11 February 2013

Top 40 : Bewilderment



Continuing with a look at the Coldfront Top 40. At number 7 is David Ferry's Bewiderment, which won the National Book Award. I wrote about it in December. Below is a revised version of that post.

* * *

A friend of mine had recently read David Ferry's Bewilderment. She recommended it, with a caveat:


Take it as a whole work.

At the time I wasn't sure what to make of this. The book is long, is full of translations of classical poets; Virgil, Rilke, Cavafy, and Horace all make appearances. The connecting theme is one of passing time, old age. The arcs within the sections feel like meditations. The translation acting as bookend and informative guide.

Ferry is 88. He is clearly making a last go round with this world. An attempt to connect the final dots. To find the grand theme in the narrative, etc...

Aunt Nellie's picture was in the paper once,
Triumphantly posing with a large bottle,

Black widow spiders inside looking out,
As conscious as fireflies of their situation.

Are we conscious of our situation? I write about decay in my own poetry. My MFA dissertation was based around the idea of entropy in art. I am keenly aware of death, but am I conscious of being in the jar?

The fact is that from the moment we are born we begin to fall apart. Cell walls start to break down, chemicals begin their depletion, etc. etc. etc.

Like A. R. Ammons, Ferry has a keen ability to make us OK with death. To be almost friendly with it. Ammons did this in Garbage, his book length mediation on the end of his life. Here, Ferry does the same. Ammons chose to use the metaphor of a garbage dump for the detritus of life. Ferry gives us Horace.

Think of the pile of language across time. It is massive, unforgiving. Ferry is pointing out that his words are merely newer versions of older ones. The translations bleed into his poems and his poems inform the depth of the old. And they all speak with the same voice, his. As do we all.

Eventually.