .”) almost every stanza ends on an incomplete sentence running into its successor, in what we might call “stanzaic enjambment”. Twice, the stanza-break cuts across one of the admonitory phrases which litter the poem and represent the banal or fatal injunctions addressed to the subject by power: “Please Examine//Your Change”, “Keep Back//Fifty Feet”, “Verboten”, “Arbeit Macht Frei”.

14How might we describe the effects of this interplay between stanzaic form and rhythmically undetermined long lines?

15First of all, ungoverned rhythmic movement mimics the flooded river and the spent hurricane. It runs unstoppably through line- and stanza-endings, laying waste the poetic rage for order. Yeats’ metrical utterance mirrors in its regularity the conquest it seeks to make over its tempestuous subject-matter. Muldoon seems, or sounds, more bent on embodying the “hurricane” than on controlling it.

  • 13 Kendall notes (108) that “The More a Man Has. . .” “accommodat[es] the learned beside the slangy, t (...)
  • 14 Wills (1998, 145) writes that in terms of the radical poetics “associated with the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E (...)

16A second observation is that undetermined rhythm facilitates the incorporation of fragments of language, from diverse literary, popular, and subcultural idioms. “Please Examine Your Change”; or, in the first stanza alone, “awesome”, “Hurricane Floyd”, “gawk”, “Biltrite”. Openness to lexical diversity is fundamental to all Muldoon’s poems discussed here, and to many others.13 “In genres that are poetic in the narrow sense”, wrote Mikhail Bakhtin, “the natural dialogization of the word is not put to artistic use [. . .]. Poetic style is by convention suspended from any mutual interaction with alien discourse. [. . .] Social languages are filled with specific objects, typical, socially localized and limited, while the artificially created language of poetry must be a directly intentional language, unitary and singular” (Bakhtin 285, 287). This was already changing in Eliot, whose free verse accommodates scraps of “social language”. The process is taken much further (Joyce not Eliot being the presiding genius) by Muldoon. From early on, his rejection of metrical regularity, and the expulsion even of its attenuated echoes, has been the key to his deconstruction of poetic language “in the narrow sense”, allowing him to name a host of “specific objects”. In this respect, Muldoon—like many contemporary poets—breaks with “Romantic and post-Romantic literary tradition” (in Wills’ phrase), insofar as the latter inheres in the sustained articulation of a voice taken to represent the poet’s unique individuality.14

  • 15 See the breeze that blows in the opening sequence of Wordsworth’s Prelude; and see Coleridge’s “Aeo (...)

17But Muldoon is always most recognisably himself, too. To suggest fully how that’s so would take us well beyond our theme. Staying with the rhythmic element in “At the Sign of the Black Horse. . .”, we can however make a third point, which reinstates poetic utterance as a formative power. Here, whatever “specific object” is named in “alien discourse” is at once caught up, as in a flood, by the headlong rhythm. The wind that blows is not just yesterday’s hurricane and historical tempest; it is also, as in Romantic tradition, the Aeolian music of composition.15 What can’t be governed by a fixed line and what bursts the walls of the stanza is the impulse of speech and writing. The stanza itself, moreover, is both a constraining frame and a principle of recurrence, bringing new freight each time it repeats itself. In this poem, in “Sillyhow Stride”, and at the end of “Incantata: in memory of Mary Farl Powers” (assembling the memory-images which are “all that’s left” after death), the stanza becomes an aleatory device, its return pressing the poet to find and body forth more than has yet been said.

  • 16 Found respectively on Highway 61 Revisited, 1965; Blonde on Blonde, 1966; Blood on the Tracks, 1975 (...)
  • 17 An account of the band (for which Muldoon writes lyrics) is at Erreur ! Référence de lien hypertext (...)

18Looking for a model for this generative stanza, we recall certain long songs of Bob Dylan: “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, “Desolation Row”, or indeed “Idiot Wind”.16 Stanzaic recurrence doubles the musical returns that drive these songs forward. Muldoon wrote a poem for the occasion of Dylan’s acceptance of an honorary doctorate at Princeton (Corcoran 25), and had saluted him as one of the “great artists” in “Sleeve Notes”, a sequence of poems about rock musicians in Hay (Muldoon 1988, 49). This sequence confirms the importance of rock music to Muldoon, who now performs as part of the band Rackett.17

  • 18 The two poems I have already discussed also conclude the volumes in which they appear.

19Warren Zevon, another musician celebrated in “Sleeve Notes”, is commemorated, together with Muldoon’s sister Maureen (the volume’s dedicatee), in “Sillyhow Stride”, the long elegiac poem that concludes Horse Latitudes (2006).18 This is a notable addition to the sequence of Muldoon’s elegies, and of his long poems in terza rima. Its short stanza barely resists the flow of speech; the poem is remarkable for long sentences, and only five of its ninety stanzas end with a full point. A new prominence is given (thematically and rhythmically) to intertextual address. The line “I want you to tell me if grief, brought to numbers, cannot be so fierce” is one of twenty or more that quote from Donne. Muldoon places Donne’s verse in a longer clause, and (often) in a longer line, both preserving and undoing the original metre. Measured verse is exposed to the corrosion or surplus of colloquial speech, and this is a primary mode of the dialectic between pattern and energy. Here are two illustrative passages:

At the winter solstice, as I filed
past a band of ticket scalpers

who would my ruined fortune flout
at Madison Square Gardens, I glimpsed a man in a Tibetan
cap, nay-saying a flute

whom I took at first to be a ruined Brian Jones, what with his flipping a butane
lighter in my face and saying, “I shall be made thy music. . .”

***

some pill that can’t be sugared,

another hit
of hooch or horse that double-ties the subtile knot
to which we’ve paid so little heed

all those years of running amuck in Kent.
Go tell court huntsmen that the oxygen-masked King will ride
ten thousand days and nights

on a stride piano, yeah right. . .

20Throughout the poem, rock music connotes bodily appetitive life. Music, poetry’s familiar emblem and metonym, is a presence as well as a topic, audible in two registers—the voice of the speaker, the metre of Donne—which provide a pleasurable contrast of texture and tone and place this poem in a history of poems.

21Muldoon thus raises the question implicit in the fact of such a history, and in all the poems we have discussed: How do we judge the consolation art offers in the face of distress? To enjoy that art we must be at a remove from what occasioned it. “I’m happy for once to be left high and dry”, the poet writes at the start of “At the Sign of the Black Horse. . .”, and in its address to Adorno that poem had indeed to begin by acknowledging its fortunate distance. That this is poetry of “the morning after”, when “awesome” is just a colloquial term for “fine”, is the first thing to be said. The loving parents wheel the pram “to the brim”, and no further. But this safe distance that allows pleasure and poetry may seem ethically troubling.

22“Sillyhow Stride” comes to this question again: as Twiddy (181) notes, elegy is the quintessence of a poetry at once grief-stricken and safely distant. The artifice that Muldoon prefers to flaunt heightens the ethical tension, being the mark of self-conscious poetical work and of the detachment this would require. Readers are implicated, too, enjoying the “numbers” of artifice and so taking pleasure in the “grief”. “Sillyhow Stride” thematises this through its dialogue with Donne. Its argument vindicates the rights of pleasure and the body. But a poem is more than an argument, and pleasure is more than the poem’s theme: it is what the poem gives, not least in its rhythms. As a vital element in the poem’s body, rhythm is a primary instance of pleasure as what need not and perhaps cannot be vindicated, but persists anyway.

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Bibliographie

Bakhtin, Mikhail, The Dialogic Imagination: Four essays, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, Austin and London:
U of Texas P, 1981.

Bloch, Ernst, at al., Aesthetics and Politics, London: New Left Books, 1980.

Campbell, Matthew (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Modern Irish Poetry, Cambridge: CUP, 2003.

Corcoran, Neil (ed.), Do You, Mr Jones? Bob Dylan with the Poets and Professors, London: Chatto and Windus, 2002.

Heaney, Seamus, The Haw Lantern, London: Faber, 1997.

Kendall, Tim, Paul Muldoon, Bridgend: Seren, 1996.

Longley, Edna, Poetry in the Wars, Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1986.

Longley, Edna, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1994.

Muldoon, Paul, New Weather, London: Faber & Faber, 1973.

Muldoon, Paul, Why Brownlee Left, London: Faber & Faber, 1980.

Muldoon, Paul, Quoof, London: Faber & Faber, 1983.

Muldoon, Paul, The Annals of Chile, London: Faber & Faber, 1984.

Muldoon, Paul, Selected Poems 1968–1983, London: Faber & Faber, 1986.

Muldoon, Paul (ed.), The Faber Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry, London: Faber & Faber, 1986.

Muldoon, Paul, Hay, London: Faber & Faber, 1988.

Muldoon, Paul, Moy Sand and Gravel, London: Faber & Faber, 2002.

Muldoon, Paul, Horse Latitudes, London: Faber & Faber, 2006a.

Muldoon, Paul, The End of the Poem: Oxford Lectures on Poetry, London: Faber & Faber, 2006b.

Muldoon, Paul, To Ireland, I: The 1998 Clarendon Lectures (1998), London: Faber & Faber, 2008.

Murphy, Shane, “Sonnets, centos and long lines: Muldoon, Paulin, McGuckian and Carson”, ed. Matthew Campbell, The Cambridge Companion to Modern Irish Poetry, Cambridge: CUP, 2003, 189–208.

O’Donoghue, Bernard, ‘“The Half-Said Thing to them is Dearest”: Paul Muldoon’, ed. Michael Kenneally, Poetry in Contemporary Irish Literature, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1995, 401–418.

Twiddy, Iain, “Grief brought to numbers: Paul Muldoon’s Circular Elegies”, English 55 12 (2006): 181–199.

Wills, Clair, Improprieties: Politics and Sexuality in Northern Irish Poetry, Oxford: OUP, 1993.

Wills, Clair, Reading Paul Muldoon, Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1998.

Yeats, W.B., Collected Poems (1950), London: Macmillan, 1969.

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Notes

1 Kendall sums up the role of Heaney (and other established writers) in Muldoon’s early poetic development in Belfast.

2 Two poets admired by Muldoon (Muldoon 2006b, 53-81, 89).

3 First published in Muldoon 1973.

4 “Alphabets” was the 1984 Phi Beta Kappa poem at Harvard (Heaney “Acknowledgements”). “The More a Man Has. . .” is reprinted in Muldoon 1986, 85-109.

5 Muldoon foregrounds intertextuality in his critical lectures (Muldoon 2006b and 2008). Wills, Kendall and Longley attend to political context, and comment valuably on intertext and form. However, the critical works noted here offer no sustained account of Muldoon’s verse in primarily rhythmic terms. Titles of the many scholarly articles on Muldoon that are accessible online very rarely indicate a focus on rhythm. Despite his title, Twiddy, in “Grief Brought to Numbers” (which I read after deciding the present paper’s title, and which predates Muldoon’s quotation in “Sillyhow Stride” of Donne’s phrase), has much more to say about rhyme, and about stanzaic form as the locus of rhyming and other mirror-devices, than about rhythm.

6 See also 207, on the “increasing obsession on Muldoon’s part with arbitrary formal constraint as such”, which is compared to what we find in Georges Perec.

7 Wills notes the possible influence of Frank O’Hara and the New York School (Wills 1998, 84).

8 Kendall writes (114) of “the incomprehensions and irretrievabilities” of the poem, mirroring the “confused world” of paramilitarism and counter-terrorism. However, Muldoon’s obscurity does not always have contextual warrant.

9 Bernard O’Donoghue emphasises this Joycean dimension of Muldoon’s work (401, 407, 417). Joyce’s “The Dead” makes a constant point of reference in Muldoon 2008.

10 The same stanza is used in “Incantata: in memory of Mary Farl Powers”, in Muldoon 1994; some of its formal qualities, especially in the earlier poem, are discussed by Twiddy. Louis MacNeice’s “Ode”, written on the birth of his son in 1934, also refers implicitly to Yeats’ poem. Muldoon’s admiration for MacNeice is evident from the generous selection of the latter’s work in the Faber Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry (Muldoon, ed. 1986), and Muldoon’s decision to print as the book’s “Prologue” a 1939 broadcast discussion between MacNeice and F.R. Higgins.

11 Poems in complex stanzas include (as well as “The More a Man Has. . .”) “Immram”, “Long Finish” and “The Misfits” (in Muldoon 1980, 1988, 2002); poems using versions of terza rima include (as well as “Sillyhow Stride”, discussed below) “Yarrow” and “Unapproved Road” (Muldoon 1994, 2002).

12 Adorno returned several times to the theme. See for example his comments on Schoenberg’s Survivor reprinted in Bloch and others, 189.

13 Kendall notes (108) that “The More a Man Has. . .” “accommodat[es] the learned beside the slangy, the dignified and afflated beside the cynical and impure”.

14 Wills (1998, 145) writes that in terms of the radical poetics “associated with the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E group”, Muldoon remains “too much in thrall to Romantic and post-Romantic literary tradition”.

15 See the breeze that blows in the opening sequence of Wordsworth’s Prelude; and see Coleridge’s “Aeolian Harp”.

16 Found respectively on Highway 61 Revisited, 1965; Blonde on Blonde, 1966; Blood on the Tracks, 1975 (all currently available on CD).

17 An account of the band (for which Muldoon writes lyrics) is at Erreur ! Référence de lien hypertexte non valide. (consulted 2 November 2009).

18 The two poems I have already discussed also conclude the volumes in which they appear.

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Martin Ryle, « “I want you to tell me if grief, brought to numbers, cannot be so fierce”: Stanzaic Form, Rhythm and Play in Paul Muldoon’s Long Poems », Études britanniques contemporaines, 39 | 2010, 143-156.

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Martin Ryle, « “I want you to tell me if grief, brought to numbers, cannot be so fierce”: Stanzaic Form, Rhythm and Play in Paul Muldoon’s Long Poems », Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 39 | 2010, mis en ligne le 11 février 2016, consulté le 26 juin 2017. URL : http://ebc.revues.org/2815 ; DOI : 10.4000/ebc.2815

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Auteur

Martin Ryle

University of Sussex.
Martin Ryle is a Reader in English at the University of Sussex. His books include Journeys in Ireland: Literary Travellers, Rural Landscapes, Cultural Relations (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999) and (with Kate Soper) To Relish the Sublime? (London: Verso, 2002). He is a contributor to and co-editor of George Gissing: Voices of the Unclassed (edited with Jenny Bourne Taylor; Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005). Martin Ryle’s current teaching and research focuses on contemporary fiction and on twentieth-century Irish literature in English, and his recently published chapters and articles include discussions of Michel Houellebecq, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ali Smith and John McGahern.

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Licence Creative Commons
Études britanniques contemporaines est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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