Saturday, August 7, 2010

White-Faced Ladies

Poem of the Day:
Sylvia Plath's "Lorelei"
The Colossus and other poems

Numerous times in this blog I have mentioned the street performers that grace Harvard Square. There is the older man who sings children songs from behind a large, box-shaped creature. There are the revolving casts of street hip-hop groups. And, there are the living statues.

These mime artists stand still for hours on end, dressed in elaborate costumes which often include body paint and other adornments that look extremely uncomfortable in the Boston summer heat.

One living statue in particular I pass often. She dresses as a marionette, a china doll whose movement is controlled by a wooden cross and strings. From what I can judge she is a very popular site among Harvard visitors.

Plath writes of her, in a way. Her well-documented obsession with death is vivid in "Lorelei" where she writes of a river calling her force, though "[i]t is no night to drown" (line 1). The river calls to her through female voices, siren-like figures, "their limbs ponderous/With richness, hair heavier/Than sculpted marble" (lines 12-14).

When I read Plath's poem today I immediately conjured an image of the living marionette from Harvard square. And, I saw her today, out of her rigid context.

I saw her at the yoga studio I frequent. Still in costume, she was talking to one of the desk workers. Their breezy tone led me to believe that they were good friends. She moved freely and happily, her strings gone, though she remained painted and doll-faced.

It was unnerving. I had never seen her move, let alone speak. Seeing this living statue as a living person made me feel that the day had been unhinged and layers of reality and unreality had been compounded and in some way tampered with -- having seen Inception two nights ago did not help mitigate these feelings.

Plath's women too do not to belong in a real world: "Sisters, your song/Bears a burden too weighty/For the whorled ear's listening" (lines 16-18). The message of their voices is too radical ("Your voices lay siege"). But unlike me, Plath welcomes these intoning apparitions. She ends her poem by calling them "great goddesses of peace" (line 35) although it is clear that they are insidious creatures, those who "lodge/On the pitched reefs of nightmare" (lines 23-24). And in her desire to meet them, her wish to die is clear: "Stone, stone, ferry me down there" (line 36).

And, Plath was eventually ferried down with her suicide in 1963. I suppose it is a sign of good mental health that I, unlike Plath, am unnerved by the introduction of strange beguiling creatures into my reality.

But then again, these 'strange beguiling creatures' are not imploring me to enter, stone-laden, a river.

A Poem A Day Audrey


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