Ruth Padel “The Emerald Tablet” – 2

Other things have kept me from following through on my last piece on “The Emerald Tablet”. Here’s a brief note on the stanza I quoted to illustrate the force of the sudden use of strong rhyme:


                                   what is inward
……buried in earth       in flesh       and in your mind
is also the bright surface of the world outside
……and is divine.


Perhaps it’s a confession of superficiality to say so but my keenest pleasure here may be of an almost purely sensuous kind. I partly get it from the fluent beauty and decisiveness of the sound, or rather from the sudden emergence of such beauty and decisiveness from lines that have sounded more staccato and less harmoniously patterned and been and more tentative or deflected by irony in terms of their meaning and tone. Another is the way the word “bright” gleams in the mind, and the way it’s then reflected in the sound and by the associations of the word “divine”.

Of course I’m aware that in calling such pleasure “almost purely sensuous” I’m begging questions, because I’m really talking about something more like the sensuous apprehension of thought, or the way ideas can resonate in the mind with what feels like a physical impact.

Perhaps this almost physical impact and the joyful lifting of the voice at the close of the sentence actually is the most important thing at this point. So many ideas floated elsewhere in the poem and book are touched on at this point, ideas of thoughts and impulses kept secret because of the reactions they might provoke, ideas of experience buried under forgetfulness, of the poet’s mother, dead and buried but alive in the poet’s mind, and perhaps above all the idea of the reciprocal creative flow between the world outside and the world within. These ideas and many more are drawn together and set alight in the sudden flare of poetic intensity at this point. It’s a characteristic way of working in the book, to which a phrase Iris Murdoch used in another context seems particularly appropriate. She described the mind as a “fluid palimpsest”. These poems seem to evolve through many streams of thought that run concurrently, dissolve into each other and separate again in a way that is many-layered and convinces by being eloquent, precisely searching and tentative all at the same time. A more intellectual reader might pursue and grapple with these ideas in a more strenuous way than I do. For me – going back to the confession that there may be something rather superficial about my response – the buzz comes from their sensed presence and interaction rather than actually thinking them through.

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