philology, movies, Old French, camp slang, archaeology, cartoons, the poetry of the ages, bibliography, Victoriana, television ads and more


John Ashbery’s new collection, dedicated to his partner, David Kermani, draws its exotic title — “Planisphere” — from Andrew Marvell’s poem “The Definition of Love,” in which two perfect lovers have been kept apart by the goddess Fate, since their perfection would be her ruin:

And therefore her decrees of steel
Us as the distant poles have placed
(Though Love’s whole world on us doth wheel),
Not by themselves to be embraced,

Unless the giddy heaven fall,
And earth some new convulsion tear.
And, us to join, the world should all
Be cramp’d into a planisphere.

A three-dimensional globe is flattened to two dimensions, and the distant poles at last can touch. Such an image fits Ashbery’s surreal imagination, with its arresting leaps and resistant incoherence.

more from Helen Vendler at the NYT here.