Robert Pinsky looks back on “Cascando” by Samuel Beckett

Robert Pinsky in Slate:

150109_POEM_samuelbeckett.jpg.CROP.original-originalHere is a love poem, clear-eyed yet passionate, personal and impersonal in ways I admire: “Cascando” by Samuel Beckett.

The poem’s intensity and misgivings are epitomized by the invented word at the end of its first stanza. “Wordshed,” on the model of “bloodshed,” generates associations of violent conflict; from another associated word, “woodshed,” gush other associations: drudgery, storage, punishment, and (maybe anachronistically) the jazz musician’s verb for practicing one’s art, woodshedding. And opposite to that practice-time in art, the simple meaning of shedding words: falling silent.

The poem’s erratic, doubling progress follows those conflicted energies as it oscillates, I think frantically, between the two magnetic attractions of abundance and of silence. The traditional lover’s uncertainty or agony has, in this poem, a rhetorical counterpart in the struggle between embracing traditional eloquence and rejecting it. For instance, “the grapples clawing blindly the bed of want” is a line of iambic pentameter as regular as anything in Shakespeare. The reckless, hyperbolic eloquence of the images—those eye-sockets and the “black want splashing their faces”—collides with the flatly corrosive, meaning-dispersing, adverbial “all always is it better too soon than never.”

For me, that hovering, back-and-forth movement between passion and reservations, need and doubt, images and disavowals, creates a strong emotion. The feeling gathers force from the poem’s argument with itself.

More here.