Sunday, August 22, 2010

Melodic Trains by Ashbery reflects the complexities of urban life. How far do you agree?

John Ashbery traces the factors, which directly influence and alter attitude of the modern man in day-to-day situations. Thus Ashbery brings before us the complexities of urban life, discussing the social, political and psychological issues along with personal trains of feelings of the poet.

The Melodic Trains is written in the perspective of modern American society. The social aspects are discussed on an emotional scale. The temperament, attitude and behaviour of modern man are dependent on circumstances and transubstantiations. The feelings of poet remain else-oriented. He does not feel anything irrelevant to his surrounding. The self is replaced by else all the time.
The first feelings he gives while sitting in the train are about the girl wearing enamelled finger nails.
A little girl with scarlet enameled fingernails Asks me what time it is—evidently that’s a toy wristwatch She’s wearing for fun. And it is fun to wear other
Odd things, like this briar pipe and tweed coat
Like date-coloured Sierras with the lines of seams
Sketched in and plunging now and then into unfathomable Valleys that can’t be deduced by the shape of the person Sitting inside it—me,
What he feels about or for this girl is totally social or impersonal. He reckons his look and position from outside. The girl is not funny in herself. Likewise the poet is not funny in himself. He is funny for other people – and that too with respect to their own judgement. The way and the comparison he uses to convey his opinion about himself is however quite modern. In nature anyhow they are too American to be global. We can say that these are not the feelings of a common man. But they are expressed in so impersonal a way that they look familiar enough to be of a common man. The artistic involvement of the poet in the expression of these feelings makes them poetic and general.
The concept of distance however is dealt with a philosophical touch. It is also enhanced by a brisk comparison.
and just as our way is flat across
Dales and gulches, as though our train were a pencil
Guided by a ruler held against a photomural of the
We both come to see distance as something unofficial
And impersonal yet not without its curious justification
Like the time of a stop watch

The distance is not without its curious justification yet it is unofficial and impersonal because the poet and the girl are not in their usual mood and behaviour. The words ‘unofficial’ and ‘impersonal’, however, seem opposites of each other. How one can be unofficial and impersonal at the same time? This is the question that we feel ourselves unable to solve. But this what the poet has taken as a model theme for his poem. The dilemma of a modern man is to be unofficial and impersonal at the same time. The people sitting in the train are unofficial because they are not on their usual places. And they are impersonal because they are involved with the other people going to their particular journeys separately. The distance or journey is like the time of a stop watch – right twice a day. It temporary and momentary. It makes one unofficial and impersonal at the same time. As the distance has a curious justification it is not dimensionless. 

Only the wait in stations is vague and
Dimensionless, like oneself.
The wait in the stations on the other hand is vague and dimensionless. It is so because it was not calculated and perhaps is never calculated.
How do they decide how much Time to spend in each? One begins to suspect there’s no Rule or that it’s applied haphazardly.
The dimensionlessness of this wait is conveyed through the extrovert social behaviour of the people. One thinks about others when one is in trouble.
Thematically the poet has shifted himself from relaxed to tense feelings. This is what the modern poets practice very commonly. The themes are mostly sense, emotion and feeling oriented. These elements were there in the old poets also. But they had not made them the bases of their poems. Theirs were mostly thought oriented. It was the poetic thought that inspired them to write not the poetic feelings. The poetic thoughts aroused in them the poetic feelings and they wrote in a spontaneous over flow of powerful feelings. But it used to be thoughts they wrote not feelings. With the modern poets the things are different a little bit. Their feelings inspire them to write. These are the feelings they experience first not the thoughts. This is why the reader of a modern poetry will feel himself sensitively mature not thought wise. The theme of this poem is therefore the feelings of a modern man or so many modern men. The poet has conveyed their feelings through feelings not through thoughts.
Sadness of the faces of children on the platform, Concern of the grownups for connections, for the chances Of getting a taxi, since these have no timetable.
It is not the thought that the taxis have no timetable but a feeling. The taxis of course have their timetable but the person speaking this thought is in a state of mind that suffices to convert his thoughts into feelings.
This approach towards themes and topics is very common in modern poets. What makes this approach truly American is the logical way they convey it to you.
You get one if you can find one though in principle
You can always find one,
This is further the style they convey their feelings and thoughts through. The interference of thoughts in the depiction of feelings however is imperceptibly constant. What Ashbery gives as a logical explanation of his feelings is felt as a piece of philosophy.
but the segment of chance
In the circle of certainty is what gives these leaning
Tower of Pisa figures their aspect of dogged
Impatience, banking forward into the wind.
We can say the style has rendered simple poetic feelings and thoughts to those of philosophical ones. But this is not true. One becomes philosophical when one feels and thinks so deeply. It is in fact the depth of feelings that is conveyed in so philosophical a mode not the philosophy itself.
In short any stop before the final one creates
Clouds of anxiety, of sad, regretful impatience
With ourselves, our lives, the way we have been dealing
With other people up until now. Why couldn’t
We have been more considerate?
The outcome of deep feelings at the level of expression or thinking is philosophy. But at the level of feelings it is anxiety. The deeper we feel the more anxious we become.
The anxiety, however, results in an expression of modern attitude towards various directions. It seems as if the modern people are always ready to be annoyed and worried. The variance in thoughts and feelings has made them impatient with their surroundings. They seem no more tolerant and considerate. But actually it has become their second nature. It has become a part of their feelings and expressions. The sooner they get anxious the less latter they get relaxed. 
These figures leaving The platform or waiting to board the train are my brothers In a way that really wants to tell me why there is so little
Panic and disorder in the world, and so much unhappiness.
The lines though thematic in nature yet indicate the feelings of a person who see these people in such a tense condition. They are not philosophic in any way. They result from the complex interplay of feelings the modern poets are so adept in. This is what Ashbery wants to say – the complexity of modern mind at the level of sensitive sights. It seems as if the modern man starts thinking when gets tense and confused. In the same way the other men start feelings when they see tension and confusion. The problem is not of identity but of individuality. They do not know where they become different from others and similar to them. Why does the poet feel different from what the people at platform do? Because he is sitting in the train and the others are standing outside at the platforms. The difference in their resulted thoughts is the difference in their identity. What the poet feels in the above and the following lines is the crisis of identity. In the first stage he feels them unjustified. But in the second desirous to be one of them.
If I were to get down now to stretch, take a few steps In the wearying and world-weary clouds of stream like great White apples, might I just through proximity and aping
Of postures and attitudes communicate this concern of mine to them?
The poet’s concern to the people is not of individuality but of identity – identity in the sense of similarity. But he is so much conscious of his position that he seems failed to find out any similarity. What he will do to them shall be a kind of aping. The description of the way he will get down and reach the people is however American. This attitude is symbolic of the attitude of whole nation – and perhaps of the whole modern community. The points of concern he wants to communicate are however very individualistic.
That their jagged attitudes correspond to mine,
That their beefing strikes answering silver bells within
My own chest, and that I know, as they do, how the last
Stop is the most anxious one of all, though it means
Getting home at last, to the pleasures and dissatisfactions of home?
These are the similarities that strengthen the individualities.
It’s as though a visible chorus called up the different Stages of the journey, singing about them and being them:
The visible chorus in the different stages of journey is not only particular about itself but also about the others. The members of chorus are different and similar at the same time.
Not the people in the station, not the child opposite me With currant fingernails, but the windows, seen through, Reflecting imperfectly, ruthlessly splitting open the bluish Vague landscape like a zipper.
The difference is not that of the position but of scenic background the people sitting in train are covered in and the people waiting at platforms are not.
Each voice has its own Descending scale to put one in one’s place at every stage: One need never know where one is Unless one give up listening, sleeping, approaching a small Western town that is nothing but a windmill.
This is how the people sitting in the train and those waiting at the platforms are the same. Their voices put them in one an-other’s place and one loses ones identity in the clouds of anxiety.
The great fury of the end can drop as a solo
Voices tell about it, wreathing it somehow with an aura
Of good fortune and colossal welcomes from the mayor and Citizen’s tossing their hats into the air. To hear them singing you’d think it had already happened And we had focused back on the furniture of the air.
In this perspective it looks very strange that the difference remained only up to the difference in position. As soon as the passengers get down they forget all their anxieties and worries. A new situation seems waiting to devour them. With the change in positions the people are transformed from one set of feelings to another – from one set of differences to another, from one set of similarities to another. Things seem taking place at momentary scales. The identities and individualities are but momentary. They seem depending on some particular sets of conditions and situations. The advantages and disadvantages are but timely. Change the positions and get the newer sets of identities. What the poet is in the beginning remains no more so in the middle and end. It simply means the people sitting beside in the train and waiting at the platforms will also be different from their present ones.
The poem is so perfect in theme and treatment that it seems dealing with nearly all the modern problems and issues. The life of a modern man is hinted from all sides. The canvas though social in extension yet outlines with domestic contrasts.

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