Netsuke [ mask ]

April 28, 2012

A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds…
—W. B. Yeats

Illumination as found in each mask,
as light  is formed anew by its  rainbow:
fish, like stalks of sun swimming in a glass,
rise up to look at us: largemouth bass, pike,
sunfish. It’s more a liaison of wills,
than an endorsement of spring’s prism,
it’s more a mark of the sun above
what surely must be invisible: the  density
of hydrogen. But breath can be a burden too.
Despite our icy efforts of illusion, the mask about
to be our companion starts to shout. This mask
of ivory and wood,
it says, can’t speak of this task of ruin.
This Hog-as-Cloud, this Hog-as-Sun, this liar.
I won’t trust its lips; my ribs are on fire.

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9 Responses to “Netsuke [ mask ]”

  1. extrasimile Says:

    Thomas—I don’t know if I think of either what I wrote or what you wrote as ‘an explanation’ as such. If I’m doing anything here, I’m using words to explore, and what we are doing—you and John and Anna and me too—are interacting with the poem (‘interacting’, what a strange word). Planets or moons or satellites or something looking down at ourselves looking up. Looking up at the sky, wondering at the life up there. To answer your question: yes it differs, but, oh what a bore if we both said the same thing, thought the same thoughts. Wallace Stevens has a nice line ‘I am the necessary angel of earth,/ since in my sight you see the earth again.’ (SURPRISE! Wallace Stevens again.) To answer your question again: they are pretty much the same. What I value here is John’s idea that hypnosis might actually be an aim for a poem. Anna citing a visceral reaction: being scared of the mask. (and she is dead on right.) And you (part 1) pointing to a mask of a sleeping woman and you (part 2) doing what you do so well, thinking it through so carefully that I do see it with fresh eyes. My best thought, by the way, was that it just might be possible for a poem to step outside the universe—just for a nick of time—and see the earth again. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. (Surely if Lord Tennyson was commenting, this would be his best thought.)

  2. Anna Mark Says:

    I often enjoy the world of perception and thinking about Reality, or “reality” and delusion or illusion. Often, when I engage in this kind of discussion, I oscillate between feeling free and feeling trapped. I am working on a poem at the moment called, “The Room” and it is about this topic…perception, reality, illusions and masks. It is slow going because it’s depressing me!

  3. Thomas Davis Says:

    A further question: Does this reading of the poem really differ from your explanation? Maybe, maybe not… I put off reading your explanation before I read this. I wanted to see where a textual analysis leads me. I love your explanation.

  4. Thomas Davis Says:

    The sonnet starts with a beautiful allusion. Illumination as found in each mask…as light is formed anew by its rainbow. This is tricky language. No wonder Anna does not trust it. In the illumination found in each mask, the rainbow in the mask forms light anew. Light does not form the rainbow, but the rainbow forms light in the same way that illumination is found in each mask.
    Then a colon which denotes a list that elucidates upon the original conceit about light and mask:
    fish, like stalks of sun swimming in a glass,
    rise up to look at us: largemouth bass, pike,
    sunfish.
    So we have fish, like stalks of sun (wow!) the rise up and look us, and these are particular fish with particular characters and species: Largemouth bass, pike, sunfish.
    The illumination as found in each mask is like light formed by its rainbow and fish swimming and looking like stalks of sun swimming in a glass.
    Then the sonnet spins:
    It’s more a liaison of wills,
    than an endorsement of spring’s prism,
    it’s more a mark of the sun above
    what surely must be invisible: the density
    of hydrogen.
    Its, what its? Ahh, we’re back to the illumination as found in the mask again. It is more than a combining of will or an endorsement of spring’s prism, that illumination is more like a mark of the sun above the density of hydrogen (I’m with John, what a phrase!), or above the highest atmosphere of the earth.
    This thin air leads to the next line, but we have to be really careful here. Jim Kleinhenz has written this poem.
    But breath can be a burden too.
    It can, down here in the atmosphere or up above the stratosphere somewhere.
    The evidence of this is that
    Despite our icy efforts of illusion, the mask about
    to be our companion starts to shout.
    This mask can’t speak of this task of ruin, which seems to refer back to how breath can be a burden, living can be a burden in a world where illumination as found in each mask is like light formed by its rainbow.
    This Hog-as-Cloud, this Hog-as-Sun, this liar…
    Are these different masks, Hog, meaning someone who takes up more than their fair share and gobbles it, this liar who as a mast cannot speak of this task of ruin? This illumination that draws its light from its rainbow?
    I (the poet) won’t trust its lips; my ribs are on fire.
    Should I make something of the rib that was taken from Adam to make Eve? Or is this simply a comment that in the task of ruin the poet’s ribs, the cage of his lungs, is on fire?
    There is darkness in the light of this poem, Jim. It is also really powerful–a comment about all of the masks humanity, as well as the poet-commentator, wears.

  5. extrasimile Says:

    Thomas–
    Of course I value what you have to say, and I’d love to have you think through this one…but don’t tire yourself out. Your health comes first.

  6. extrasimile Says:

    Here is the link to Ethel’s pastel:
    http://fourwindowspress.wordpress.com/2011/10/29/mask-sleeping-woman-a-pastel-by-ethel-mortenson-davis/
    Now, John, Thomas, Anna, I want you to consider what you collectively have just said: I feel as though I’ve been hypnotized, staring up at the sky, the clouds forming and reforming. It reminds me of ‘Mask: Sleeping Woman’. (Yes, a sleeping woman.) And I don’t trust the mask.
    Wow. I begin to feel as if I have succeeded here.
    Suppose we were to think of a mask as a kind of filter that sorted out what, on the one hand, you took to be reality, and, on the other, imposed what your personality was to be, and suppose that you are ‘creating’ this mask, but creating it in a context of something less than a ‘free will’ situation, in that the you who is doing the creating is completely tied, via the chains of cause and effect, to the universe at large…and suppose the little netsuke mask was a symbol of this process,and then suppose that the you who was writing a poem about this mask was able to wrest a split second out of the world, out of the light, out of the rainbow, out of the density of the hydrogen atom, this tumult in the clouds…pull a moment out of the sky… Would you say that this is a good thing, or a bad thing? Or rather, would you say that this moment would point to the ultimate beneficence of the world or its futility?
    Or would you say, Come on, this can’t be done. You don’t remove the mask. You don’t ever get an unbiased view of even a split second of the world. Maybe you put on a new mask now and then, but…no, you can’t do what you think you just did. Pull the mask off—attempt to do so—and it will shout—scream—
    This mask
    of ivory and wood, it says, can’t speak of this task of ruin.
    This Hog-as-Cloud, this Hog-as-Sun, this liar.
    I won’t trust its lips; my ribs are on fire.

  7. Anna Mark Says:

    I latch onto the rainbow image, the prism, the illusion, the hydrogen…the tumult in the clouds (Yeats), and then our own breath. But I don’t know how to piece it all together. I get lost in it. I like the feel of it, but I also don’t trust it…I don’t trust the mask.

  8. Thomas Davis Says:

    Jim, I’ll have more comments later, but when I read this what immediately came to mind was a pastel by Ethel called “Mask: Sleeping Woman.” I tried to paste it in here, but wordpress would not let me. Ethel has done a whole series of masks, some of which we have posted, some of which will be posted someday, but “Mask: Sleeping Woman” seems to me to have the power, beauty, and mystery in this poem. This is so imaginative it almost leaves me breathless, and I want to comment more thoroughly, but I’ll have to do it on a day when: 1) I feel better and 2) I have more energy. It has been a difficult day.
    Illumination as found each mask
    Ahh, the masks we all wear do need illumination.
    I shall return, as MacArthur once said.

  9. John Stevens Says:

    There are plenty of enchanting (if puzzling) phrases and images in this, Jim. I feel as though I have been hypnotised. I love that picture of fish swimming like stalks of sun, and the idea of the density of hydrogen. You leave me staring up at the sky, at the forming and re-forming clouds.


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