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This clear-eyed, brutal, moving, darkly funny book tells a single story in an immediate, accessible voice — 29 “tangos” of narrative verse that take us vividly through erotic, painful, and heartbreaking scenes from a long-time marriage that falls apart. Only award-winning ...
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This clear-eyed, brutal, moving, darkly funny book tells a single story in an immediate, accessible voice — 29 “tangos” of narrative verse that take us vividly through erotic, painful, and heartbreaking scenes from a long-time marriage that falls apart. Only award-winning poet Anne Carson could create a work that takes on the oldest of lyrical subjects — love — and make it this powerful, this fresh, this devastating.
“Brilliantly captured…Reading her is to experience a euphonious, mystical sort of perplexity…punctuated by what the husband himself calls ‘short blinding passages’…moments of almost unbearable poignancy.” —The New York Times
“Her best book.... Her poetry’s form and sensibility are quite unlike anything else.” —The Globe and Mail
“With swift strokes depicting the illusions and disillusions of a marriage gone sour, Carson has managed to make the intellectual life hip. In her hands, a quote from Plato seems as natural as a pop reference…. Then there are the lines of sheer lyricism, lines that send us spinning back to the idea of beauty, of truth.” —Miami Herald
“An exquisite meditation on love and loss that reads with the emotional depth — and with the ongoing resonance — of a great novel.” —Elle
“I would read anything that [Anne Carson] wrote.” —Susan Sontag
You know I was married years ago and when he left my husband took my notebooks.
You know that cool sly verb write. He liked writing, disliked having to start each thought himself.
Used my starts to various ends, for example in a pocket I found a letter he'd begun
(to his mistress at that time)
containing a phrase I had copied from Homer: 'entropalizomenh is how Homer says
Andromache went after she parted from Hektor — "often turning to look back"
she went down from Troy's tower and through stone streets to her loyal husband's house and there with her women raised a lament for a living man in his own halls.
Loyal to nothing my husband. So why did I love him from early girlhood to late middle age and the divorce decree came in the mail?
Beauty. No great secret. Not ashamed to say I loved him for his beauty.
As I would again if he came near. Beauty convinces. You know beauty makes sex possible.
Beauty makes sex sex.
You if anyone grasp this — hush, let's pass to natural situations.
Other species, which are not poisonous, often have colorations and patterns similar to poisonous species.
This imitation of a poisonous by a nonpoisonous species is called mimicry.
My husband was no mimic.
You will mention of course the war games. I complained to you often enough when they were here all night with the boards spread out and rugs and little lamps and cigarettes like Napoleon's tent I suppose,
who could sleep? All in all my husband was a man who knew more about the Battle of Borodino than he did about his own wife's body, much more! Tensions poured up the walls and along the ceiling,
sometimes they played Friday night till Monday morning straight through, he and his pale wrathful friends.
They sweated badly. They ate meats of the countries in play.
Jealousy formed no small part of my relationship to the Battle of Borodino.
I hate it.
Why play all night.
The time is real.
It's a game.
It's a real game.
Is that a quote.
I need to touch you.
That night we made love "the real way" which we had not yet attempted although married six months.
Big mystery. No one knew where to put their leg and to this day I'm not sure we got it right.
He seemed happy. You're like Venice he said beautifully.
Early next day
I wrote a short talk ("On Defloration") which he stole and had published in a small quarterly magazine.
Overall this was a characteristic interaction between us.
Or should I say ideal.
Neither of us had ever seen Venice.
1. The poem is dedicated to Keats, "for his general surrender to beauty." In his "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Keats concludes that "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." Clearly the speaker of The Beauty of the Husband knows a lot more than that, but she is not saved by her knowledge from the fatal beauty of her first love. The irony is that the beautiful husband is a liar, and his lies destroy the marriage. The speaker states, "Poets (be generous) prefer to conceal the truth beneath strata of irony/ because this is the look of the truth: layered and elusive" [p. 37]. How is Carson using irony in this poem?
2. Carson has appended a subtitle to this work; she calls it "a fictional essay in 29 tangos." What effect does the word "fictional" have? Is it a warning that readers are not to take this as an autobiographical story? Does it make a difference, in terms of emotional impact and reading pleasure, whether The Beauty of the Husband is true or not? Daphne Merkin has suggested that "a story line in any conventional sense is not what fuels Carson's writing--or what she cares about, except as it may enable her to ask the questions that interest her: to what avail are Parmenides and 'the true lies of poetry' when set against the 'welter of disorder and pain' that 'is our life'?"4 How does The Beauty of the Husband read as a story? Does it share certain elements with fiction?
3. The wife in the poem says, "How do people/ get power over one another?" [p. 38], and later, "Why did nature give me over to this creature--don't call it my choice, / I was ventured: / by some pure gravity of existence itself,/ conspiracy of being!" [p. 49]. She also asks a related question: "What does not wanting to desire mean?" [p. 75]. These are crucial philosophic questions for the poem, and for the whole ideal of human self-determination. Does Carson suggest that people are helpless when in the grip of desire? Carson has written a book about the Greek concept of Eros; does she suggest that in fact a power like the god Eros still exists and can conspire to give one person over to another?
4. The wife states that her husband was "loyal to nothing," and yet she is "not ashamed to say I loved him for his beauty. / As I would again / if he came near" [p. 9]. This is essentially a romantic and aesthetic approach to life. What role, then, does the rational mind play in this drama?