I've also been thinking about Carlene's remark on yesterday's post--especially her physical, painful reaction to The Unicorn Defends Itself. I first saw that tapestry at the Cloisters, where it hangs among other, more famous unicorn tapestries. It's enormous, of course--castle-sized--so large and busy that looking at it is like looking at a Breughel painting or a Hogarth etching. My eye cannot concentrate on the whole, only on snapshots. I would need to stand in front of this tapestry every day for a decade in order to see it with any kind of clarity.
Nonetheless, I haven't stopped thinking about it. I bought a postcard of the central detail, which has been taped beside my desk for a year or so. It remains difficult to look at . . . the dogs snapping at the unicorn's legs, the unicorn goring a dog and kicking at the hunters, spears and blood and chaos, the bright costumes, the Arcadian field. There's no way the unicorn will win this fight, but he will do damage. The scene reminds me of the ending of John Clare's poem "Badger":
He turns agen and drives the noisy crowd
And beats the dogs in noises loud.
He drives away and beats them every one,
And then they loose them all and set them on.
He falls as dead and kicked by boys and men,
Then starts and grins and drives the crowd agen;
Till kicked and torn and beaten out he lies
And leaves his hold and cackles, groans, and dies.
So many mixed feelings. I open the Roethke notebook jottings. "There is much to be learned and wrung from terror, anxiety, fear; there are still 'forms' which the imagination can seize from those dark seas of the mind and spirit." Yes, but this is the same man who also wrote: "The damage of teaching: the constant contact with the undeveloped." And "I teach naturally; a student is a supplement to me, like a wife is to some men." And "Gradually a pile of student papers begins to smell like old meat."
A dangerous man in the classroom; though perhaps, for some students, a necessary one. "How wonderful the struggle with language is." "Look how 'wicked' we are."
Yet "The gravitas of songs, the clean swing of a bat." I'm glad to have jotted that down myself.