The writing of Gwendolyn MacEwen is iconic, the last breath of Modernism, breathing fire into the renaissance
in romance. With striking imagery and lyric language, the Oracle conjures the history of ancient civilizations
and the rites of magic in poetic form. The Poet and novelist was born in Toronto, welcomed into the literary
community, she left school at the age of 17 to pursue writing. She taught herself languages, Arabic, Hebrew,
Greek and French and translated writers into English. She was a writer in residence at the University of Western
Ontario and University of Toronto and won the Governor General’s Award twice, writing more than 20 books.
This poetry born at the end of the Machine Age into the great awakening of the Peace Movement of the 1960’s, is measured in eloquent language, as if cast into boxes and time, some heroine in a cage in a play. The poetry stands, rings in, a memorial to stone flower monuments in the rain. As if a courtier or princess in an ancient court, the imagery dances with allusions to Greek Mythology, the Ancient Egyptians, the mysteries of the Cabala, entwined with nature imagery, and with the dead beat of the disembodied Industrial society in the background, the poetry begins to round into mythologies.
The series of 9 Arcanum poems writes in the voice of a princess, the politics and intrigues of a court scene, a dowager king, a fall from grace, a prince dies yet is somehow reclaimed at the end of the story, perhaps a reflection of the Artist’s journey.
From the series of 9 Arcanum poems:
Arcanum One: The Prince
“and in the morning the king loved you most
and wrote your name with a sun and a beetle
and a crooked ankh, and in the morning
you wore gold mainly, and the king adorned you
with many more names.
beside fountains, both of you slender
as women, circled and walked together
like sunrays circling water, both of you
slender as women wrote your names with
beetles and with suns, and spoke together
in the golden mornings.
and the king entered your body
into the bracelet of his name
and you became a living syllable
in his golden script, and your body
escaped from me like founting water
all the daylong.
but in the evenings you wrote my name
with a beetle and a moon, and lay upon me
like a long broken necklace which had fallen
from my throat, and the king loved you
most in the morning, and his glamouous love
lay lengthwise along us all the evening.”
The poetry unfolds, as if timeless, as if looking backwards through a glass, defuse with melancholy and mythological archetypes, as if between worlds at the end of time.
Arcanum Nine: The King
“I do not adorn you with any more names
for the living ghost of the king our father
hovers forever above our secret bed
like the royal hawk with wings outspread
on whose head the awful sun burns out
the many generations of our dreams.
and we are the end of his ancient line,
your seed a river of arrested time
whose currents bring the cursed crown
forever back to the foot of this bed –
the double crown of those who wear
the kingdoms of heaven and hell on their head.
the royal bird is blind in morning
and its glamorous wings will shade us
till the end of time. but O my brother
will you wear forever that stolen ring
which wounds your hand by night, and why
in your dreams do you go to the king, the king?”
The poetry, itself, lives in a deconstructed free verse style, and is lyric with occasional rhyme. The poems titles are entirely in capital letters, the poems themselves begin with small letters, there is the occasional period, but sometimes not. Sometimes the poems end suddenly as if jumping into air. It is the beginning of a grand truthtelling and perhaps the beginning of protest and “Apocalypse” poetry. A certain tension in violence, as if in the middle of an underground war.
The Death Agony of the Butterfly
“a monarch beat its velvet brain
against the light, against
the cold light, that’s
what you said.
dance you, dance
against the light against
the cold light, that’s
what you said . . . “
The Magician: Three Themes
One: The Magician
“odd that the people want to own you
and produce you like a black poodle
at fatal teaparties where their blood crowds
up in the thunder of the afternoon,
inside their houses, in the fatal rooms
of their faith and dark doubting . . . “
As if the haunting, dark with death imagery and majesty these early works could be considered the seeds of the Gothic Revival movement, as the literary world was blooming into Post-Modernism. The writing is often profound and as if written by hand into stone, elegant, of old world mystery, perhaps prophetic, this poetry captivates as classic literature. Volume I: The Early Years of the Collected Works of Gwendolyn MacEwen, available at Amazon.
Available @ Amazon Canada. Amazon.ca.
Available @ Amazon United States. Amazon.com.
Available @ Amazon United Kingdom. Amazon.co.uk.
Genre: Poetry, Women's Literature