Tuesday, June 3, 2008

100th Post: "Magical Realism"

For my 100th post, I thought I'd do something different. I will share with you one of my favorite poems by a little-known Kashmiri poet, Agha Shahid Ali. The poem--which contains incredible imagery--is introduced by the simple, unassuming title, "Snowmen." Enjoy after clicking either one of the following two links:



Here is the last stanza:

No, they won't let me out of winter,
and I've promised myself,
even if I'm the last snowman,
that I'll ride into spring
on their melting shoulders.

After reading the full poem, take a moment to enjoy the images--a woman frozen by a man's embrace, a "snowman" riding into the future Spring--and then check out this link, which explains the poem a bit more:

[FYI: link no longer works] http://www.himalmag.com/2002/february/passing_1.htm

From the above link:

I approached the poem “Snowmen”, from which these lines are taken as an immediate sensuous apprehension. It was later that I thought of its feminist implications. There are two things hidden in that poem. One is a poem by Wallace Stevens called “The Snowmen”. If you read it you won’t see the connection but it is there for me. The other is a scene that has haunted me for a long time from Wuthering Heights. The narrator is staying at Heathcliff’s house because there has been a terrible storm and the ghost of Katherine knocks on the window. She says, “I’m cold. Let me in”. He opens the window and the glass breaks somehow. He takes the hand of the ghost and rubs it against the glass and there is blood. It’s an amazing scene. Talk about magical realism. People think about that novel and they want neat answers. [Bronte’s] whole enterprise is that there are no neat answers. But to provide you with a neat answer: I’m thinking about my ancestry and the lost women in this ancestry who we never hear about. I know everything about my father, his father, his father’s father and so on for nine generations. But I know nothing before my grandmother. So I’m trying to find these lost women. These are difficult questions, there are no neat answers. You can have a feminist construct when you read that poem.

I love how
Agha Shahid describes "Snowmen," but his explanation strikes me as too opaque. I would have never independently arrived at his "feminist" interpretation.  After all, much of the poem focuses on male imagery, such as "his skeleton," "his breath," "a man of Himalayan snow," and of course, the title itself, "Snowmen."  Shahid seems to be playing all sides by saying there are no neat answers, providing one, and then reminding us that there are no neat answers.  For me, "Snowmen" means something different. It represents the immigrant experience and persevering through difficulty to ensure that previous generations--both male and female--did not toil in vain. That's how I interpret the poem, especially the last stanza, which is my favorite. 

No comments: