Graeme Miles Reviews David Musgrave

By | 13 December 2016

Intriguingly woven into this poem is a text by another Platonist, Plutarch: the Gryllus. The eponymous hero of this text is one of Odysseus’ sailors who has been transformed into a pig by the witch Circe and is unwilling to be re-transformed into a human being. The bulk of the dialogue is made up of his criticisms of human beings from the perspective of a non-human animal. This porcine figure had already appeared via the emblems in the second partition, in poem eight and its accompanying emblem. Here, the emblem with its poem takes one angle in its reading of Plutarch, and Musgrave’s poem another. Petrus Costalius’s poem and emblem take Gryllus to task for choosing the life of a pig over a human one, rather than cutting down human pretensions from an imagined animal perspective as Plutarch had. In response, Musgrave’s poem is much more ambiguous, even riddling, and he seems to dismiss in his last line Costalius’s attack on Gryllus as ‘urgent tushing’. More generally, in the riddling nature of his second partition, Musgrave replies to the mysterious images in a way that is just as mysterious, rather than with the kind of didacticism, even reductiveness, that the poems in the emblem books do. In response, for instance, to the image of the weasel to which the proverb ‘hear much, speak little’ corresponds in the emblem book, Musgrave writes:

And bone memory, prodigal, swarms
among mad weasel domains. I probed
your problems: my words are in damage
mode, and yours are empowering emblems.
Magi bear emeralds, pomes and myrrh,
dance madrigals. No embers whimper.

This is not free association. It does relate to the emblem and to Maidment as addressee, but it playfully avoids direct reference to the traditional meaning of the emblem. This sequence also, as a whole, adds up to one of the four attempts that Anatomy of Voice makes of embracing a disappeared voice, making its own dream-like jumps around the shared body of images.

Anatomy of Voice deserves serious critical engagement beyond the initial reconnaissance of a review. There is much to explore and enjoy in its labyrinths of allusion, and in the careful judgement that it shows in the interplay of art and text. Its implicit readings of, among others, Burton and Plato, need closer reading. Just as importantly, Anatomy of Voice deserves to be read by readers willing to follow its complicated trails and to engage with it emotively. For all its cerebral pleasures it is also a book of deep feeling, which avoids (mostly successfully) the ever-present danger of sentimentality. Anatomy of Voice is a visual delight and a book to reread, both for its immediate pleasures as poetry and for the sleuthing out of literary riddles.

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