Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Jack Gilbert, 1925-2012
One of my favorite poems, one I've photocopied into an imagined anthology (which I'm attempting to link to as many poems as I can from on this page of the blog--I admit, it's a slow process with a toddler whose main attraction is my diminishing lap and making forceful attempts at pushing back the bump) is Jack Gilbert's "The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart":
The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart
How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
Get it wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind's labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not a language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses and birds.
From THE GREAT FIRES: POEMS, 1982-1992 (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994)
I don't know much about Jack Gilbert. He was linked to Linda Gregg. His first book won the Yale Younger. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer. The poems I've read have moved me. He'd been battling dementia, which is, of course, a poetic and personal topic for me. (See: chapbook.) He lived a long life. He was 87. There's an article in The LA Times and on Slate.
I feel as if I ought to read his collected this week; I feel as if I want to crawl into bed and feel cozy and safe and hope that I might live a long life such as this, leaving behind a poem or two that might hum as his work does.