09 December 2009

torqued enjambment

[consideration of a William Carlos Williams poem from "Syntax in Rutherford," a chapter in Hugh Kenner's The Pound Era, University of California, 1971]

Any word at all:


A "noun." And what happens if we affix the article is highly mysterious:

              the cat—

for the grammarians' distinction — definite article for the particular, indefinite for the general — is meant to operate between speakers, live persons in a real place who already know, because they are talking about it, which cat is "the cat": "Have you put out the cat?" But typed on a sheet of paper as if to designate some one cat though we cannot identify him, the article performs in pure abstraction a gesture of as-if-specifying: something operative not in the kitchen or the garden but in a language field, where on an invisible string a knot has been tied. (A poem is a machine made out of words.) The invisible string is an infinity of cats; the knot, the cat.

Tense the string:

              As the cat

— an exact structure, empty but located, as asymptotes locate a hyperbola. Empty but torqued: the spine braces against an anticipated swing: there will be two actions, two doings, parallel and related; hence two verbs, the first to be expected immediately.

              As the cat
              climbed over
              the top of
              the jamcloset
              first . . .

— we are braced, now, for the second verb; but the sentence has other business, and we are given instead a distinction:

              first the right

— a clarification, but the verb is still deferred; meanwhile "first" has generated a new substructure for the sentence to complete. First, hence second; do we next encounter "second" or some surrogate?? No, we encounter


— an adverb as precariously placed as the cat's forefoot. And at last, a structure is acknowledged; "first" receives its answer:


"First the right forefoot, then" — the left?

              then the hind

Though our local foreseeings are inaccurate, we remain attentive, and at last comes the verb we have so long anticipated, even as the cat, once embarked on this expedition, has anticipated, movement by movement, responsive solidities:

              first the right
              then the hind
              stepped down

This ideal cat, this verbal cat, this cat of linguistic torsions has (though "carefully") stepped down not onto but "into" —

              into the pit of

worse and worse

              the empty

— ?


Verbal flowerpots are as hollow and frangible as verbal cats are agile. There is no more: we have examined two steps in slow motion, and if the front foot has been where the hind foot goes, we can feel as secure in the paradigm as we can in the knowledge that two subjects are competent to govern one verb. This structure of 27 words commenced off balance — "As" — and closes on a resolution of achievement and precariousness — "flowerpot." It is one sinuous suspended sentence, feeling its way and never fumbling. Its gestures raise anticipatory tensions, its economy dislodges nothing. The cat is as much an emblem of the sentence as the sentence is of the cat. It is headed "Poem."


  1. O how I loved that book, the Pound Era!

  2. Foarte interesant subiectul postat de tine. M-am uitat pe blogul tau si imi place ce am vazut.Cu siguranta am sa il mai vizitez.
    O zi buna!