매우 긴 제목이다 – Meditation on the Declension of Beauty by the Girl with the Flying Cheekbones.  우리말로 하면; ‘아름다움’의 어형 변화에 대한, 광대뼈가 도드라진 어느 소녀의 명상 – 정도가 될 것 같다.  시쓴이; Marlene NourbeSe Philip ←이름을 클릭해 작가의 홈페이지에 들어가면 작가의 목소리로 직접 이 시를 읽은 오디오 파일을 다운로드 받아 들어볼 수 있다.  난 이렇게 누가 읽어주는 게 좋더라…  Discourse on the Logic of Language도 꼭 읽어봐야지.  요즘은 공짜 오디오북 제공하는 웹사이트도 찾아보면 많다.  오른쪽 칼럼 블로그롤의 librivox도 책 읽어주는 곳이다.  단어가 어려워서 혼자 읽다보면 자꾸 멈추게 되는 부담스러운 글이라도 누가 동화구연 하듯 재밌게 실감나게 읽어주면 훨씬 빨리 처음부터 끝까지 훑을 수 있는 장점이 있다.  현대미국문학회 사람들이 세미나 하면서 가끔 장난처럼 말끝마다 ‘포스트모던이라서 그런거야’, ‘포스트모던이니까’, ‘이런게 포스트모던이지’라고들 하는데…  Philip의 이 시는 옮겨적기도 어렵게 시어들이 눈송이처럼 날아다녀서 포스트모던 탓을 해본다.  낭송을 들으면 더 예쁜 시.  아래는 시 전문과 그에 대한 독후감.

 

* * * * *

 

               If not      If not    If

Not

If not in yours

             In whose

In whose language

Am I

If not in yours

             In whose

In whose language

Am I         I am

                If not in yours

In whose

            Am I

(if not in yours)

            I am yours

In whose language

            Am I not

Am I not    I am yours

If not in yours

If not in yours

              In whose

In whose language

              Am I …

 

Girl with the flying cheekbones:

She is

I am

Woman with the behind that drives men mad

And if not in yours

Where is the woman with a nose broad

As her strength

If not in yours

In whose language

Is the man with the full-moon lips

Carrying the midnight of colour

Split by the stars – a smile

If not in yours

             In whose

In whose language

                     Am I

                     Am I not

                     Am I          I am yours

                     Am I not          I am yours

                     Am I          I am

If not in yours

             In whose

In whose language

                     Am I

If not in yours

                     Beautiful 

 

* * * * *

 

The title of the poem “Meditations on the Declension of Beauty by the Girl with the Flying Cheekbones” directly answers to the two questions; ‘What is this?’ and ‘Who wrote this?’  The speaker, ‘I’, is identified with ‘she’ in the poem.  The girl with the flying cheekbones is expressed in the deictic pronoun ‘she’, who meditates on beauty.  The result of the meditations is described as the ‘declension’ of beauty, which highly relies on her subjective logic.  As the girl is on meditations, readers may assume that the poem is the track of the flow of her mind while she meditates.  Her inner thoughts as well as the flow of her mind are revealed from the very first line of the first stanza since repetitive speculation and grammatical errors are natural phenomena in human thinking process especially when one is on a meditation.  Based on the general idea the title hints about what the poem would be about, I would like to closely look into this poem in various directions as point of view, tone/language, sound, and form.  The purpose of analyzing details of the poem is to figure out why the poem was written in the form of poetry.

Who is the speaker and to whom is s/he addressing?  The speaker is addressing to nobody – first.  She is deeply in her thought by herself.  The poem is in the form of not-yet-organized track of her subjective opinion on beauty.  There is ‘you’ listening to what ‘I’ say, but it is more likely that she assumes an imaginary existence of someone rather than the speaker is directly talking to ‘you’ in person.  That is why she describes her poem as a ‘declension’.  Declension is defined as “the occurrence of inflection in nouns, pronouns and adjectives, indicating such features as number, case, and gender”.  The speaker is varying phrases by adding ‘not’ to some conditional sentences.  These careful variations refer to her ‘declension’.  But general features of declension are not prominent in English.  It is somewhat awkward that the speaker ‘meditates’ on the declension of beauty because the declension as in linguistic term is learned by experience, not by meditation.  If the speaker is not a native speaker of English, the story can be different.  Suppose that the speaker’s first language was not English, and then the circumstances of her meditation would sound possible.  The whole poem turns into an experiment of a foreign language speaker who is concentrating on ‘beauty’.

The tone is delicate, beautiful and persuasive because it captures the trembling and fragile moment of the start of a relationship.  The language is not definitive but doubting and hoping the speaker’s wish.  She wants to confirm her hope to be beautiful in his language.  It is the only way for the girl with the flying cheekbones can be beautiful. The sound usage is the key element enjoying this poem.  I have heard the audio file of the poem.  The audio file was recorded by the poet M. N. Philip herself.  I did not know how to read the poem when I first ‘looked’ at it.  There are many repeated lines, for example: ‘if not in yours’, ‘in whose language’, and ‘am I’.  The way these phrases make rhythm is to be repeated many times.  Series of ‘if not’ builds the rhythmical alliteration.

The shape of the poem is very unique compared to any other poems written before 19th century.  The speaker is thinking over and over about the relationship between ‘I’ and ‘you’ as I can detect from the frequent use of the repeated phrases. The scattered words in the original poem look like a snowflake.  To read all the letters and words in the poem, readers’ eyes have to flip from side to side.  The space between words enables readers to pause and take some time to read the next word.  The poet suggests the special way to read this poem by uniquely arranged words.  “Am I         I am” is symmetric.  If I read ‘am I’ and read it backward, it becomes ‘I am’.  This poem is kind; because it shows what it would be like to read it backward, how it would sound if readers pause somewhere, and what effect readers would have when they repeat certain phrases. 

“Fiction is about telling lies, but you must be scathingly honest in telling those lies.  Poetry is about truth telling, but you need the lie – the artifice of the form to tell those truths.” – Marlene NourbeSe Philip

The quotation above from the poet, Marlene NourbeSe Philip, makes it clear that she intentionally uses ‘the artifice of the form’ for a certain purpose.  What might be the artifices used in the “Meditations on the Declension of Beauty by the Girl with the Flying Cheekbones”?  What makes the medium of poetry special when compared to prose?  I will deprive some poetic devices of the original poem and figure out what I have missed as a result.  The consequences may have the answer for the question.

If I write the prose version of the poem “Meditation on the Declension of Beauty by the Girl with the Flying Cheekbones”, it would be like this: 

If not in yours, in whose language am I.  She is the girl with the flying cheekbones.  I am woman with the behind that drives men mad.  Where is the woman with a nose broad as her strength.  Is the man with the full-moon lips carrying the midnight of colour split by the stars – a smile.  I am yours.  I am not yours. 

It needs proper punctuation marks.  I put some punctuation marks, added several words considering the context and inversed phrases to read like an everyday language.  Inside the square brackets are from my own guess. 

In whose language am I [beautiful] if [I am] not [beautiful] in yours[your language][?]  She is the girl with the flying cheekbones.  I am [a] woman with the behind that drives men mad.  Where is the woman with a nose broad as her strength [?]  Is the man with the full-moon lips carrying the midnight of colour split by the stars – a smile [?]  I am yours [or/and] I am not yours.  [Am I yours?  Am I not yours?]

As one can see the deformation, the rhythm disappears which original poem had.  Removing repetitive phrases takes rhythm and rhyme away.  There were some decisive moments whether I should translate a line into a declarative sentence or into an interrogative sentence.  Poetry allows diversity in interpretation by individual readers.  It can contain ambiguity and obscurity in interpretation without using such brackets and punctuation marks.  The hidden potential of omission and poetic allowance lies here.  Every reader’s different imagination can make every different story according to their background knowledge or personal circumstance including their histories.  The defamiliarization of usual words and the destructive use of grammar can be also found in Emily Dickinson’s poem.  Both of the poets used the artifices as effective poetic devices to stimulate readers’ active participation.

As I mentioned in the fourth paragraph, this poem is written in readers-friendly-way since it demonstrates a couple of methods for readers to read the poem in comparison with the prose version.  For example, eyes swing back and forth following the snowflake-like words scattered on the paper.  It repeats itself when mouth speaks out loud the lines.  William Butler Yeats said that poetry is a mouthful of air.  How does the air in the mouth move when reading out the poem aloud?  I tried reading the poem both slowly and very fast.  Every time I varied the speed of reading, it sounded different.  Voiced palatal approximant [j] and voiced alveolar nasal [n] are two major elements creating rhythmical movement of tongue especially in the line ‘if not in yours’.  When I read out the whole poem very quickly, its prolonged pronunciation sound was similar to the rap music, which of course could not be found in prose.

The last line of the poem is ‘beautiful’, which is the declension of ‘beauty’ as a result of the girl’s meditation.  Her declension takes a lot of space in contrast to an explanation in a dictionary.  Suppose that the girl knows the noun ‘beauty’, but she does not know the exact adjective form ‘beautiful’.  She assumes that there will be a corresponding inflection.  Just then, the relationship between the girl and the man stimulates her necessity to figure out the adjective form.  In his language, she has to be told that ‘[you are] beautiful’, rather than ‘[you are] beauty’.  Necessity is a mother of declension.  Applicable situation of the word ‘beautiful’ might have helped the girl getting the word by experience.  All these reasoning or imagination would not be possible if the lines are all connected to form a prose.  Prose can hardly allow reader’s imagination on how the speaker would feel while crossing the space between the word and the next.  As a whole, it would hardly allow the delicate process of declension from ‘beauty’ in the title to ‘beautiful’ in the last line.

I have analyzed the poem in the aspects of point of view, tone/language, sound and form to figure out why the poem was written in the form of poetry – I felt free to interpret actively focusing on the connection between the title and the development of the poem with the aid of the poet’s audio file.  I could confirm that there was a certain effect readers can get from the form of poetry which cannot be acquired in prose by modifying the poem into prose forms with a normal punctuation and checking out the different effects.  Rhythmical sound, rhyme, and making full use of space are parts of the poetic devices or “artifices” the poet chose to use to get on readers’ nerves.  That is the reason why the poem is written in the form of poetry.

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