at that birch for years. Suddenly / betrayed you took shears and / went at her./ With every thrust of blade / she would arch, shiver. Leaves / whispered prayers / or pleas. / Her sap tasted of some secret pleasure. / That of the apostle / erecting his own execution: / bent bough’s long moan / following sob / of silver coins in cloth, / noose’s embrace recalling / one sweet rebellious kiss / it is not. Who are you / to know such things? After, / you could not look at her.
from The Wake Forest series of Irish Poetry, selected, with a preface and essays by David Wheatley, 2017
FRAME OF REFERENCE We live in a time of default atheism. The erotics of the intimate universal does not find itself then on the threshold of the agapeics of the divine that qualifies and obliges our exercises of enabled power. The erotic turns down into the darkness …. The free air above us might take the wind out of the sails of our autonomous self-determination and we resent that thought as deflating our afflatus. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal, 358.
Evil is a mystery except it’s not, it is only too obvious. Darcy’s lyric helps me face the mystery of evil at a time when it has come to dominate the foreground as news and thus cloak itself in appearances. Fascism works that way.
The brilliance of the poem is to foreground the repressed without violating its core of violence. As violence. It is more than image, it is narrative.
As mystery, evil has no conceptual beginning, it is always already happening. Darcy begins with the beginning in the not representable time. It breaks out.
As we’ve learned to expect in the early goings-on of a lyric, the language is clear and yet equivocal. Violence to an innocent tree gets at so much in the story of evil, and yet it’s too easy. From vivid description we move deeper into the darkness through dialectic — some sort of secret pleasure — and myth. One can’t help but think of Yeats. And yet even myth caves to the dialectical “not.”
Again, the resources of lyric include the resources of plurality of the voice in the grammar of “person” or pronoun. The emergent voice of the poem as different from the executing voice of the poet raises her voice. (Note how the poem itself offers ways to be understood in its own terms in violation of the otherness of violence.)
In the end, just who is addressed? The narration of evil is often centered on eyes, the anguish, outrage of the soul’s double. Darcy returns to that theme. The violence is not contained. The voice of the lyric transcends the now given lyric. The abyss opens to reveal the ultimate absence.