Exorcism and From the Frigate “Golden Mean”

One does not drive out a devil by driving
Out a devil. We are constantly arriving
At this fact from our dramatic sleep,
Which, do what we will in daylight, will not keep
From us (thank God in the End Analysis)
Our secrets, has a mind of its own–and this
Of incredible intelligence, although
It speaks in pictures like a late dumb show.
One picture I recall is that of a mad-
Man running like the devil, all unclad,
From an open third-floor window, but his flight
Became a hurrying toward the mortal sill
And the fall of dead moonlight outdoors until
Over the edge he finally lunged from sight.
Old scribes may just as well have writ to say
That godly Joseph fleeing from Potiphar’s wife
Met her coming lasciviously the other way.
Therefore, in this strange, deceptive life,
To fear or love a thing too much or run
From it, or toward, too urgently does one
No good, for in the overstress these acts
Become their opposites–and thus our race backtracks
Itself to fruits that drew us with the very thought
Of not approaching them. If one has caught
The desperate gestures that life makes to men
To live life well, see through its seeming, then
It should not come to him as impious or odd
That one drives out a devil by losing some interest in God.

March 6, 1969

(“Exorcism” was published in the Fall 1998 issue of ArtWord Quarterly, White Bear Lake MN.)

Commentary

Both the Greek philosopher Aristotle  and, some centuries later, the  Roman poet Horace propagandized  what  is known as “the golden mean”: the keeping to moderation or the middle of the road (not to be confused with mediocrity) and avoidance of extremes. Human experience moves on a circle, not in a straight line, so that when accelerated by desperation enough, the action to bring about something overshoots its intent and, swinging by that thing at the speed of panic, curves back in stark dismay to its opposite.

Anything in this circular life intense enough begins to resemble its opposite: extreme cold burns like fire, extreme sunburn feels like a chill, a pill of saccharine–a coal tar substance 400 times sweeter than cane sugar–tastes bitter, one who seeks to save his life too much loses it, etc. Back in June of 1995 I composed, in the form of a dream-vision, a little unrhyming poem on this consequence of violating the golden mean. In it, the immoderation of the desire for warmth in our northern winters (an immoderation symbolized, together with its dire effect, by the blinding sun) drives the mariners across our curvilinear globe toward what they are trying to flee. Here, the golden mean is symbolized by the Mediterranean, whose name literally means “In the middle of the land.” For the frigate in the poem I took the name “Golden Mean” from the “Golden Hind,” the ship in which Shakespeare’s contemporary Sir Francis Drake sailed around the world.

FROM THE FRIGATE “GOLDEN MEAN”

I saw ships struggling on the flood
To harborless Antarctica
From terrible winters in the north.
Blinded by the sun, they missed
The Mediterranean on their port.

All of this is by way of introduction to “Exorcism,” the following few annotations to which may be helpful.

Line 3: “dramatic sleep”: sleep in which the drama of our dreams goes on.

Line 5: “End Analysis”: the Last Judgment, when we will be examined for how well we’ve lived
           this life.

Line 8: “dumb show”: the Elizabethan name for pantomime. Dreams are like the dumb shows in
           that they communicate mainly by scenes, using only a minimum of words.

Lines 22-24: a reference to the story of the Forbidden Fruit in Genesis.

 

 

 

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Published on October 13, 2006 at 3:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

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