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On Van Duyn’s Sense of Marriage

Stephen Yenser

… "[I]t’s a law that everything goes in, / pythonic, prophetic. …" [Friedrich] Holderlin’s rule for the cosmic mulligatawny is Van Duyn’s for the pot-au-feu [French: "bubbling poet"] of marriage – the departure point for so many of her poems – marriage, which is at bottom her trope for the self’s ideal relationship to the world or the other world, with which she would replace the Christian figure of the self’s relationship to the savior or the other world. Van Duyn is incorrigibly worldly, perhaps not sophisticated (she knowingly refers to herself in "Homework" as a "sweating Proust of the pantry shelves" and insists that we hear the domestic’s pant in "pantry"), but worldly – and pragmatical, therefore, and resourceful. In "The Marriage Sculptor," a recent poem among so many of hers that deal with connubial adjustments, "the old master" who made a "late work" on the subject of marriage ("so fine the embrace of spirits, so expressive the bright pour / of leaning lights, so rich the exchanging glances") is confronted with its utter destruction as the result of this or that lightning bolt. In the true Yeatsian spirit – "All things fall, and are built again, / And those who build them again are gay" – the sculptor turns his attention to his "materials, safe" even though his group sculpture has been destroyed. His single question is, What to make of these materials now? How – since "nothing human is perfect" – to "shelter the next [form] from storm?"

from Stephen Yenser, "Blood, Toil, Tears, Sweat and Soup," in Michael Burns, ed. Discovery and Reminiscence: Essays on the Poetry of Mona Van Duyn (Fayetteville: U Arkansas P, 1998) 31-32.

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