7/28/1927 - 9/3/2017
I've been reading and contending with John Ashbery since his early book Rivers and Mountains (1966). I resisted him, and still do, while learning to enjoy him, within measure. His poems frustrate the hunger for settled, discursive meanings — ideas, things to extract, chew on and discuss. He is an artist of the anti-idea. Meaning for his poetic practice was a sort of tyrant — best to skirt and never mention.
Though Walter Benjamin and John Ashbery couldn't be further apart intellectually, Benjamin echoed, or prefigured, this unspoken goal of Ashbery's when he wrote: "Children, when thinking up stories, are stage managers, who do not allow themselves to be censored by meaning."
There are times when, despite all Ashbery does to defend against it, meaning does come coalescing through the artifices.
As, I think, in the following, badly camouflaged and therefore all the more lovely love poem:
"A Blessing in Disguise," by John Ashbery
Yes, they are alive and can have those colors,
But I, in my soul, am alive too.
I feel I must sing and dance, to tell
Of this in a way, that knowing you may be drawn to me.
And I sing amid despair and isolation
Of the chance to know you, to sing of me
Which are you. You see,
You hold me up to the light in a way
I should never have expected, or suspected, perhaps
Because you always tell me I am you,
And right. The great spruces loom.
I am yours to die with, to desire.
I cannot ever think of me, I desire you
For a room in which the chairs ever
Have their backs turned to the light
Inflicted on the stone and paths, the real trees
That seem to shine at me through a lattice toward you.
If the wild light of this January day is true
I pledge me to be truthful unto you
Whom I cannot ever stop remembering.
Remembering to forgive. Remember to pass beyond you into the day
On the wings of the secret you will never know.
Taking me from myself, in the path
Which the pastel girth of the day has assigned to me.
I prefer "you" in the plural, I want "you,"
You must come to me, all golden and pale
Like the dew and the air.
And then I start getting this feeling of exaltation.