November 28, 2009

Christine Hume's "Lullaby"

I’m tempted to talk about how I put on the CD, then sat doodling about the sounds for a few minutes, waiting for the “words” to begin, before it struck me that the CD had no voice of poet/words. So I started reading the text after I had already been “listening” (half distractedly) to the music for eight odd minutes. A very interesting experience.

This is such a rich text! “Its impossible promises of killers and riches”. I had fun trying to make sense of it because when I first encountered it, I swooned into the lines – I was seduced by them, the language, the images!

I love how the poem creates an epistemology of rhythm. The title Lullaby: Speculations on the first active sense is partly misleading (though on the cover itself, the word “Lullaby” gets cleaved by the fold of the book jacket, taking away some of its valence). The text is concerned with “lullaby” only so far as it is rhythm reinvented or reclothed. Rhythmicity grants lullaby its capacity. “What a rhythm will become to stay in the world” (2). The lines themselves stage the experience of body-in-rhythm – not just through language but also through the body of the poem. The gaps (blanks) between the lines could be pauses – intervals of silence – “Seconds shedding their tick”.

It is rhythm which the ear, the “original vigilant animal”, desires – the first desire and yet the first lie. “The sweet lure and bye belies its bully language” (5). Phonetic ghosts of the word “lullaby” here – and the premise is carried on. The text of lullabies is often disconcertingly sinister: “Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop / When the wind blows, the cradle will rock / When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall / And down will come baby, cradle and all.” This intertextual reference and its terrifying implications/denotations enter the rhetoric of the poem on pages 7 & 8 especially - though they carry on till the end, carrying away the “I” of the speaker.

How necessary is the mother to the lullaby, or the lullaby to the mother? The first line of the poem seems to want to join the reader as addressee with the infant to whom the lullaby is sung, but by the page 3 it is clear that the “you” is the mother herself (“Singing lullaby, you recover your mother’s pulse”) - and the “Speculations” in the title suggests an internality to the “dialogue”. The device of the speaker addressing herself in the second person perhaps parallels another theme that the text brings up in my reading – lullabies are primarily sung by mothers for themselves and not for the infant.

(posted Nov 15, 2009 on the workshop blog)

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