Essay

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There is an apocalyptic streak in the poetry of A.F. Moritz, one composed of moments when he adopts the raiment of a prophet and comments upon our course in the world. This habit is welcome, as one of the functions of the poet is to interrogate our personal and collective means of being. But in this case, Moritz writes an interlocking poem that asks “What way should we proceed?” and, here, answers in terms of the cyclical.
This is a poem of opposites, of counterings, and it begins with an opposite: the table, where people eat and talk and enjoy their lives, and the grave, where people do their grieving. Moritz commingles the two words: the “they” of the poem do not know “whether to grieve or celebrate”, suggesting that both practices happen in both locales, table and grave, borrowing a trick of the elegy to mix the potent ingredients and create an effect that is complicated catharsis. The next pairing comes with “noon” and “dusk”; again, Moritz says that the two are sequential, or cyclical. The worth of either option is not rated; like seasons, these opposites turn into one another. Moritz then comments literally upon our century’s militarism and industrialism with the vowel-rich “locked stockade of heavy machines” but contrasts this dull and “heavy” line with an airborne blue heron–the poet, perhaps, surveying all?–which finds its own way and goes “farther on.” Thus the dead, deadening, grounded aspects of our society are contrasted to a coloured, living, aloft being. At this point, there are two things that are finding their way: the pronoun “they”, which the poem suggests is “us”, and the heron. But where are they headed?

There is an apocalyptic streak in the poetry of A.F. Moritz, one composed of moments when he adopts the raiment of a prophet and comments upon our course in the world. This habit is welcome, as one of the functions of the poet is to interrogate our personal and collective means of being. But in this case, Moritz writes an interlocking poem that asks “What way should we proceed?” and, here, answers in terms of the cyclical.

This is a poem of opposites, of counterings, and it begins with an opposite: the table, where people eat and talk and enjoy their lives, and the grave, where people do their grieving. Moritz commingles the two words: the “they” of the poem do not know “whether to grieve or celebrate”, suggesting that both practices happen in both locales, table and grave, borrowing a trick of the elegy to mix the potent ingredients and create an effect that is complicated catharsis. The next pairing comes with “noon” and “dusk”; again, Moritz says that the two are sequential, or cyclical. The worth of either option is not rated; like seasons, these opposites turn into one another. Moritz then comments literally upon our century’s militarism and industrialism with the vowel-rich “locked stockade of heavy machines” but contrasts this dull and “heavy” line with an airborne blue heron–the poet, perhaps, surveying all?–which finds its own way and goes “farther on.” Thus the dead, deadening, grounded aspects of our society are contrasted to a coloured, living, aloft being. At this point, there are two things that are finding their way: the pronoun “they”, which the poem suggests is “us”, and the heron. But where are they headed?


There is an apocalyptic streak in the poetry of A.F. Moritz, one composed of moments when he adopts the raiment of a prophet and comments upon our course in the world. This habit is welcome, as one of the functions of the poet is to interrogate our personal and collective means of being. But in this case, Moritz writes an interlocking poem that asks “What way should we proceed?” and, here, answers in terms of the cyclical.

This is a poem of opposites, of counterings, and it begins with an opposite: the table, where people eat and talk and enjoy their lives, and the grave, where people do their grieving. Moritz commingles the two words: the “they” of the poem do not know “whether to grieve or celebrate”, suggesting that both practices happen in both locales, table and grave, borrowing a trick of the elegy to mix the potent ingredients and create an effect that is complicated catharsis. The next pairing comes with “noon” and “dusk”; again, Moritz says that the two are sequential, or cyclical. The worth of either option is not rated; like seasons, these opposites turn into one another. Moritz then comments literally upon our century’s militarism and industrialism with the vowel-rich “locked stockade of heavy machines” but contrasts this dull and “heavy” line with an airborne blue heron–the poet, perhaps, surveying all?–which finds its own way and goes “farther on.” Thus the dead, deadening, grounded aspects of our society are contrasted to a coloured, living, aloft being. At this point, there are two things that are finding their way: the pronoun “they”, which the poem suggests is “us”, and the heron. But where are they headed?

Moritz’s poem is ecological–the favourite formulation of our Armageddon–when he says “Nothing dissolved for them the mortal green / and black in transparent power of spacious streams / now gone from earth.” So, “nothing” dissolved in streams (water being the universal solvent, and both a source of life and death) that are “gone.” Note the green is “mortal” and is paired with “black”, another of Moritz’s intended contrasts in this poem. It seems to say that the way we will die is through environmental catastrophe. After reading so many of Moritz’s pairings, one appreciates the poet’s ambiguity; the poet seems to favour neither option, green or black. He is merely enumerating fate, the optionless way that says one way inevitably turns into the other.

The poem continues with a “flickering” of sunset clouds as if the opposites he is demonstrating flicker into one another, and he presents another pair, “terror-hope-terror”, as if neither is powerful enough to hold or persist, as if they come in a kind of sine wave. These impermanents find their opposite “unwavering” force in the “progress”–a sly pun, human or diurnal?–of “night/ and day/ and night.” Thus Moritz is concretizing opposites; he provides two discrete entities and favours neither.

Moritz then abruptly takes a different tack. He returns to his “they”, writing “And the pleasure they took / in everything did not wear out.” This could be a charge that the twenty-first century denizens are amusing themselves to death, or a terrorized-hopeful admission that the things we find worthwhile remain worthwhile. It’s hard to know, as this poem is so much of two minds. Moritz is scrupulous throughout the poem entire: he doesn’t know what way, except to say “either”. But the face softens and the industrialized image of a “quarry of a poorer century” is “lipped in birds / and berries”, the most life-affirming moment in the poem, presenting another binary: industrial wasteland reclaimed by nature. Is this the way? Yet there is a further questioning in that the homonym of “berries”‘ is “buries.” The poem then concludes with the image of “houses”, this time pictured in unambiguous “night”, but then made ambiguous again as their occasion is either a “dream” or a “drowning” of new children. So we’re either sleeping as sound as newborns, or we’re sleeping “still” in the grave again.
So which way is it? Moritz won’t, can’t settle the question.

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