Saturday, March 28, 2009

agh, petals maybe

Still transferring old Real-format audio and video materials into the more accessible and less proprietary mp3. Today it's a short discussion--by me and Shawn Walker--of William Carlos Williams's poem "Portrait of a Lady," which, perhaps oddly, I ask my students to read not when we study the rise of modernism but, a little later, when we are preparing to enter the postmodern. Here's the chapter of the course where it occurs. And here is the discussion of the poem.

Portrait of a Lady

Your thighs are appletrees
whose blossoms touch the sky.
Which sky? The sky
where Watteau hung a lady's
slipper. Your knees
are a southern breeze—-or
a gust of snow. Agh! what
sort of man was Fragonard?
—As if that answered
anything.—Ah, yes. Below
the knees, since the tune
drops that way, it is
one of those white summer days,
the tall grass of your ankles
flickers upon the shore—-
Which shore?—-
the sand clings to my lips—-
Which shore?
Agh, petals maybe. How
should I know?
Which shore? Which shore?
—the petals from some hidden
appletree—Which shore?
I said petals from an appletree.

Above: a detail of Fragonard's painting "The Swing."