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On "Marriage"

Tannu Tuva Stamps from 1934

from an interview of Gregory Corso by Michael Andre

... in 1957-58 in Paris things burst and opened, and I said, "I will just let the lines go with the rhythm I have within me, my own sound, that would work, and it worked." In "Marriage" there was hardly any change--there are long lines, but they just flow, like a musical thing within me. I could do that much better than so-called eye forms, forms that you could see with your eye. (125)

from Bruce Cook's The Beat Generation

Gregory Corso came back from Europe in 1957 for the publication of Gasoline and was on the scene at just the moment that the Beat Generation thing was beginning to explode. He completed the trio [with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg] that posed for the photos and talked to reporters. In the beginning, at least, he gloried in the role of the bad boy. He made sure everyone knew he had served time at Dannermora, muttered non sequiturs and put-ons whenever he was interviewed, and told Life magazine's Paul O'Neil that he had never combed his hair, "although I guess I'd get the bugs out of it if I did." Yet quite unexpectedly, he began to attract some real critical interest at the poetry readings he gave with Allen Ginsberg with a poem called "Marriage." It is a long, 111-line work with no narrative thread to sustain it--only the dialectic of a rambling and delightful debate on the pros and the cons of the matrimonial state. Quite fittingly--because it answers so few of them--"Marriage" begins by asking questions....

Yet as funny and entertaining as all this certainly is, it is not merely that, for in its zany way "Marriage" offers serious criticism of what is phony about a sacred American institution. That it was done with good humor and a sense of comedy throughout does not dull its sharp cutting edge in the slightest, for genuine wit and Corso's finest, most casually precise, use of language save the day....

Yet in it, characteristically, Corso manages to hedge. A poem pondering a choice...concludes with no choice made. Ultimately, he seems to lack the courage of his convictions. Without really rejecting marriage, he manages to accept it only as an abstract notion, a possibility.... Not to quibble, however, for in the writing of "Marriage," Corso did make a choice, his most important, for the matter and form of it are distinctly his own. (138-40)

from Richard Howard's "'Surely There'll Be Another Table...'"

A glance, then, at this central poem in the pediment, a triumph of 112 lines, necessarily about the impossibility of choosing. . . . Yet the prospect of withholding himself from the common fate is just as painful for Corso as the doom of conformity, and the whole of his poetic career is summed up in the terrors of the poem's final strophes.... And "Marriage" closes with the apocalyptic consolation of an ultimate energy milked from the universe as the poet milks his own from himself--it is the final mythological comfort of choosing nothing but experience, or Everything.... (82)

from Gregory Stephenson's Exiled Angel

The superbly humorous "Marriage" satirizes the rituals and conventions of courtship, sexuality and marriage, contrasting the individualistic, imaginative, poetic spirit of the poem's narrator with the norms and expectations of society. The poem also pokes fun at the bizarre impulses of the narrator and at his inability to cope with the practical matters or the responsibilities of a job and children. The poem points out that what is all too frequently obscured or lost among all the social usages, customs and practices connected with marriage is its very reason and motive: love. The mystery, the miracle of love must not be reduced to mediocrity, must not become domesticated or trivialized. The poem concludes with a celebration of pure, passionate love as exemplified by Ayesha, the beautiful, terrible sorceress of H. Rider Haggard's She, reminding us that true marriage can only be founded upon the recognition of love as a primal force, subversive, illimitable, partaking of the character of the divine. True marriage is not a social contract but a covenant of flesh and spirit both within and between lovers. (36)

from Michael Skau's "A Clown in a Grave"

... "Marriage" comprises variations on a theme, continually sliding from one assumed attitude to another, refusing to offer a definitive stance regarding its ostensible object. The opening line of the poem provides the thematic crux: "Should I get married? Should I be good?" The poem then takes off on a comical ride through the ritualized conventions encountered in such a decision: courtship, obligatory and uncomfortable meeting with the intended's parents, wedding and reception, honeymoon, housekeeping, childbirth, and parenthood. The speaker imagines himself within stock cinematic images of marital settings (rural Connecticut suburb, bleak New York City apartment "seven flights up," sophisticated New York penthouse) and rejects them all, while still recognizing their seductions and embodying his ambivalence in a memorable oxymoron: "No, can't imagine myself married to that pleasant prison dream." The narrator's reluctance stems from his inability to imagine himself forsaking the unpredictable and unconventional outlook upon which he prides himself.... The speaker can anticipate joining the mainstream only if he can retain his penchant for roiling that stream, destroying its placid stability, and investing it with an energetic unpredictability to prevent it from becoming stagnant. (15-16)

 from Wini Breines's Young, White, and Miserable

... modern marriage was ideally characterized by companionship, but husbands and wives are far apart in their interests and personalities. In the transformation of the postwar period, the marriage relationship became both more important and more burdened. Often living far from grandparents and other extended family, members of the modern nuclear family had little support or guidance; they had only each other. The social scientists thus portrayed a family under stress.... The father's interests and energies focused on his specialized occupational role, which separated rather than connected him to his wife. Sharing of interests with persons of the opposite sex became difficult, especially as women were so strongly encouraged to develop their femininity.

Given the pressures on the husband to pursue economic success and the power of the values operative in the white-collar world, the man, [social scientist John] Seeley suggested, was not well equipped to meet the new cultural demands on him as husband and father....

The marital relationship had been presented as the link that held the family together, the one enduring human relationship in society, based as it was on growing equality and companionship. But at the same time, the factors separating husbands and wives were shown to be substantial indeed. Seeley, in fact, described men and women as possessing "mutually-opposed value systems" and two distinct cultures, making it difficult to achieve emotional unity or a satisfactory sexual relationship. (37-39)

from The American Dream: The 50s

A wife's job, as defined by the popular House Beautiful, was to meet her husband's every need, "understanding why he wants it this way, forgetting your own preferences." He was, the magazine asserted, "the boss." However, the wife wasn't to regard herself as subservient. Indeed, Time magazine called her "the key figure in all suburbia...the keeper of the suburban dream." (58)

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