The Summer comes, the Summer dies,
Red leaves whirl idly from the tree,
But no more cleaving of the skies,
No southward sunshine waits for me!
You shut me in a gilded cage,
You deck the bars with tropic flowers,
Nor know that freedom’s living rage
Defies you through the listless hours.
What passion fierce, what service true,
Could ever such a wrong requite?
What gift, or clasp, or kiss from you
Where worth an hour of soaring flight?
I beat my wings against the wire,
I pant my trammeled heart away;
The fever of one mad desire
Burns and consumes me all the day.
What care I for your tedious love,
For tender word or fond caress?
I die for one free flight above,
One rapture of the wilderness!
Rose Terry Cook, "Captive"
What price would you pay to rise above adversity? How hot does the fire of thwarted rage tinge the air your parched afternoons? How many flowers, how much gilding does it take before you forget that we are all caged?
Beyond the door, the lilies of my field reap not; nor do they sow. The flowers doze away as summer dies. But before they die, they live in an endless garden. They inhabit a wilderness so vast they escape all responsibilities. While we are caged with tropic flowers, weighed down with responsibility.
I love the way anger connects with freedom in this poem. Bitterness simmers hour after listless hour. There is more than a desire for freedom, there is a consuming rage.
The poet says: you can make me stay by you, but you can’t make me love you. Like the cat when Tech Support Guy captures her and holds her to his chest – she won’t scratch, but she won’t relax. She won’t make eye contact. Her honesty is all that’s left to her, her saving grace.
Walk 2 Write got me to thinking recently, about why some women are complicit in their own slavery. They not only live in cages, they enter them willingly, and often go so far as to insist the cage smooths and comforts them, protecting them from a Bad World. I was, I confess, feeling a bit superior: I would never wear a veil, serve my spouse like a slave, sacrifice my wild independence of spirit.
Well, this poem says: good for you, you hypocrite. My cage is no less real because I deny it as passionately as these other women I accuse. I know they make it work, although it’s beyond me why they would chose to do so. And I know how: they lie very, very well.
I’m as much a captive as they. I too, must negotiate compromises, must tell little lies to my friends, my family, my self. Lies cushion hurt, gentle lies soften the relentless captivity, where I usually pant my trammeled heart away. There are the times however, when the cage shows behind its gilding, when I’d give anything for that one free flight above it all: my own cage, others’ cages, responsibilities, interpersonal relationships. (I overheard an elderly man in a restaurant recently, speaking to his adult children, “Sometimes I can’t think of a polite way to say, it’s none of your business.”) We’re all in cages.
That’s when I escape my captivity by going into the back yard. And fierce feeling of freedom is what I’m looking for in the shadows beneath the bushes. I’m looking for a respite from the oppressive heat that makes my eyes itch and my nostrils desiccate.
I love the recurring images of heat in this poem; such perfect accompaniment to the garden beyond my door. Shriveling to death in the harsh glare, the captive in the poem longs to fly above cool wilderness, rapture, The mad desires fever the brain. What I wouldn’t give for a sip of cool, moist wind, to blow the dust thoughts from the corners of my mind. Some icy water, silver flowing, into the stone of a bone-dry fire pit of my weary heart.
If you’ve never heard it, go google the lyrics to Patti Smith’s Babelogue. It is a fierce narrative of clipped, bright, angry thoughts. It is a controlled spiral, describing a descending helix: from brain, smoothly sliding through the heart, down into the guts and out. The words disintegrate into almost babble, only to end with a soft clear voice of reason: I have not sold myself to God.