I’m reading J.H. Prynne’s The White Stones for the first time and while enjoying it, I often find myself feeling lost. I don’t find that a negative response; I have often felt that way with works that have become favorites. There are themes and images that connect across the poems and I’m just barely getting an overall understanding of the work.
Like that joy and perplexity that exist together, sometimes I get baffled by winds of deep sadness and loss, seemingly without reason or at least a clear cause-and-effect. Anomie? Alienation? Having children also spins the psyche to extremes. Normally, I let that fuel writing. That usually works. Sometimes I need the words of others.
Prynne’s poem below, “The Common Gain, Reverted,” came at the right time. I can’t even say I understand the poem yet, but I had that deep response to it, a feeling of an inevitability and “rightness.” That sounds kind of silly, but it’s been one of the constants in my life since first reading Silverstein or Poe somewhere in elementary school.
Ah, Terence, thanks for your stupid stuff.
The Common Gain, Reverted
The street is a void in the sequence of man,
as he sleeps by its side, in rows that house
his dreams. Where he lives, which is the
light from windows, all the Victorian grandeur
of steam from a kitchen range. The street
is a void, its surface slips, shines and is
marked with nameless thoughts. If we could
level down into the street! Run across by
the morning traffic, spread like shadows, the
commingling of thoughts with the defeat we
Those who walk heavily
carry their needs, or lack
of them, by keeping their
eyes directed at the ground
before their feet. They are
said to trudge when in fact their empty thoughts
unroll like a crimson carpet before their
gentle & delicate pace. In any street the pattern
of inheritance is laid down, the truth is for our
time in cats-eyes, white markings, gravel
left from the last fall of snow. We proceed
down it in dreams, from house to house which
spill nothing on to the track, only light on the
edge of the garden. The way is of course speech
and a tectonic emplacement, as gradient it
moves easily, like a void
It is now at this
time the one presence
of fact, our maze
through which we
tread the shadow or
at mid-day pace
level beneath our own. And in whichever form
we are possessed the surface is sleep again and
we should be thankful. By whatever movement,
I share the anonymous gift, the connivance
in where to go as what I now find myself
to have in the hand. The nomad is perfect
but the pure motion which has no track is
utterly lost; even the Esquimaux look for sled
markings, though on meeting they may not speak.
The street that is the
sequence of man
is the light of his
most familiar need,
to love without being stopped for some im-
mediate bargain, to be warm and tired
without some impossible flame in the heart.
As I walked up the hill this evening and felt
the rise bend up gently against me I knew
that the void was gripped with concentration.
Not mine indeed but the sequence of fact,
the lives spread out, it is a very wild and
distant resort that keeps a man, wandering
at night, more or less in his place.