Saturday, January 21, 2012,07:49

As soon as I had come upon this poem, I realised that I would immediately identify myself with the poet whose pen had created it, or rather, with his very predicament as illustrated in it. The poet is Stephen Romer. And the piece in question is his nineteen-line poem Prophecy. Let us read the lines:

After our ninth separation
I sat in the penitential café
(where a kindly waiter
removed the extra place)
to stupefy myself on wine
and hum As Time Goes By too loud
and prepare for the Works of Solitude …
Everyone else was a couple,
leaning over little tables
to mould the face opposite
with fingers and palms …
I knew I would call you up
in a month or so, and saw
the ragged crenellations
of self-sufficiency dissolve
in the immense dilation
you draw
(as into the mystery of my faith)
over your eyes, veil on veil …

What does the poet prophesy? That "I knew I would call you up in a month or so." Is this really a prophecy, a prediction? Hardly, for given the fact that this is their ninth separation, eight previous reunions are apparently implied. And we, as readers, are justified to believe that the scenario poetised in the poem has literally taken place eight times before. But let us scrutinise the poem more closely.

"After our ninth separation/I sat in the penitential café." A retrospective look at the poem will unequivocally reveal the religious vocabulary that the poet seemingly intends to use: penitential, mystery, and faith. All pertain to religion, to faith. The poet does not sit in a penitential café, he sits in the penitential café. It is a distinct café to which the poet resorts to "feel sorrow and show regret for having done wrong." It has grown as a habit on the part of the poet, a ritualistic habit. And what are the rituals, the religious ceremonies, he is going to perform? Before suggesting an answer, let us consider the parenthesised lines. (where a kindly waiter/removed the extra place,) between parenthesis. Is the kindly waiter aware of the poet and his beloved's separation? Has the waiter been involved in the previous eight separations, and hence his awareness of the poet's predicament? Maybe. But there is another probability. That the waiter removed the extra place simply because the poet is sitting alone. In either case, removing the extra place denotes the poet's loneliness, and in itself is reminiscent of loneliness on the part of the poet. Removing the extra place, though a gesture of kindness and gentleness, is reminiscent of loneliness, especially when seen as opposed to "Everyone else was a couple."

We have posed a question to which we have not as yet provided an answer. "… what are the rituals, the religious ceremonies, he – the poet – is going to perform?" Okay, back to the poem: "to stupefy myself on wine/and hum As Time Goes By too loud/and prepare for the Works of Solitude." Drinking wine to the extent of stupefaction is the most conventional way to which the poet resorts so as to withstand the shock, drinking wine to the extent of being unaware of his singing loud, or rather, to the extent of being aware yet careless. And what does he sing? He sings "As Time Goes By" with all the associations it brings about, itself reminding us of another romance, of a famous romance .. that of Casablanca. However, the separation will span over a period of "a month or so," the poet cannot remain stupefied. To which is he going to resort for a more permanent settlement? To "the Works of Solitude," to a life of solitude in which he will supposedly be more capable of purifying himself, of feeling sorrow and showing remorse for his sins towards his beloved. Solitude is a holy fire, a purifying agent which admits him to a life of repentance, mortification, absolution from sin, and in consequence, worthiness of his beloved. Repentance justifies the poet's worthiness of his beloved.

As opposed to the poet, "Everyone else was a couple,/leaning over little tables/to mould the face opposite/with fingers and palms." What an image! He looks around and sees the other lovers, each caressing the other's face. Only the poet is alone. Only he feels lonely. He depicts them as if they were sculptors giving factual existence to each other's faces. The tables are little so that the spatial distance between the loving bodies will be reduced and narrowed to as close as possible. And so, as opposed to the poet's remoteness from his beloved, we have the couples' emotional and physical closeness.

Having sit in the penitential café, having stupefied himself on wine and prepared himself for a life of solitude, and having beheld the loving couples, the poet realises that "I would call you up/in a month or so." Why? Because he "saw/the ragged crenellations/of self-sufficiency dissolve/in the immense dilation/you draw/(as into the mystery of my faith)/over your eyes, veil on veil." All the above-mentioned elements that I have pondered in the previous sessions lead to the poet's revelation, lead to the poet's prophecy. He surmises that he will call up his beloved soon, or more accurately, "in a month or so." "The ragged crenellations of self-sufficiency [will] dissolve." This part seems to need more thorough speculation. Crenellations. What does this word mean? It means, and I have consulted my dictionary, battlements. A battlement is a parapet with openings at regular intervals along the top of a wall, forming part of a fortification. The poet has constructed fortified defensive structures of self-sufficiency. Every time he abandons/is abandoned by his beloved, he feels so much hurt that he decides to cease being emotionally dependent on her. He seeks "self-sufficiency." However, he ends up realising that his crenellations have been deconstructed. They dissolve.

They dissolve "in the immense dilation/you draw/(as into the mystery of my faith)/over your eyes, veil on veil." What does she draw over her eyes? Literally speaking, make-up. A girl is expected to draw, i.e. paint, the make-up on her eyes, on her eyelids, layer on layer; in the poet's own words "veil on veil." But the verb to draw also means to pull. Therefore, it is subtly used to produce two meanings: (1- draw, i.e. paint, the make-up. 2- draw, i.e. pull, the veils.) of which the latter is more appropriate for the parenthetical phrase "as into the mystery of my faith." Thus the poet's ragged defences get dismantled by his beloved's attacks of beauty. The make-up she applies to her eyes aims at showing them more beautiful, and deeper; in their depth, the poet drowns and is lost. "The immense dilation [she] draw[s] over [her] eyes" is pulled "into the mystery of [the poet's] faith," widening it, enlarging it. The poet stresses the very fact of his belonging to her, his devotion to her, his subjection and surrender to her, using a more powerful and potent word than love; faith. Thus deepening the poet's faith is deepening the poet's love.

However, it can be justifiably argued that the poet and his beloved are incompatible partners. The first line states that this separation is their ninth. This means that before this last, ninth, one, they have had eight more separations. A plausible objection can be raised here, a counter-argument which contends that the poet's beloved has accepted to return to him for eight times so far, and is most likely to accept him for the ninth one. Granted. We assuredly want them to consummate their love, but it seems that they follow an existing pattern of abandoning/returning to each other. The poem does not even give us any concrete explanation as to why the poet keeps returning to his beloved girl of whose qualities we know nothing but "the immense dilation [she] draw[s]… over [her] eyes, veil on veil," which hardly suffices. However, the parenthetical phrase, (as into the mystery of my faith), may provide some kind of answer. The whole thing remains a mystery, i.e. something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.

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