Laura Riding: Not Mystery But Pain

 
Beyond

Pain is impossible to describe
Pain is the impossibility of describing
Describing what is impossible to describe
Which must be a thing beyond description
Beyond description not to be known
Beyond knowing but not mystery
Not mystery but pain not plain but pain
But pain beyond but here beyond


The jewel-like definition which is being recut: pain cannot be made "plain", but, in the medium of thought, compromised as poetry, a physical sensation "Beyond" is rendered in a series of clauses which pulse and keep on pulsing over eight lines, punctuated only be line-endings. Riding disparaged lyrical poetry as "flesh-some" though this poem, and many others, read as "here beyond", a physical experience transmuted into a series of abstractions which are felt to be, newly, the most concrete part of speech. A concept of pain will open out the painful.

Pain is impossible to describe
Pain is the impossibility of describing
Each line seems to pair with the next to form an elongated hendiadys, pain is impossible to describe and it is the impossibility of describing; these are not the same and yet (this is the often noticed signature of the figure) these two lines shift so that, at one point, the two could be expressing one idea, simply that pain is "beyond", but then the lines could be an attribute of pain followed by a definition of it, or they could be irreconciliable aspects: is it impossible to describe the impossibility of describing? Perhaps not, though pain would be described. Is that the poem?

Pain is the impossibility of describing
Describing what is impossible to describe
The first of these lines is immediately in dialogue with the second. Describing could be an impossible puncturing of that "film" (Riding, 'The Unthronged Oracle') between oracular self and materiality, where pain shoots through both, as flesh and as thing beside.

Which must be a thing beyond description
Beyond description not to be known
There is an equivocation here, to know ("be known") and to be scripted ("description"), which is a form of faith.

Beyond knowing but not mystery
Not mystery but pain not plain but pain
Points at which one word misses another by a letter are often picked up by Riding, another famous "l" being world and word, where the "l" becomes a filmy membrane itself, separating the plain from its rhyme.

But pain beyond but here beyond
The final line contains an oscillation, "pain beyond but here beyond" where the pulse frequency, which has been twice a line, now modulates into sharp stabs of a pendulum, two through one.


© Edmund Hardy 2006

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