Friday, September 12, 2008

Exegesis Saves!

So Marianne was online and she and I were talking about Sappho the other night, and she sent me a link for a blog discussing various translations of one of her poems. You're probably most familiar with the Rexroth version:

The moon has set,
And the Pleiades. It is
Midnight. Time passes.
I sleep alone.
Sappho is famous, of course, for how little of her work survives. I have a collection containing every word that survives of her oeuvre, and I think it includes only one poem that survives in its entirety. Many of them are mere scatterings of words across the page. And in several instances, only a single word survives.

The blogger concluded:

"As I said, some of the poems are actually fragments of only a single word. Hear and know I begin a series of my own word poems, inspired by Sappho's 'Soda': Coke

"Let the analysis begin."

Alas, though the post was over a year old, nobody had responded. So I stepped up to the plate:

Hum. Well, obviously, "Coke" can refer either to the product resulting from the distillation of coal in a closed chamber or to the famous soft drink. So we've got a dichotomy going here. Knowing nothing about the poet, other than the date of posting, we cannot tell whether the capitalization is meant to collapse our uncertainty toward Coca-Cola or is simply an artifact of contemporary poetic conventions.

The diction of the preceding exegesis, however, suggests that the poet is an adult, and it is thus possible to speculate that he/she was of an age to participate in the follies of the times during the 1970s. Which raises the possibility of a third interpretation of the poem as the slang term for "cocaine." In which case, the use of the familiar rather than the formal voice suggests that the poem is autobiographical.

Is the poet lamenting ancient bad choices and, perhaps, a road not taken, or merely wallowing in nostalgia for lost youth? In the absence of further archaeological discovery, there is simply no way for us to know.

Note, however, that all three meanings of the word from which this poem is constructed are man-made. It is therefore obviously intended to serve as a commentary on Mankind's separation from Nature, a lamentation for our expulsion from the Garden, and a wistful expression of regret for the innocence of childhood.

I could go on and on unpacking the text, for "Coke," like all great poetry, is truly bottomless.

Remember when you were in college and used to be able to spin out nonsense like this at an instant's notice? Turns out, it's like riding a bicycle. You never forget.

And as always . . .

I've updated Poem du Jour. Which is about real poetry.


1 comment:

House said...


That last line sums up my entire college career! If I were grading your "analysis" I'd give you an A! Marvelous!