Monday, January 21, 2019

MacLeish - Conquistador


MacLeish's"Conquistador" can be found in Collected Poems, 1917-1982, and here are the lines that preface the tale of Bernal Díaz del Castillo:
The Argument

Of that world's conquest and the fortunate wars:
Of the great report and expectation of honor:
How in their youth they stretched sail: how fared they

Westward under the wind: by wave wandered:
Shoaled ship at the last at the ends of ocean:
How they were marching in the lands beyond:

Of the difficult ways there were and the winter's snow
Of the city they found in the good lands: how they lay in it:
How there were always the leaves and the days going . . . (page 184)
This actually sounds rather like Milton, to my ear, anyway. Recall the opening lines of Paradise Lost, which I've borrowed from The John Milton Reading Room and which begin immediately after an argument (see Reading Room):
OF Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat, [ 5 ]
Sing Heav'nly Muse . . .
I hear a distant echo of Milton in MacLeish's lines. I also hear an echo of Beowulf. Consider this: "Westward under the wind: by wave wandered." All that alliteration? There's even a caesura! Very like Beowulf. But I didn't come here today to talk to you about Beowulf. You already know about Beowulf. He's either alive in your mind, or he's not.

I mean to talk here today about Milton and MacLeish. Notice, then, the fact that MacLeish, like Milton, prefaces the beginning lines with an 'Argument.' As I said before, go to the Reading Room, and see just above the opening lines of Paradise Lost.

Of course, there will be differences . . .

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