Friday, October 22, 2004

Lucille Clifton's "fury"


for mama

remember this.
she is standing by
the furnace.
the coals
glisten like rubies.
her hand is crying.
her hand is clutching
a sheaf of papers.
she gives them up.
they burn
jewels into jewels.
her eyes are animals.
each hank of her hair
is a serpent's obedient
she will never recover.
remember. there is nothing
you will not bear
for this woman's sake.

This poem, "fury," is from Lucille's Clifton's collection _The Book of Light._ It is, along with Strand's "Keeping Things Whole," one of the poems I am currently writing an essay about. I am usually attracted to poetry that deals with identity, borders, the conscious and unconscious, the postmodern dilemma over trying to describe the indescribable, that sort of thing.

In contrast, I find this poem to be highly accessible and personal. Its imagery is powerful--the coals, the crying, clutching hands, the animal eyes--the sense that this woman is surrendering not only her art, but a part of her humanity as well. I wonder if artists would agree that to surrender one's art--to supress it, deny it, ignore it, or destroy it--equals a surrendering of at least part of what makes them human. Any thoughts?


Anonymous said...

I like your ideas on this but when I read it, I pictured something different. I saw her as a heartbroken woman who chose to burn the poems she received from her loved one that she had saved over time. She cherished them like jewels until she realized the love was no longer there and she had to release the poems into the coals symbolizing the love that no longer existed.

Anonymous said...

the poems were not collected from a loved one. Lucille's mother wrote poetry even though she was uneducated. She was asked to publish some of her poems in a book, but because of the time period (men were more dominant in society) Lucille's father would not let her publish her poems. Lucille watched her mother go to the basement and watched from the stairs as her mother dropped all of her poems and her life into the furnace.

Emily said...

A quote from Lucille Clifton: "She was very shy and my father would not let her do it. It was because it was the 1940s and husbands likes to think that they could tell wives what to do. when my father did that my mother burned her poems. She took them down to the basement to the coal stove and put them on the fire, and I was standing on the basement steps when she did it."