Sunday, May 30, 2010

Gabriel by Adrienne Rich

Introduction and Theme

The poem tells us about the meeting of two strangers who share many things with each other. There are certain reasons or perhaps things remain unsaid on part of the lovers for which they are separated. The nature of the person is gentle and dangerous at the same time.
The poem also shows the hollowness of modern age, which has become materialistic and has quite the religious ways and manners in the 20th century. All the things have come to be questioned including religion in the 20th century. The angel is bright and dark at the same time. The people are kind and poisonous. These contradictions are the results of the 20th century.

The poem shows a turn of events in the life of people. Those happy at one times become different or sad at the other. Things favourable today become unfavourable tomorrow and people take to new possessions. Adrienne Rich is a product of the 20-century that is fraught with tensions and confusions. Man in this century is suffering and undergoing various battles. He is enslaved by the materialistic system of the contemporary powers and he is in chains as W.B. Yeats says,
Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the earth

And the remedy is the Second Coming of Christ to rid man of the contemporary chains of materialism, faithlessness and bondage. Gabriel is the messenger thought whom Christ sends a message to the poet.

A Critique of Gabriel

The poem in its simplicity tells us that the world is devastated and the people have become corrupt so the inspiration of Christ is important for the salvation of humanity. A new faith is necessitated for the survival of the world.
Adrienne Rich, being a poet, spends most of her time reading poetry and when she reads poetry this time, new ideas emerge in her mind those, which never emerged before. The angle appears which shows sympathy towards her. She experiences various troubles of the 20th century and finally finds their solutions in the divine inspiration through the message of Gabriel sent by Christ according to their faith as salvation for humanity in the confused times.

Though the poem has religious significance, the poem is also taken to be purely on love foundations. Gabriel is the poet’s previous lover which for reasons left her, but has come back to join her.
The various themes of the poem can be studied as under:

Development of Thought

Gabriel as a symbol of Revelation and Salvation
Gabriel is traditional known as the Angel of Revelation who brought revelation to all the prophets in the world. In this poem, Gabriel does stand for revelation, but he also symbolises Christ who sends Gabriel to the poet for salvation, the poet who in turn stands for humanity. Humanity in the form of poet has taken many turns. The Two Great World Wars have shattered the values cherished by the 19th century and even the previous centuries. These wars devastated the structure of the world. There is anarchy ruling the world. It seems that no goodness is left in the world as the poet cries in the beginning,

There are no angels  yet
Here comes an angel one
With a man’s face

The exploitive nature in the world surprises the poet that no angels are left in the 20th century of science and materialism and she is amazed to an angel in her room. The angel bears a young man’s face. It is Gabriel who awaited by the poet for revelation. The poet has faith in the power of Christ that he could never have left the world in its inertia because he is a benevolent prophet. So he sends Gabriel as a symbol of himself so that he may give the poet a message to renew the world once again in its former shape.  But the poet is not used to angels in this materialistic age, so she is terrified when she sees the angel,

But he doesn’t say that His message
Drenches his body
He’d want to kill me
For using words to name him

This shows that the poetess has no touch of spirituality. She is occupied with all the knowledge of the world, but she is spiritually hollow. Even the poet’s attitude towards Gabriel is casual as she says,

I get your message Gabriel
Just will you stay looking
Straight at me

This is not usually the behaviour of man before an angel if one becomes visible.  The angel, Gabriel being a symbol of truth and revelation, comes with a definite message to convey to humanity but humanity is not even ready to listen or act upon what he might say. Poet symbolising humanity is even doubtful of the identity of the angel.

Lost and Found Love
The poem has another strand apart from its religious connotations. The second strand of the poem is lost and found love. Gabriel also symbolises lost love, which is ultimately found. The meeting between the poet and her previous lover starts in the following manner,

Here comes an angel one
With a man’s face young
Shut-off the dark
Side of the moon turning to me
And saying: I am the plumed
Serpent the beast
With fangs of fire and a gentle

She recognises that he is her past lover who left her and now he has come in the shape of an angel, though the inner reality of the lover is perceived by the poet and she does understand how poisonous he was and could be. The Gabriel symbolising a handsome man who comes to meet his beloved (with inner bad intentions or a bad past) whom he left. The poet is so terrified may be at her past experience with the lover when she says that

He’d want to kill me
For using words to name him

The poet wants to remain busy in her studies and contemplation of the world affairs and political and social tensions rather than get involved into his love affair again because he previously deceived her. As she says,

I sit in the bare apartment
Words stream past me poetry
Twentieth-century rivers

Apart from his newborn love for the poet, the so-called angel is not behaving in a manner that a lover should. Importance of communication cannot be denied in love but this lover is silent.

The angel is barely
Speaking to me

Certainly, because of the 20th confused times and lack of assurance on part of the lover, the poet cannot be blamed and especially she has been previously deceived by him or some one like him. As she has lost faith in love, she finds all men equal. She says,

He stood or someone like him
Salutations in gold-leaf
Ribboning from his lips
Today again the hair streams
To his shoulders

His physical appearance is as charming as it was before. The word Gabriel appears satirical and ironical because he has come with a motive perhaps (of sexual nature) rather than true love. The poet also feels mixed feelings of joy and terror. Rather than speaking or communicating love,

We glance miserably
Across the room at each other

It’s true there are moments
Closer and closer together
When words stick in my throat
‘the art of love’
‘the art of words’

I get your message Gabriel
Just will you stay looking
Straight at me
Awhile longer

At such times, the art of love is important because mere facial expressions perhaps don’t work. But in the present situation, the Gabriel’s attitude seems based on a sexual motive rather than real love. He has come back with the motive of establishing physical relationship, but the poet understands his games and satirically says,

I get your message Gabriel
Just will you stay looking
Straight at me
Awhile longer

The poet understands the motives of men and she rejects seemingly beautiful and inwardly serpent like Gabriel. He is a fake lover and not a true Gabriel who believes in revelations and truth.

Gabriel is a thought-provoking poem which highlights current tensions in the 20th century and the importance of truth and revelation for the salvation of this downtrodden humanity. Gabriel becomes before us a symbol of divinity as well as a secular symbol of a young man with a fantastic expression on the face wrapped with inward lust.
Technically, Gabriel is a superior poem which has used the image of Gabriel beautifully and its relevant to the changing conditions of the world.
The poem is based on a socio-political background. Though the atmosphere is that of a love poetry, the poem is remarkable for its ironical images. Taken in view the feminism of those days the poem seems fit to be studied in the light of Rich’s passion for the liberation of women.

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Anonymous said...

Well! the development of thought is quite amazing & I like the themes but the conclusion is a little weak as compared to the whole Essay.

NeoEnglish System said...

Thanks so much for your comments. I would really appreciate if you could prepare a strong conclusion.I would post it...

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falak said...

I will submit is in my college. G.F.J.C

Anonymous said...

Yh famous walo ny same copy kea hoa hai

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