13.4.07

a wall of leaping darkness...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Muriel Rukeyser

Painters


In the cave with a long-ago flare
a woman stands, her arms up. Red twig, black twig, brown twig.
A wall of leaping darkness over her.
The men are out hunting in the early light
But here in this flicker, one or two men, painting
and a woman among them.
Great living animals grow on the stone walls,
their pelts, their eyes, their sex, their hearts,
and the cave-painters touch them with life, red, brown, black,
a woman among them, painting.

*

A poem about the creative force of female consciousness in the universe. A poem about darkness. About story:

Great living animals grow on the stone walls,
their pelts, their eyes, their sex, their hearts

The image of art being made in secret, inside the earth, and set apart from the ritual of the hunt, represents clearly the isolation that is necessary for the creative process. The presence of fire is otherworldly – a flickering visual. The trembling light adds a forceful, emotional backdrop to the read. Rukeyser’s play with sound throughout – as in “Red twig, black twig, brown twig. / A wall of leaping darkness” – brings life to the lines, making the scene all the more vivid.

At the end of the piece, Rukeyser counters the limited, incomplete identities of male painters with the lone, powerful image of a woman creating her art. The cave-painters, mostly male, touch the visuals on the wall “with life, red, brown, black,” but the woman, determined and independent, is painting. This shows a marked shift in roles from the earlier lines: “one or two men, painting / and a woman among them”. The woman’s physicality in the motion of painting makes her real and defined in her creation of a work that is both hidden and timeless.

4 comments:

Suzanne said...

I love your reading of this poem --so does Emily who is sitting in my lap and trying to type her own comments. I know I've said this many times, but thank you Sam, thank you for this anthology.

ps the Gluck quote really appealed to me too.

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

I appreciate your comments, Suzanne.

SarahJane said...

love the poem, Sam. Especially a few hours later. a bit of a haunt, that one.

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

You're right about the poem as haunt, Sarah. It stays in the head.