Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Drips from Psyche's Lamp

Online here (posted by one of the author's friends shortly after her death, as a tribute. I hope it's OK to post the link; it feels a little uncomfortable looking in on what is clearly an emotionally difficult conversation among people who were close to her.)

The asterisks have been removed from the book version of the poem.

It took me a little while to work out what was going on, mainly owing to the title, which I think is thematic rather than strictly plot-directed. (For a very funny summary of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, go here. Everybody caught up on mythology? Excellent.)

I think the symbolism in the title is this: The love of ordinary mortals, like Psyche's love for Cupid, can't survive if the beloved is seen too clearly. Love contains an essential element of illusion. The poem is addressed to a beloved, and the message is, "Go ahead and deceive me; I'm happy to let you do it."

In an interesting parallel with Richard Silken's poem "Scheherazade", which Jane discussed earlier, the poem starts out "Tell me..." and invites a lover to tell the speaker something false. Both poems, too, address the conflict between love and reality, and come out in favour of love. Both have fantastic descriptions of what it feels like to be in love. (I was taken with Silken's horses that run until they forget that they are horses, and I am just as taken with Griffiths' brain whose thoughts turn to sparkles. Strangling your brain never sounded so glamorous.)

In the last four lines, the speaker promises to be anything the beloved wants, however ridiculous or farfetched. I loved these last lines for the sonics, the rhythm, and the way the two interacted. L15 reads slowly, with its knot of three strong syllables all packed together in "big sheep's eyes". Then L16 kicks in with its speedy, four-syllable feet. I scan it like this (putting in three levels of stress just for fun):
i'll be/ NO va/ NO va co deine/ NOD dy as a/ NOO dle
I think the breaks between words, and the N sounds, are giving me hard-to-ignore cues about where the stresses and natural units of scansion fall, and that's why I'm grouping the syllables into fours rather than twos. Next, we get L17, which repeats the same pattern of stresses twice, with very similar sounds both times:
TANG y/ TANG er ine,/ MAN go/ MAN da rin
Interestingly enough, the letter combination "ng" is a little deceptive; it gets repeated three times, but makes a different sound each time. The sounds are similar, but eye rhyme makes them seem more similar than they are. Finally, there's L18, which whirs itself up to speed with four trochees, and then ends in a BANG. Here, all the "ng"s except the last one make the same sound; the one from "mango". (The final "bang" makes the sound from "tangy" instead.)


  1. You know, it's funny. I like this poem quite a bit UNTIL the last three lines and then I feel letdown. It feels like a cheap song at the end, like I expect someone to come out in costume with frills, dancing. I dunno, maybe that's the effect she is going for...

  2. Perhaps she's saying that she's even willing to be a bit cheap and put on her dancing costume for the beloved. (I'm not sure whether I can defend that--I'd be rationalising what is basically a gut reaction on my part. I'm very easy to hypnotise by rhythmic jangling.