Thursday, January 22, 2015

In Medias Res

From "Updike", Adam Begley's comprehensive and enlightening biography of America's eminently versatile and valuable author, John Updike, these lines, this perfect bouquet, picked from Updike's Collected Poems, 1953-1993.

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market--
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That's it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren't the same.

                                                   --John Updike

"The in-medias-res opening line, the verve, the rapid flow, the cheeky cynicism of the complaint--even the deflated last line--all remind us that despite his worries about death...the poet himself was very much alive. And thanks to the performance captured in "Perfection Wasted," he lives to this day, at least in the sense that his magic is preserved in the fourteen lines of the sonnet.

"But the old Shakespearean ploy of cheating death by grafting the perishable self onto 'eternal lines' of poetry works only if the sonnet continues to be read."

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