We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Poetry Day: "On the way to the castle" · 4 October 05

Dear Fanny,

Today is poetry day on WWTTA. I typed out the following fine poem by Fleur Adcock. I want to share it with you:

"On the Way to the Castle"

It would be rude to look out of the car windows
at the colourful peasants authentically pursuing
their traditional activitres in the timeless landscape
while the editor is talking to us.
He is telling us about the new initiatives
his magazine has adopted as a result
of teh Leader’s inspiring speech at the last Party Congress.
He is speaking very slowly (as does the Leader,
whom we have seen on our hotel television),
and my eyes are politely fixed on his little moustache:
as long as it keeps moving they will have to stay there;
but when he pauses for the interpreter’s turn
my duty is remitted, and I can look out of the windows.
I am not ignoring the interpreter’s translation
but she has become our friend: I do not feel compelled
by courtesy to keep my eyes on her lipstick.
What’s more, the editor has been reciting his speech
at so measured a pace and with such clarity
that I can understand it in his own language;
and in any case, I have heard it before.
This on-off pattern of switching concentration
between the editor’s moustache and the sights we are passing
gives me a patchy impression of the local agriculture.
Hordes of head-scarved and dark-capped figures
move through fields of this and that, carrying implements,
or bending and stretching, or loading things onto carts.
I missed most of a village, during the bit about the print-run,
but the translation granted me a roadful of quaint sheep.
Now the peasants are bent over what looks like bare earth
with occasional clusters of dry vegetation.
It is a potato field; they are grubbing for potatoes.
There are dozens of them—of peasants, that is:
the potatoes themselves are not actually visible.
As a spectacle, this is not notably picturesque,
but I should like to examine it for a little longer.
the sky has turned black; it is beginning to rain.
The editor has thought of something else he wishes to tell us
about the magazine’s history.
Once again, eyes back to his official moustache
(under which his unofficial mouth looks vulnerable).
The editor is a kind man.
He is taking us on an interesting excursion,
in an expensive taxi, during his busy working day.
It has all been carefully planned for our pleasure.
Quite possibly he wants to shield us from the fact
that this rain is weeks or months too late;
that the harvest is variously scorched, parched and withered;
that the potatoes for which the peasants are fossicking
have the size and consistency of bullets.

(from Times Zones, 1991, also in Poems 1960-2000)


I haven’t enough time to discuss the above the way I’d like and mean to come back later to say more on the politics of Charnas’s novel and link up my comments to her blog.

For now: The above is to me superb in its dry quiet ironies, the
concessions, compassion—and sudden savage end. It’s also consonant with several themes in Charnas’s Dorothea Dreams about the real world of publishing and what books can emerge from it.

It’s a window poem. As with doors, windows are characteristic tropes in women’s literature. And after all Jim, I, Laura & Izzy just took trips like this and Laura photographed Stonehenge from the window of the car and it was very much fun doing it that way.

At the same time I remember how Catherine Morland wanted to go to a castle too—and what that phony goal and experience was really like—how different from the dream (remember our naif in Miss Austen’s Northanger Abbey). One of the treasures I bought back is a stuffed sweetheart of a sheep whose whose photo I put on our blog, and which stands on our mantelpiece. A quiet joke.

"On our way to the castle" also harks back to the Georgics of our 18th century and even has some whiffs of archeaology—- there are other poems by Adcock in this volume which go directly into who and what buried where beneath our feet.

To conclude, Kathy C has also written beautifully on Little Women and we’ve been having good talk about Suzy McKee Charnas and her Dorothea Dreams & The Vampire Tapesty.

So the day starts out well.


Posted by: Ellen

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