Thursday, 9 April 2020

Grace

Here are Donald O'Connor (my grandson Ethan's favourite dancer) and Gene Kelly, sitting on nothing...

And here is Richard Wilbur's poem Grace – a technical tour de force, inspired by a passage in Gerard Manley Hopkins' notebooks which was itself inspired by Wordsworth (it's that man again):

'"The young lambs bound As to the tabor's sound." They toss and toss; it is as if it were the earth that flung them, not themselves. It is the pitch of graceful agility when we think that.'

So active they seem passive, little sheep
Please, and Nijinsky's out-the-window leap
And marvellous midair pause please too
A taste for blithe brute reflex; flesh made word
Is grace's revenue.

One is tickled, again, by the dining-car waiter's absurd
Acrobacy – tipfingered tray like a wind-nesting bird
Plumblines his swinging shoes, the sole things sure
In the shaken train; but this is all done for food,
Is habitude, if not pure

Hebetude. It is a graph of a theme that flings
The dancer, kneeling on nothing, into the wings,
And Nijinsky hadn't the words to make the laws
For learning to loiter in air; he 'merely' said,
'I merely leap and pause.'

Lambs are constrained to bound. Consider instead
The intricate neural grace in Hamlet's head;
A grace not barbarous implies a choice
Of course, not in a lingo of leaps-in-air
But in such a waiting voice

As one would expect to hear in the talk of Flaubert.
Piety makes for awkwardness, and where
Balance is not urgent, what one utters
May be puzzled and perfect, and we respect
Some scholars' stutters.

Even fraction-of-a-second action is not wrecked
By a graceful still reserve. To be unchecked
Is needful then: choose, challenge, jump, poise, run ...
Nevertheless, the praiseful, graceful soldier
Shouldn't be fired by his gun.

['Hebetude' – dullness, lethargy, absence of affect.]

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