Monday, September 30, 2013

ModPo 2013 #22 The Inescapability of the Rose: On Williams' "The Rose Is Obsolete"

Image from

William Carlos Williams
from Spring and All (1923): "The rose is obsolete..."

The rose is obsolete
but each petal ends in
an edge, the double facet
cementing the grooved
columns of air--The edge
cuts without cutting
itself in metal or porcelain--

whither? It ends--

But if it ends
the start is begun
so that to engage roses
becomes a geometry--

Sharper, neater, more cutting
figured in majolica--
the broken plate
glazed with a rose

Somewhere the sense
makes copper roses
steel roses--

The rose carried weight of love
but love is at an end--of roses

It is at the edge of the
petal that love waits

Crisp, worked to defeat
plucked, moist, half-raised
cold, precise, touching


The place between the petal's
edge and the

From the petal's edge a line starts
that being of steel
infinitely fine, infinitely
rigid penetrates
the Milky Way
without contact--lifting
from it--neither hanging
nor pushing--

The fragility of the flower
penetrates space


What struck me about this poem was the inescapability of the rose. To make something new is to acknowledge the old. Power always has two sides and one cannot do without the other.

I appreciate the effort that Williams puts into redefining the rose. He goes as far as making the poem incomplete to highlight the process that the speaker is going through. He leaves fragments gaping in between lines: a "What" that has no punctuation. It could be a question or it could be pointing to the answer. And then there is the sentence that leaves a blank.."and the." Is he waiting for the reader to fill in that blank? We might have a reader that will be thoroughly confused as well. In an unguided environment, would a reader be able to access this poem and come away with something valuable? For me, as a reader who had not yet encountered the video discussion, I saw many moments in the poem that gave pause, like: "The fragility of the flower/ unbruised/ penetrates space." Isn't that power? If there is nothing that makes the flower fragile, what is it left with? Is it infinity? What a beautiful last three lines!

Once we remove the baggage of beauty and love from an object that was once imbued with it: do we remove its power? Do we give it new power? Or was that all a fiction, anyway? A fiction that we all agreed upon? Is this also a meta-poetic poem about the fiction of poetry itself?

Well, one thing is for sure: we are not done with the rose. Just as we can never be done with the game of language.

No comments:

Search This Blog