Rexroth’s “Incarnation��?

I’ll have to admit that I find it hard to totally agree with these reviewers’ statement that, “It is remarkable that a life as deeply troubled as that of Kenneth Rexroth should produce erotic poetry of such profound transcendence,? but I did find Rexroth’s love poetry at its best as moving as that of Yeats’ love poetry, high praise since Yeats ranks among my five favorite poets.

Several of Rexroth’s poems are more erotic than any that appear in Yeats’ works, perhaps because of a shift in values, but “Incarnation? does remind me a lot of Yeats:

INCARNATION

Climbing alone all day long
In the blazing waste of spring snow,
I came down with the sunset's edge
To the highest meadow, green
In the cold mist of waterfalls,
To a cobweb of water
Woven with innumerable
Bright flowers of wild iris;
And saw far down our fire's smoke
Rising between the canyon walls,
A human thing in the empty mountains.
And as I stood on the stones
In the midst of whirling water,
The whirling iris perfume
Caught me in a vision of you
More real than reality:
Fire in the deep curves of your hair:
Your hips whirled in a tango,
Out and back in dim scented light;
Your cheeks snow-flushed, the zithers
Ringing, all the crowded ski lodge
Dancing and singing; your arms
White in the brown autumn water,
Swimming through the fallen leaves,
Making a fluctuant cobweb
Of light on the sycamores;
Your thigh's exact curve, the fine gauze
Slipping through my hands, and you
Tense on the verge of abandon;
Your breasts' very touch and smell;
The sweet secret odor of sex.
Forever the thought of you,
And the splendor of the iris,
The crinkled iris petal,
The gold hairs powdered with pollen,
And the obscure cantata
Of the tangled water, and the
Burning, impassive snow peaks,
Are knotted together here.
This moment of fact and vision
Seizes Immortality,
Becomes the person of this place.
The responsibility
Of love realized and beauty
Seen burns in a burning angel
Real beyond flower or stone.

Here a Romantic image of nature and of love is fused, and this fusion, this vision, becomes immortal in a way no physical love can ever be. In fact, I would argue that it is this very vision of love, not the physical love itself, that is transcendent when “This moment of fact and vision/ Seizes Immortality/ Becomes the person of this place.?

This vision of love is “more real than reality,? or, at least, as real. Our dreams of what we want life to be, our aspirations, are as real as the failures that we encounter in trying to reach those dreams. Memories of romantic moments in our life, those moments that tie us to those we love, are “more real than reality.? In fact, reality isn’t reality until it is processed, turned into memories.

2 thoughts on “Rexroth’s “Incarnation��?

  1. The poem gives me inspiration to dance. Dancing like an iris on top of a shining torrent flying under the sunset. By chance, I was listening to “Red red wine” by UB40 when reading this, which has added some special flavor in it.

  2. It’s a very visual poem, but the effect is almost as if he had taken two transparencies and placed them on top of each other then held them up to the light. I really like it.

What do you think?