Tuesday, April 23, 2013
From Behind The Blind By Robert Murphy
From Behind the Blind
By Robert Murphy
Dos Madres Press Inc.
Review by Dennis Daly
Religious anthropology and ritual mystery, rare indeed in modern poetry, find expression in From Behind the Blind, an illuminating volume of poems and prose pieces by Robert Murphy. Throughout these writings the poet injects little packets of symbols or allusions, which, in turn, suggest worlds of mythic connections in a revealing, not an obscuring way. It occurred to me that I was reading passages from The Golden Bough by James George Frasier, only in miniature and lyrical forms.
Murphy’s introductory poem entitled Doxology sets the tone with an elegant and soaring hymn of praise. He neatly touches on the pagan god of earthly unity as well as the biblical "I am who am" god. Murphy also introduces the cultural concept of dreamtime, which he elaborates on in subsequent poems. Here’s part of it,
Sleep to wake to dream to hear
the great God Pan at play
upon his pipe, the wind
in the willows quicken where
never harm, nor fear on dread feet comes,
for I am always with you there.
In the poem When the Dark as Night Appears Murphy reinforces his dreamtime realty. This illimitable universe lies just beyond the veil of daylight or wakefulness. Using this interior consciousness we can discover ourselves or perhaps our God. The poet puts it this way,
…As in the daylight
Our eyes cannot see the stars we clearly see at night
Behind a blue otherwise opaque to us.
It is only when the dark as night appears,
Within ourselves the stars the vault of heaven holds
No less than God…
Murphy’s poem At Age Sixty more than touches a chord with me. The speaker, attempting to conserve his youth, dares the outside world to destroy him by his own laborious efforts. In fact he doubles down on his dare seeking oblivion. Reward arrives in the form of a well- earned deep sleep, a sleep that edges him closer to his divinity. Murphy concludes his poem thusly,
… whatever it is that sleeps in me tonight
certain that his thoughts ring true.
Better ways doubtlessly have been tried,
and quicker too,
but no-one ever slept half so well—
in the daily distance of diminishment
between, dear God, the likes of me, and You.
The poet becomes Orion the hunter in the poem entitled The Blind. He has waited out his long day (perhaps his lifetime) behind his blind and emerges or, in this case, descends into his unconscious. The hunter, exhausted, drifts, discovers wonderment here,
And tired, only for a moment
closing his eyes,
is suddenly startled to find
himself awake inside,
in a star filled sky, blinking.
The short poem Who Goes There laments the burden and responsibilities of human awareness. There is a bit of Hamlet here. Some men live fully in the outside world, but know that they are actually sentries posted outside a much more elaborate and extensive existence. Action becomes difficult if not impossible. The poet sets up this conundrum,
Where damned if you do
Is damned if you don’t
Is to be doubly damned
When it is only you who knows
That you alone have left your post.
In the poem The Alzheimer House Murphy presents us with a glorious paean to the female sex. It is at once touching in small details (i.e. an elderly woman obsessively stirring her food) and transcendent in its anthropological scope. A mother’s illness has stripped her of specific knowledge, but at the same time an aura of timelessness has enveloped her. She has lost all but the essential woman at her mystical center. The poet references Kali, the Hindu goddess of time and change; Isis, the Egyptian goddess of motherhood and magic; Astarte, a Semitic fertility goddess; as well as Mary, the mother of Christ. He strangely but effectively connects these allusions to Lady Ragnelle, the bride of Sir Gawain of Arthurian legends. Ragnelle championed the empowerment of her gender and rewarded Gawain for his support by transforming herself into a Venus-like beauty. These last six lines of the poem, transforming the multileveled mythic into pathos, are stunning,
Before thought was ever serpent,
Before the apple had earned its bloom.
Before ever Mother Hubbard
Put toe to sock to shoe.
And knew not what to do.
And knew not what to do.
Murphy includes a number of prose narratives in his collection. One such piece entitled Sunday Morning evokes themes of sacrifice and resurrection. Even Lazarus makes an appearance. The universe of abundance within oneself declares its inimitable being through emblematic devices and symbols. At the center of the labyrinth looms Yggdrasil, the densely foliaged and inhabited Norse tree of life. Its structure both proffers stability and threatens destruction. The poet enters the stage with a chain saw. Yes, you heard that right. Consider this description of the tree’s innards,
To look inside the tangle was to look at something impenetrable,
a jungle that could be over topping a buried Mayan ruin with various
kudzus, vines and lianas, inward as much a outward growing, baobab as
much as banyan-like in its span and coverage…
Lest the reader take himself too seriously in following these trails of inner discovery mapped out by Murphy’s muse, the poet presents one part of human duality in the form of an imp. In the poem The Imp as the Imponderable Murphy clears up any confusion about the divine derivation of the imp. The poem begins,
Consider the Imp
that, everywhere, is I Am.
As if he had the ears to hear them by,
finger, nose, and eye,
ten thousand times times ten:
I am! I am! I am!
This remarkable collection by Robert Murphy with its mythic and psychological depth flies in the face of most strains of serious poetry being written today. It’s brave and fresh and permeates with wonder those readers who surrender to this poet’s innovative and measured reflections.