Friday, March 12, 2010

Faith Kept Me Back Awhile

The Apple Picker, by Eugene Samuel Grasset

In "Young Goodman Brown," one of Nathaniel Hawthorne's allegorical tales, Young Goodman Brown leaves his young wife Faith for a visit to the Dark Side. As he hurries away to keep his appointment with Fate, he sees Faith's sad face, framed on either side by the pink ribbons of her cap. He is torn between his faith and the insistent call of cynicism. Arriving late for his assignation, he explains his tardiness, "Faith kept me back awhile." When I first read this story in 1977, in a unit of literature concerning the theme of Initiation, I attempted to write a poem on the same topic:

I have finally told you about the dot and the line.

The dot, a hard knot, a hurt fist between my breasts.
The crying fingers clinch in painful safety
all that I have loved and lived with and believed in for so long.

The line, a right margin the length of my body.
A fence allowing no escape for the dot,
guarding, keeping it right beside my heart.

In time,
when with a wiser hand I force the tear-stained fingers open
I will find, preserved in brine, Faith's pink ribbon.

I hadn't thought about this poem for ages, until driving in the car the other day, I caught the words from Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams. The lyrics brought to mind the imagery of my old poem -- the dot and the line, the knotted heart and the fist. I couldn't help wondering if the shallow beating heart, the divided mind, and the border line in their song are similar to those I was writing about so long ago:

"On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams . . .

My shadow's the only one that walks beside me
My shallow heart's the only thing that's beating . . .

I'm walking down the line
That divides me somewhere in my mind
On the border line
Of the edge and where I walk alone . . . ."

For more on "Young Goodman Brown," see
"Faith Kept Me Back Awhile"
my fortnightly literary blog
of connection and coincidence

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