The Poets

November 23, 2010

An Anne Sexton Selection

Man of many hearts, you are a fool!
The clover has grown thorns this year
and robbed the cattle of their fruit
and the stones of the river
have sucked men's eyes dry,
season after season,
and every bed has been condemned,
not by morality or law,
but by time.

... very curious imagery from an extremely intense Anne Sexton poem, The Interrogation of the Man of Many Hearts. If you want to read one of Sexton's more intense poems, click on the link and read this one. Let me know what you think, what you feel. I'll leave my opinion in the comments area as soon as I get a moment.


PJ said...

I love that you love Sexton!

John W. May said...

Or (and worse)...

Have men’s eyes sucked stones of the river dry?

Obiterspeak said...

John, thanks for featuring this poem by Anne Sexton with its forceful imagery.

For me, the lines you've chosen suggest exilic themes. The "man of many hearts" refers to an unfaithful being and the outcome of unfaithfulness is that the goodness of the land has been denied. The river that sucks men's eyes dry made me think of the weeping of a being or a nation in exile (by the river...). I tend to think of "eyes" (the subjective gaze) as a metaphor for will or intention so the lines can also be read to mean intentions sucked dry by stones, which go nowhere in contrast to the river that flows. With your twist (i.e. have men's eyes sucked the stones dry) do you mean the possibility that men have taken on the quality of the stones?

The last two lines make the clearest point, it seems to me, telling us mere mortal judgement, intention, view of things (i.e. our notion of right and wrong, good and evil, moral and/or legal dicourse) are subject to the justice or justification of time and so only time will tell if the man's intentions are just or justified.

I read the whole poem and there is a lot to it but it makes me think that the "man of many hearts" is someone unable to come to terms with his mortal state. He struggles with the limits of an insitution such as marriage with reference to a nature (creative perhaps) that requires more space. He is persistent in trying to justify himself (his unfaithfulness to the woman perhaps) but he is just not very convincing and appears the fool for thinking himself too large to be confined within the space of "the cot" they share and to remain faithful to a mere "bag of bones" The man reiterates that he tied (which brings to mind "tying the knot" - i.e. "the bedded down knot" as in marriage) as though he is in control but because he dwells on it perhaps the contrary is being suggested. He is not the one that tied the knot or the women.

Interesting to consider further... who or what is the being that interrogates? Maybe the personification of a sense of guilt or maybe more. The tone seems anti-romantic. I've taken up too much space now. Sorry about that.

As of April 9th, 2010