First posted at http://substantial.diaryland.com on 7.7.2005.
I am dead, but you are living.
And the wind, moaning and grieving,
Rocks the house and the forest,
Not one pine after another
But further than the furthest
Horizon all together,
Like boat-hulls and bowsprits
In an unruffled anchorage,
Rocked not from high spirits
Or out of aimless rage,
But with a sad heart seeking
Words for your cradle-song.
(trans. by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France)
Let us take the speaker as literally as possible. Perhaps he is dead. So how is he communicating with the living? And who is the “you” he is addressing?
The way the speaker and audience seem to connect is through the wind. The wind, defined by sadness, is a severe, terrible wind. Yet its effects are so powerful one wonders if they are noticeable at all. Boats don’t seem to move, not at all, from their anchored positions, but still the wind is there. What little rocking they do – the sign that the wind is there, if they chose to sail – is a gentle rocking, like the rocking of a cradle.
And I have given away my interpretation before I have even completely thought it through: The speaker is a parent talking to his infant child while rocking the cradle. And the parent doesn’t know what to say. All he knows is that his sadness, as turbulent and powerful as it is, can be harnessed not to destroy but instead to give his child a future. The journey of the soul, for Dante, was much like sailing. Whether such emotion actually will be harnessed – turned into the appropriate words and acted on – is another story.
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