Part III of the book opens with “Listen. This is the Noise of Myth.” The poem meditates on the difference between myth and life, and the consolations of myth.
It begins with “the story of a man and woman” under a willow and beside a weir, near a river in a wooded clearing. They are “fictions of my purpose,” the poet reminds us in the second stanza, before evoking in sensuous detail their wintry flight through the Midlands, to get to that willow. Returning to the start of her story, the middle of theirs, the poet raises our expectations that something is about to happen: “Will we see/ hungers eased after months of hiding?/ Is there a touch of heat in that light?”
Instead of fulfilling our expectations, she asks our forgiveness for setting “the truth to rights.” They never made love; there was no journey; no woodland and no river and no weir. The man and the woman were never the poet’s. Only the myth, or fiction, is hers, only “this sequence of evicted possibilities” called
Invention. Legend. Myth. What you will.
The shifts and fluencies are infinite.
The moving parts are marvelous. Consider
how the bereavements of the definite
are easily lifted from our heroine.
She may or she may not. She was or wasn’t
by the water at his side as dark
waited above the Western countryside.
Unlike myth, reality bereaves us of possibilities. It fixes us, lessens us, defines us. That is why we go to the “consolations of the craft.” Boland’s poem itself returns to the scene of the willow, where the willow sees itself drowning in the weir, and where the woman “gives the kiss of myth her human heat.”
Reading “Listen. This is the Noise of Myth”
This is the story of a man and a man
not found in Eden, perhaps in Uruk,
but really in a bar at Second Avenue
and East Houston, near the F train stop.
You know how it goes. You read the clues:
fabulous Uruk, the bar (called Urge), F train.
I suppose I should tell you the separate ways
they got there, the stories they told themselves.
One story had to do with a nervous flight
from a silver perch in a gilded birdcage.
The ocean in the other story released
the fishing man, and he broke surface.
Those stories they told each other at the bar,
harmonizing the tones, matching the colors,
so the stories that began with “I” and “me”
found, in their telling, temporary company.
Listen, they’re asking where the other lives.
They’re edging their stories past the past,
and making them up presently as they leave
the bar. What do they think they’re doing?
I don’t know. The waves rise again and crash
over them, as they wave wildly for a cab.
The torrential air, invisible and powerful,
drives them in, and slams the door after them.