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Louise Bogan, “Knowledge”

With thanks to Temperance Dewar

Knowledge (from Poetry)
Louise Bogan

Now that I know
That passion warms little
Of flesh in the mold,
And treasure is brittle,

I’ll lie here and learn
How, over their ground,
Trees make a long shadow
And a light sound.

Comment:

Temperance made a bunch of neat observations. “Know” in the first stanza potentially conflicting with “[will] learn” opening the second stanza is the one I remember most. What we spent the most time discussing was the nature of the “passion” invoked. “Passion warms little” cannot possibly mean the speaker is herself dispassionate. But how exactly do we account for that numbness, say, when relationships fall apart? When we don’t want something anymore, but still want it?

What puzzled me initially was the title. It’s necessary for the first stanza’s strange order. It doesn’t feel right to talk about treasure after passion; it feels like a descent. One might say the brittleness of treasure indicates the speaker has emphatic doubts about the value of actually getting what she wants. But still, our passion is more important than getting what we want, even if temporally prior. “Treasure” and its brittleness make me think of material goods. “Passion warms little / Of flesh in the mold” is not just any passion: it’s the will to create ourselves.

So yes, there’s a descent of the Can I get anything at all? variety. “Knowledge” is the absolute least one can get; it may not effect anything at all. In a state of numbness, how does one know one knows? Self-knowledge is peculiar in that we often want it to help us feel a certain way. Our speaker does not even have knowledge after all her turmoil. She is only seeking after knowledge, to go back to Temperance’s point.

The trees are rooted. They have a particular domain (“over their ground”). One need not think of pirates to think of underground treasure. Where your treasure is, your heart is; a man will sell all he has if he finds a pearl of great price in a field to buy the field. Trees cast shadows that echo the speaker laying down. But those long shadows only touch the earth. They don’t warm and they don’t search. The light sound is that of the wind moving branches and leaves gently. It’s the sound of space between a slight, organic frame. One might say it is the sound of nothing.

2 Comments

  1. I’m embarrassed to admit I did not know this poet. So I’m extremely happy to have stumbled on this particular poem!
    “In a state of numbness, how does one know one knows?” it’s a question I’ve often asked myself too.

  2. A pearl in the field, reading the bible gives poetry all day every day.

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