February 18, 2018

The Plains - The Landscape of the Restless Eye

The Plains

How one loves them 

These wide horizons; whether Desert or Sea,— 
Vague and vast and infinite; faintly clear— 
Surely, hid in the far away, unknown "There," 
Lie the things so longed for and found not, found not, Here.

Only where some passionate, level land 

Stretches itself in reaches of golden sand, 
Only where the sea line is joined to the sky-line, clear, 
Beyond the curve of ripple or white foamed crest,— 
Shall the weary eyes Distressed by the broken skies,— 
Broken by Minaret, mountain, or towering tree,— 
Shall the weary eyes be assuaged,—be assuaged,—and rest.

I enjoyed recording this poem like a miniature work of art that mirrors it's subject - I drew it out languorously, like the elongated lines of the poet.  I recorded it to be listened to with eyes closed or perhaps on a horizon, rather than following words on a page.  In a soft form of "poetry concrete", these verses are punctuated with long, level, drawn out endline dashes - flat spaces like the plains Violet speaks of.   To read this is to transport oneself into those expanded lines of the plains, impassive lines never in a hurry to get "there".   It is a piece that feels and sounds like what it conveys, and surely was written on a long train ride, or even upon camel or horseback during some interminable march. 

Considering this poem's proximity to the The First Lover - about a girl's romance while traveling by ocean liner-  it is possible that both of these poems were early works written when Hope first traveled to meet her family as a young woman of 16.  The Plains would pick up the journey as she continues overland from Bombay to Lahore by train, a trip of about 1500 miles by rail at the time.  There is a sense that the yawning vastness of a new land's unfilled spaces has really begun to impose itself on the mind of the author for the first time. 

"...searching with restless eyes over the plains to the hills..." is also how Zira, In Captivity scans her landscape of plains in front of hills through the stone lattice of her prison.  It represents everything Zira longs for - the appearance of her true love so that she may assume her rightful place in the life she has been dealt. 

The mood is one of awe and patience, and cannot help bring to mind a definite influence of Shelly's Ozymandias, a poem Hope would have certainly run across as a well-educated schoolgirl.  The Plains is also a curious poem really, because it discusses the actual physical activity of the human eye, which which will sweep over flats until it naturally "rests" upon some upthrust object or horizon.  This closeness to one's own senses tells us that the silent vastness has put the poet into an awareness of  being "in her head".   

For people bred in the relative coziness of English towns, accustoming themselves to such limitless expanses must have been somewhat overwhelming to the senses.  Wide expanses promote restless wanderings, of eyes, of people, of animals, of the wind, and all of nature.  A restless spirit is a wild spirit, and the home for wild spirits surely is on wind and over the plains.  Although the poet deeply thrills to wild places, described with sheer delight in Ojira, in this case the plains are imposing a certain nervous tension. 

The idea of everything one wants being "There" and none of it "Here" is an exasperated laugh at the human condition, never satisfied even when what is "there" looks a whole lot like what is "here".  In journeys over vast spaces, some landmark will become a talisman that never seems to get any closer even after many hours, and one knows there is only more of the same ahead.    

Ah!  At least one can at least break the endless monotony by composing some lines in your head, and if the camel or train is too dusty or bumpy for pen and paper, all the better - memorize the lines as you compose and solving that problem will make the time inch by just a little faster - one can only hope! 

 NOTE:  "The Plains" is recorded in the fifth section of India's Love Lyrics and may be listened to here.  This is a sneak preview, and will not be available  on Librivox until the entire book has been recorded. 

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