Wednesday, March 17, 2010

these hills are too green & sweet to have tasted salt

I am squeezing this post in before the lovely Poetry Wednesday ends. It's been a busy day, and only now, after Presanctified and take-out sushi, am I able to sit at my computer. It is quiet in our little living room: just the sounds of typing and clicking as Charles and I sit with our laptops, mugs of tea side by side on the coffee table.

Wednesdays go like this: I leave the house early for my DreamWeaver class at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) on 23rd and Lexington. After my four and a half hour class, I take the subway back uptown to 125th Street in Harlem and work-out at the gym. Then I walk 14 blocks home, usually stopping along the way at the bank and/or grocery store. At home I pay the nanny, make sure Ike is fed, and load the stroller with toys and snacks to get us through Presanctified. The church is a 10-minute walk, and Charles meets us there at 6:30. Half way through service I stroll around the neighborhood with Ike and place a take-out order at one of the Chinese or Japanese or Thai restaurants in the area. I return to church, put Ike in his PJs, take communion, and then head home, picking up our take-out order on our walk home. I have gotten so used to this schedule that I am sad that next week will be the last Presanctified service of Lent.

All this has nothing really to do with the poem I'm posting today, except it may explain why I am posting another Plath poem with little ceremony. My Wednesday schedule, added to the fact that I didn't write my post on Tuesday night, leaves me here, at 10:15 pm on a quiet Wednesday evening, with Blackberrying.

And it is a poem I love. In its fullness and its sadness: the lushness of the green hills and the cold metallic expanse of the sea. I suppose it's no stretch to say that the sea is a metaphor for death, just as the ripe berries are a metaphor for life.


by Sylvia Plath 

Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,   
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.
I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.
They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides.

Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks—
Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.
Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting.
I do not think the sea will appear at all.
The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.
I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,
Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen.
The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.   
One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.

The only thing to come now is the sea.
From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,   
gapping its phantom laundry in my face.
These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.
I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me   
To the hills’ northern face, and the face is orange rock   
That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space   
Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths   
Beating and beating at an intractable metal.


Jenny Schroedel said...

This poem is so rich. I love the image of the sea's "phantom laundry" and also the line "the honey-feast for the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven."

But I don't understand the part about the hooks! Help me!

amber said...

I think the "hooks" are just bends in the road as it meanders through the hills down to the sea. I imagine it as though I am walking with her and can smell the ocean in the air, then we come around one last bend (or hook) and suddenly the ocean is before us.

The geography of the Big Island doesn't have as much of these small hills next to the beach, but I think mostly of the Oregon Coast, where the Coastal Range lies so close to the Pacific...

Beth said...

What a truly beautiful poem. The imagery is amazing and while I absolutely must go upstairs and pick up a bit before my three little ones awaken, I know I will return to this poem when I have some moments of quiet so that I can allow it to sink in.

As I mentioned last week, I have not really read much Plath but think I should do so. The richness of her images and the way they affect me reminds me a bit of Eliot- like I don't have to understand the poem but can just experience it. Love the "cacophonous flocks" the "phantom laundry" and the squandering of the blackberry juice on the fingers. Thank you for this.

I believe you are in NYC. What parish do you attend? My sister lives in New Jersey and I love to make it the city when we visit. My husband and I wandered NYC a few years back and it was delightful.

Thank you also for your comment on my post. What a beautiful verse. Makes your heart break.