The Road

These are roads to take when you think of your country
and interested bring down the maps again,
phoning the statistician, asking the dear friend,

reading the papers with morning inquiry.
Or when you sit at the wheel and your small light
chooses gas gauge and clock; and the headlights

indicate future or road, your wish pursuing
past the junction, the fork, the suburban station,
well-travelled six-lane highway planned for safety.

Past your tall central city’s influence,
outside its body: traffic, penumbral crowds,
are centers removed and strong, fighting for good
reason.

These roads will take you into your own country.
Select the mountains, follow rivers back,
travel the passes. Touch West Virginia where

the Midland Trail leaves the Virginia furnace,
iron Clifton Forge, Covington iron, goes down
into the wealthy valley, resorts, the chalk hotel.

Pillars and fairway; spa; White Sulphur Springs.
Airport. Gay blank rich faces wishing to add
history to ballrooms, tradition to the first tee.

The simple mountains, sheer, dark-graded with pine
in the sudden weather, wet outbreak of spring,
crosscut by snow, wind at the hill’s shoulder.

The land is fierce here, steep, braced against snow,
rivers and spring. KING COAL HOTEL, Lookout,
and swinging the vicious bend, New River Gorge.

Now the photographer unpacks camera and case,
surveying the deep country, follows discovery
viewing on groundglass an inverted image.

John Marshall named the rock (steep pines, a drop
he reckoned in 1812, called) Marshall Pillar,
but later, Hawk’s Nest. Here is your road, tying

you to its meanings: gorge, boulder, precipice.
Telescoped down, the hard and stone-green river
cutting fast and direct into the town.

by Muriel Rukeyser

Comments (7)

Translation of Verlaine is is a thankless task. Effective translation of Mallarme may be impossible. The poetry of both is mysteriously sheathed in the shimmer of 'la belle langue' and generally cannot be rendered into a 'vowel-less' language like English. Sonic effects and subtleties of rhythm may make logical chimeras convincing. Verlaine at least offers a logical narrative for rendering, but Mallarme, not so. Readers of English as an only language, beware. You are not really reading Mallarme
This is an early poem by Mallarme, written when he felt trapped by the life he was living, stuck in the provinces, dissatisfied as a high school teacher, straddled with wife and new child, cut off from contact with other poets. Is it any surprise he dreamed of escape, that is, escapism, because this is the most impractical resolution? It is a compensatory day-dream, but one vivid with that curious mixture of sensuality and spirituality he had inherited from Baudelaire, Nerval, even Gautier. No, he did not take a journey of flight but was soon to internalize such desires, turn them into symbolist literature and produce first drafts of AFTERNOON OF A FAUN and HERODIADE. Years later, in his elegy for Gautier, he gave us a sublimated, internalized echo of this desire for escape: RECALLED HORIZONS, SPEAK, WHAT IS THE EARTH? And the answer that echoes back: I DON'T KNOW. Mallarme was engaged, in his own words, to find AN ORPHIC EXPLANATION OF THE EARTH.
Listen the sailors's chant. Nice work.
Nice imagery of a heart's desire
Land is lifeless so the ship is towards ultumate voyage.
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