Okay, Eagleton, so you think Porphyria’s Lover isn’t about a giraffe, do you? I take that as a challenge, sir! Here’s how it happened. Porphyria invented a transfiguration beam to turn giraffes into chimpanzees. She tested it on a giraffe and he turned into a chimpanzee, whom she named “Lover”. She tried to teach Lover about religion, but giraffes and chimpanzees are both naturally curious, and Lover, who already secretly detested the woman who took his giraffe-ness from him, decided to test whether God was real by seeing if it was impossible to strangle Porphyria without divine intervention preventing it. So Lover tried it and voila, dead Porphyria. Then the murderous giraffe-ape bastard hung out for a while before running away to eat some leaves. QED.
I can do that because Death of the Author. We’re not beholden to the poet’s original vision. Once it’s out there, it’s out there, and any interpretation is valid as long as it can be backed up by textual evidence. I realize that Robert Browning didn’t write it with giraffes and chimpanzees in mind, but that doesn’t matter. A poem can be interpreted to fit into whatever context you like. It just takes a little creativity.
Okay, yes, I do also realize that Eagleton’s point is more that the text has inherent meaning to it, as opposed to it being completely subjective. It’s fair to argue that some interpretations make more sense than others. And his concession that a secretive group of English professors could use “syrup” as a code word to conceal their feelings on historicism from their colleagues does, admittedly, prove he does not lack the necessary imagination. So I can’t say I strongly disagree with him here. Only a little bit, I guess.
I smiled at the Cloud-Cuckoo-Land reference in Jarrell’s poem. I hang out on the TV Tropes Wiki a lot, and over there we have a trope we call “Cloudcuckoolander” to refer to characters like Luna Lovegood or Pinkie Pie who seem like they have their brains in a different universe all the time. That being said, “North” is definitely not a poem I’d expect to see from Pinkie Pie. Gloom gloom gloom. Just throw a party or something and it’ll all be fine, no need to go worrying about everything all the time.
On the Roethke, I see “The Pit” as one of the riddles you’d find in a Redwall novel. Like the heroes are looking for the lost staff of Martin the Warrior or something, and they find this clue that tells them to look under the tree roots, and talk to the mole who lives there, but watch out for the evil, uh, snails, and their leader, Mother Mildew, a giant, uh, giant snail, yeah, that actually totally works. I’d read that book. See, Eagleton, I can interpret it however I like. They had talking riddle-solving animals back whenever this poem was written, right?
Also, Sylvia Plath’s daddy is a Nazi vampire? That’s pretty messed up. If my dad were a Nazi vampire, I mean, I can’t even imagine. Oh, wait, this is one of those figurative things, isn’t it? So who is she talking about, then? Her literal father? Or is “daddy” supposed to be a metaphor for...uh...something? Actually, I could probably see it going either way. You could have your Nazis being written about as “daddy” or your father being written about as “Nazis” and end up with reasonably similar poems. I’m leaning towards Nazis. But I’m sure there’s a good name for a rock band in there somewhere. Oh, and the tulip poem is okay too, but I don’t have much to say about it.
Regarding the Berryman: Inner Resources, ha, that’s a good line. I can just imagine how that goes. “Mom, I’m bored.” “Johnny, haven’t I told you that saying you’re bored is only confessing you have no Inner Resources?” “...Mom, I have no Inner Resources.” That droll acceptance of the implications — brilliant. I like it. Also, what is chicken paprika? Never heard of that before. I know what chicken is, and I know what paprika is, and I’m guessing chicken paprika is either chicken-flavored paprika (?!) or chicken spiced with paprika (that’s probably more likely). And who exactly is this Henry person? Henry Ford? John Henry, the steel-driving man? Henry Kissinger? King Henry V? Just some random guy named Henry? Just some random girl named Henry (or I guess Henrietta)? The poetry takes on different meanings for all of these. I kind of like the Henry Kissinger version.
Then we’ve got some “Deep Image” styles of poems, which are supposed to focus on powerful imagery and narrative. I can indeed see some of that in Kinwell’s “On the Oregon Coast”. We can see the first few lines of the poem dedicated just to describing the waves breaking against the shore and sweeping a log across the beach. He uses both visual and audio details — “pewtery sheen on the water” alongside “bass rumble of sea stones”. And the narrative element appears both in the pseudo-narrative of the floating log and the meta-narrative of a conversation about evolution. Would I see these things if I weren’t being prompted to look for them? Well, in this case, probably, yeah. Seems like sort of the point of the poem. But even with the background info, interrupting with that anecdote seems oddly out of place. Essentially the only segue is “Since I’m talking about a beach, let me tell you this story of this one time I talked to this one guy and, oh, there was also a beach nearby. (Is that a coincidence or what!)”
“Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm” is the first poem today to make me put it down, sit back, and wonder what the hell I just read. “I have wasted my life.” Woah. What. Huh. What happened to the bronze butterflies, the chicken hawks, the fields of sunlight? Why is life wasted? That’s a curveball if I ever saw one. On reflection, I think the speaker means that he wasted his life not doing this. Like, “I can’t believe I ever worked all day in the city when I could have been lying in a hammock at William Duffy’s farm!” That’s my best interpretation. Either way, it’s a jarring last line that feels like it comes out of nowhere. I was surprised. Oh, and again, deep imagery — this poem does do a lot of image-painting for the reader, with, again, bronze butterflies, fields of sunlight, et al.
And “A Blessing” clearly has the narrative going. Breaking into a horse pasture, basically. Uh...that’s fine, I guess, if you’re into that kind of thing. I’m not really into horses. Pinkie Pie notwithstanding.