Parachute Subdued [Proust, his Pajamas]

January 20, 2013

Compare, with its slow descent to earth,
which combines gravity with a poverty
of movement—just compare it to
the flight of any bird—that fills its girth
with air, with a gentle smile of a  birth
that only Marcel could come to
regard as poetry, a chance to taste
the very air we breathe, as he would say,
his great nightgown a billowing cloud
about him. Compare this amazing parachute ride
with a great white whale rising in an effort
to meet a cloud’s fall from the sky. Compare
all that with a sea as clear as a lagoon.
Compare it with Marcel, alone in a room.

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5 Responses to “Parachute Subdued [Proust, his Pajamas]”

  1. extrasimile Says:

    Thomas, it’s good to hear from you. And thanks for taking me back to Proust in Pajamas. I don’t really read what I’ve written after I’ve finished writing them, which is a fault, I know. Sometimes looking at an old poem is quite enlightening, and sometimes quite frightening. What was I thinking? The lines from Whitman are taken from a section of The Sleepers, the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass. I had the opportunity to teach a little section of this poem (lines 127 – 134) to a class of ESL students. It was something of a gamble for most ESL ‘poetry’ is considerably dumbed down (IMHO) and reading a real poet was a new experience for them. I was filling in for another teacher and she decidedly thought I was taking the students way over their heads. It is an amazing bit of poetry—but we talked about the vocabulary and oppression and Lucifer, and what in the world was that whale doing there. (The different relationship the people in the 19th century people had with whales, the use of whale oil, that kind of thing. Not to mention the Leviathan.) It was a new experience for them, to be sure, but quite an experience for me as well, to see the words come alive in their minds. Challenge their minds. Whitman, by the way, as I understand it, took this passage out of the poem in later editions of Leaves of Grass. What was he he thinking?

  2. Thomas Davis Says:

    Good Lord, Jim. The depth of your knowledge always humbles me.

  3. extrasimile Says:

    No, I don’t think pajamas are particularly featured in Proust, but the novel does start with the narrator going to bed, and Proust was known for spending a great deal of time in bed, so it seemed a reasonable projection that he would have a certain amount of bedclothes. I was writing this—to some extent—as a complement to ‘Goarskill’—dreamy, Anna, is a good characterization of what I had in mind…and a little whimsy. You know, I have heard Herman Melville wrote something about a white whale. In my case I simply wanted a whale that would provide some symmetry with the parachute/ bed gown. There is also the passage from Whitman’s poem “The Sleepers”:
    Now the vast dusk bulk that is the whale’s bulk, it seems mine;
    Warily, sportsman! though I lie so sleepy and sluggish, the tap of my flukes is death.

    That’s pretty good too.

  4. John Stevens Says:

    I very much like the sound of these lines and that long-drawn out floating syntax – it all just seems to convey the sense of the parachute drifting, billowing, downwards.
    (I can’t say I remember pyjamas featuring especially strongly in the Proust I’ve read, or nightshirts or chemise de nuits, but maybe my memory isn’t as good as Proust’s … ; on the other hand I think I recall the mention of a white whale in a book by Herman Melville … 🙂 )

  5. Anna Mark Says:

    The comparisons are just heavenly and gracious and spacious (and dream-like, the whale rising to meet a cloud). I enjoy the end especially where you compare it all with a sea as clear as a lagoon…and then Proust himself alone in a room. What a room, indeed.


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