Sunday, June 19, 2011

From Anna Wickham's "The Contemplative Quarry": "I Amourette"

The poems in Wickham’s second book are numbered as well as titled, giving the appearance of a sequence. Though the poems focus on recurring themes, they are written in different stanzaic forms, most often as a single stanza. They often rhyme in couplets too. This marriage of strict numbering and varied forms creates an impression of great spontaneity.

“I Amourette” is a dialogue between the Woman and the Philosopher. Unusual to the dialogue form is a kind of prelude in which the two speakers talk to themselves about the other before they join in “argument.” The Woman asks herself how she can please man best. Two options present themselves: “Shall I be silent? Shall I speak?” The Philosopher does not question himself but rather questions whether a woman can be wise when “her philosophy is but a lure.” The Philosopher thus sees wisdom as antithetical to love, or, more generally, feeling. He does not want his wisdom to fall to the “arsenal of charm” and the “ammunition of her thought.”

Desiring the “thrilling combat of the wit,” the Woman confesses to the Philosopher in sadomasochistic terms that she takes “strange delight” in being “beaten,” this right at the start of their argument. He rightly identifies her as a “sensualist” and kisses her. She teases him by calling his forwardness at their first meeting “husbandry,” a loaded word. She promises him that from this “first pleasure” that he “sows” in her, she has the power to raise a shady grove for him. It is interesting here that the poet assigns masculine imagery to the Woman as well as the Philosopher.

Charmed by her answer, the Philosopher promises to return another night. The Woman concludes the dialogue with a complicated wish:

Dreams, dreams, stay with me till I sleep,
Then let oblivion steep
My senses in forgetfulness,
That when I wake, I may forget my loneliness.

Does “dreams” refer to the dream of the philosopher’s return or does it indicate that the charmed philosopher was a dream, an impossibility? It is disturbing to describe sleep as “oblivion,” especially in the context of a philosophical dialogue. Finally, does she forget her loneliness when she wakes because she has forgotten the lover during her sleep? If so, she does not seem to have gained her objective at the start of the poem. Is she winner or loser at the end? Wiser or foolish?

Despite the ambiguities, what is clear is the speaker’s intellectual and emotional isolation. She lacks a Philosopher-lover. By referring to her “senses,” she justifies the Philosopher’s description of her as a “sensualist,” and so perhaps feels even more acutely the absence of a man who understands her.

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