Saturday, June 10, 2017

6. Long haul

I’ve just finished the 42,000+ lines of William Morris’s The Earthly Paradise, volumes 3 through 6 in the big collected works. There was no prize at the end of the last volume, no badge I could stick on my lapel: “I FINISHED THE EARTHLY PARADISE!” I suppose I’ve joined a small and select club; how many people, in 2017, have read this gargantuan Victorian poem? I know one personally, and have met a couple of Victorian scholars whom I’m sure have read it; but I can’t imagine that there are more than a few hundred others.
Strangely enough, it’s (mostly) hasn’t felt like a slog, or an unending burden. Rather—since I’ve paced my reading out over six weeks or so—it’s been a rather charming evening’s (or morning’s) recourse: a half hour here, an hour there. The lines melt away beneath the reading eye, the pages seem to turn themselves. Which makes it I suppose the sort of “popular” reading Ron Silliman described all those years ago in “Disappearance of the Word, Appearance of the World.” Poetry as easy reading; poetry lite?
But I understand why the book was such a bestseller, at least on the level of readability. Would I read it again? Not straight through, certainly; but there are passages, and individual tales, that I know I’ll revisit. Maybe not soon—the poem as a whole has such a strong and bitter flavor of mortality that it’s thrown me into a dark mood, from which I suspect I’ll have to extricate myself with a blast of Frank O’Hara.

No comments: