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The Swineheaded Lord

Next, I wish to demonstrate the explanatory power of the combination of a variety of prin­ciples considered hitherto in the present book, by having a closer look at the work of the great Hungarian poet Endre Ady. This poet is usually categorized as ".x.Symbolist;" or ".x.Expressionist;". Here, I want to point to another, hope­lessly eva­sive, quality of his poetry, a quality that many of his readers have intuitively felt: Ady's poet­ry is said to have an irresistible, magical, spell-weaving quality about it. My contention is that this quality is the result of the interaction of a variety of prosodic, figurative, and thematic ele­ments, among which the grotesque plays a prom­in­ent part.

I shall begin with a relatively mild instance of the afore-mentioned quality, as illustrated in the first two stanzas of his poem "A muszáj-Herkules" ("The must-Hercules")[1]:

 

(4)    Dőltömre Tökmag Jankók lesnek:

       gy szeretnék gyáván kihúnyni

       S meg kell maradnom Herkulesnek.

 

       Milyen híg fejüek a törpék:

       Hagynának egy kicsit magamra,

       Krisztusuccse, magam megtörnék.

 

        (For my fall Pumpkin-Seed Jacks are lying in waiting:

        I would like so much cowardly to expire,

        Yet I must stay a Hercules.

 

        How dilute-headed are the dwarfs:

        Had they let me on my own for a little while,

        So help me Christ, I would break down on my own.)

 

On the thematic level, we have got here an opposition of the high-mimetic Her­cu­les, as opposed to the low-mimetic Pumpkin-Seed Jacks,[2] dwarfs, and cow­ardly to expire. On the lexical level, the high-mimetic words are opposed to a popular dialecticism such as Krisztusuccse ("So help me Christ") and sub­standard words like "must", muszáj. On the figurative level, there is the irrational quality related to the .x.oxymoron; in the title, "A muszáj-Herkules" ("The must-Hercules"), as well as to the substitution of the modal particle must for an ad­jective. A similar, but less straightforward oxymoronic quality one may perceive in the line "I would like so much cowardly to expire". To this, another affective ingredient is added by the line "How dilute-headed are the dwarfs". Compare this verse-line to a possible .x.para­phrase;: "How idiotic are the dwarfs". What the pred­icate dilute-headed adds, is a vaguely grotesque quality, with a mild atmo­sphere of emotional disorientation. An intense affective ingredient is added by the phrase "I would like so much", and the interjection "So help me Christ". Now, all these more or less irrational oppositions and qualities are fused and intensified by two prosodic features of the poem, both related to rhyme and rhyme-pattern. The first is related to the asymmetrical shape of the stanza. Owing to an expec­tation for stable .x.gestalt;s, as well as to past experience with stanza-forms, the reader is in­clined to expect some .x.symmetry;ical .x.rhyme-pattern;, presumably of the form abab. This odd-numbered structure with its asymmetrical rhyme pattern contributes to an unstable feel­ing or irrational quality, reinforcing the illogical qualities encoun­tered on the other levels of the poem.[3]   .x.terzina;

Finally, there is the perceptual quality of the virtuoso .x(.anti-grammatical rhyme;. Consider the rhyme-pair lesnek~Herkulesnek. The first "rhyme-fel­low" (Hopkins), lesnek ("are lying in waiting"), is a verb, consisting of a stem (les) and the suffix for the third person plural (nek). This word is entirely included in the other rhyme-fellow. Here, however, the same speech-sounds refer to completely dif­fer­ent seman­tic and syntactic enti­ties. The string of sounds les is the last syl­lable of the proper noun Herkules; whereas the string of sounds nek is the da­tive-suffix. Thus, the two rhyme-fellows are .x.homonym;s on the phonetic level, but at the same time, are most emphatically contrasted on the semantic, syntac­tical, and morphological levels. A similar story may be told of the second rhyme. The two rhyme-fellows törpék and megtörnék are near homonyms; phon­etically, they are contrasted only in one conso­nant. Grammatically, how­ever, törpe ("dwarf") is a noun; the sound sequence -ék re­sults from the plural-suffix. In the second rhyme-fellow, tör ("break") is a verb; -nék is a complex of suffixes, indicating the conditional mode, as well as the first person sin­gular. Here, too, the two rhyme-fellows are most emphatically contrasted on the sem­an­t­ic, syn­tact­ical, and morphological levels. As I have suggested in chapter @8, such rhymes are apt to intensify, and increasingly fuse, whatever qualities there may emerge from the interaction of the other elements on the various levels of the poem. This is one of the reasons, I submit, of the impetuous, "irre­sist­ible" quality and the magical character of the present poem. .x).anti-grammatical rhyme;

Next I will examine, at considerably greater length, a poem in which a haunt­ing magical quality of a much more extreme degree has been perceived by gener­ations of Ady-readers. The poem I mean is his "Battle with the Grand Lord", a lit­eral transla­tion of which is provided below:

 

(5)    The swineheaded Grand Lord is going to kill me,

       I felt, he's going to kill me, if I let him,

       He grinned at me and was sitting stiff,

       On the gold he was sitting, on the gold,

       I felt, he's going to kill me, if I let him.

 

       His swinish body, the loathsome one, I

       Caressed. He trembled.

       "Look here, who I am" (I whispered to him)

       And cut open my skull,

       He looked into my brain and laughed.

 

       (Should you think me the wild adventurer

       Of wild desires?) And I fell on my knees there.

       On the shore of tumultuous Life we were,

       There were the two of us, the sun was setting,

       "Give your gold, your gold".

 

       "A single second is enough to kill me,

       I may not wait anymore,

       I am called forth for voyage, for pleasure,

       By mysterious, luring words,

       I may not wait anymore."

 

       "Your heart is protected by bristles,

       My inside is ulcerous, guileful,

       Still, my heart is blessed,

       Corroded by Life, by Desire.

       I need gold. I must go on.

 

       The sea is awaiting my yacht,

       A thousand tents are waiting for me,

       An alien sun, alien balsam,

       Alien intoxication, a new girl,

       All are waiting for me, for me".

 

       The entire life within me is panting,

       Everything that is new, toward me is galloping,

       My many dreams are a holy hurly-burly,

       All of your dreams are deaf,

       So, cleave your thorax of gold.

 

       The mournful, blind evening has already fallen upon us,

       I was groaning. The waves

       Continually brought word:

       We are waiting. Have you got gold yet?

       The tumult of the waves, the waves.

 

       And we clashed. The shore was shaking,

       I thrust my hand into his flesh,

       I rent it, ripped it. All in vain.

       His gold rattled. He laughed.

       I cannot go, I cannot go.

 

       A thousand evenings passed upon a thousand evenings,

       My blood is shedding, shedding, continually shedding,

       They call me, lure me from afar,

       And we are still battling wildly:

       I and the swineheaded Grand Lord.

 

There is a considerable number of uncertainties in this poem, stemming from many sources. These uncertainties are greatly enhanced by a variety of means: the al­ready mentioned devices of the .x.anti-gram­matical rhyme;, and the asymmetrical .x.stanza; form, and, last but not least, the enormous energy involved in clashes on a cosmic scale, such as indic­ated, e.g., by "And we clashed. The shore was shaking".

As for the interpretation of this poem, some .x.Marxist critics; take their "clue" from the social status of the Grand Lord and from the fact that what he denies the speaker is gold, and interpret the poem as an .x.allegory; of some kind of class struggle. A rival approach, which will be the one adopted here, at­tributes no absolute mean­ing either to the Grand Lord, or to gold, and relies rather on the relations obtaining between the Grand Lord, the speaker, and gold. This lack of "absolute meaning" is a possible source of the mysterious, magical quality of the poem. The Grand Lord does have social status, does have means in excess of what he seems to need; means which he does not even know how to put to fruitful use. He is stiff, senseless, in­sensit­ive, inhumane, even bes­tial, loathsome. There is also a sug­gestion of "some­thing mechanical enforced upon the living" (Bergson) in a line such as "He grinned at me and was sitting stiff". The speaker is his opposite in most re­spects: enormous forces are active inside him, he has most intense feel­ings, he has no economic means whatever, but is called forth for all sorts of goals, ambi­tions, purposes, aspi­rations, desires. His goals are mysteri­ous, exotic, of an unspecified nature.

In one, all-important respect, however, the speaker is not the unqualified oppo­s­ite of his antagonist: he is not the simple opposite of loathsome, he merely has a different kind of loath­someness. Consider the following lines: "Your heart is pro­tected by bristles, / My inside is ulcerous, guileful, / Still, my heart is blessed, / Cor­roded by Life, by De­sire". The Grand Lord's loath­someness is fast and stable, passively powerful, inca­pable of action, whereas the speaker has loath­­­some­, power­ful, and destructive forces acting inside him. This typically post-Romantic attitude, very well-known from Baudelaire, contrasts stagnation, and life­lessness with out­bursting life-forces, which are nevertheless de­structive, loath­some, full of evil. This may explain the .x.oxymoron;ic quality of the three lines "My inside is ulcerous, guile­ful, / Still, my heart is blessed, / Corroded by Life, by Desire". Now consider this: these lines do not just imply some logical contradiction; they arouse conflicting, in­tense emo­tional tendencies in response to the speaker's personality. The same kind of complexities we find in the two lines "My many dreams are a holy hurly-burly, / All of your dreams are deaf". There is a straightforward opposition between "my dreams" and "your dreams"; at the same time, "holy" and "hurly burly" are char­ac­ter­ized by con­flicting emotional tendencies. If such con­flicting ten­dencies are rein­forced by additional elements, they may lead to a sense of confu­sion and a feel­ing of emo­tional disorientation.

The reinforcements in question are amply provided by the grotesque elements in the poem. I have quoted, in the preceding section of the present chapter, two pas­sages on the grotesque due to, respectively, Horace and St. Bernard de Clairvaux. Gombrich (from whose Sense of Order  these passages are taken) comments on them:

 

What these texts have in common is the reaction of exasperated help­less­ness provoked by hybrid creatures, part plant, part human; part wo­man, part fish;  part horse, part goat. There are no names in our langu­age, no cate­go­ries in our thought, to come to grips with this elu­sive, dream-like im­agery in which "all things are mixed" (to quote Dürer again). It outrages both our "sense of order" and our sense of meaning. [] The point is that there is no point. [] Each of these "shapelessly shapely" motifs offers us surprise after surprise []; here we receive one shock after the other. Not only do the limbs of these composite creatures defy our classifications, often we cannot even tell where they begin or end. [] Thus there is noth­ing to hold on to, nothing fixed, the deformitas is hard to "code" and harder still to re­member, for every­thing is in flux. What is equally vital to our under­standing of these effects is that the uncertainty of response carries over from the perceptual to the emotional sphere (Gombrich, 1984: 256).

 

The antagonist of Ady's poem is precisely such a "hybrid creature" that "defies our classification", with "the uncertainty of response carried over from the perceptual to the emotional sphere". Now, consider the following. The grot­esque visual ele­ment could be attenuated or eliminated altogether, if "swine­head­ed" were understood in some metaphorical sense (perhaps, "pigheaded"?). The beginning of the second stanza, however, insists that "swineheaded" should be understood literally: "His swinish body, the loathsome one, I / Caressed. He trembled". What is more, these very lines strongly intensify the conflicting emo­tional tendencies: the loathsome body trembling with pleasure, when caressed by the speaker.

 

Figure 2. Master of the Die: Grotesque. Early 16th century.

 

 

Kayser (quoted by Thomson, 1972: 18) suggests that "the grotesque is an at­tempt to control and exorcise ('zu bannen und zu beschwören') the demonic elements in the world". While this may be a correct observation, it should be kept in mind that in order to "control and exorcise", the grotesque must also conjure up "the de­monic elements in the world". Gombrich's inspiring discussion of the grotesque would strongly support both claims. Still, I believe, Thomson's reservation is well-taken: "We may object also to the somewhat melo­dramatic over-emphasis on the 'demonic', which to­tally removes the fearsome aspect of the grotesque to the realm of the irra­tional—almost supernatural" (Thomson, 1972: 18-19). To this, I would like to add that the relegation of the grotesque to the supernatural is an all too easy way of handling it. The grotesque is so affective, precisely, because of its immediate .x.ambiguity;, even before questions may be raised concerning the possible exis­tence of the creatures in­volved. My claim is, at any rate, that the strange, magical haunt­ing quality of Ady's poem has its source, among other things, in the per­vasive quality of emotional disorientation, generated by a variety of means, of which the grotesque is only one; this quality is further intensified by a variety of means (to be dis­cussed be­low), residing in the prosodic organization as well as in certain over-all styl­is­tic characteristics of the poem.

I am discussing here the grotesque as an aesthetic mode, as part of a poetics of disorientation. Now one of the most shocking aspects of this poem is that, while being powerfully disorienting, it is, at the same time, amply endowed with ingredi­ents that are promin­ent in what I have called the ".x.poetry of orientation;" (chapter @14). Such ingredients include exten­sions of the im­mediate perception beyond the imme­diately percept­ible horizon, as in "I am called forth for voyage, for pleasure, / By mysterious, luring words", "They call me, lure me from afar", or "The waves / Con­tinually brought word". The effect is reinforced by the all-pervasive, low-differ­enti­ated, .x.thing-free; quality in "The mournful, blind evening has already fallen upon us", and by the clause "I was groan­ing", en­closed between the two immediately pre­ceding "high-mimetic" quota­tions. By contrast, the verb for groan "én nyöszörögtem", would be felt by most readers of Hungar­ian as "low-mimetic", thus further reinforc­ing the quality of emotional disorientation. These elements of the .x.po­etry of orienta­tion;, as in so many instances of roman­tic na­ture .x.roman­tic poetry;, introduce an­oth­er aspect that typically lies beyond the scope of our ordi­nary conscious­ness, namely, a per­cep­tion of the invisible powers active in the world.

Finally, the overall quality resulting from the interaction of the various ele­ments discussed above is strongly enhanced by several prosodic elements, of which I should point out only two, already touched upon earlier, in my discussion of the poem "The must-Hercules", viz., .x.anti-grammatical rhyme;, and irregular .x.stanza; form.

For a further elucidation of this point, I will quote the fourth and seventh stan­zas of the poem in Hungarian (again italicizing the rhymes):

 

(6)    "Engem egy pillanat megölhet,

       Nekem már várni nem szabad,

       Engem szólítnak útra, kéjre,

       Titokzatos hívó szavak,

       Nekem már várni nem szabad." (stanza 4)

 

        ("A single second is enough to kill me,

        I may not wait anymore,

        I am called forth for voyage, for pleasure,

        By mysterious, luring words,

        I may not wait anymore.")

 

 

       "Az egész élet bennem zihál,

       Minden mi új felém üget,

       Szent zürzavar az én sok álmom,

       Neked minden álmod süket,

       Hasítsd ki hát aranyszügyed." (stanza 7)

 

        (The entire life within me is panting,

        Everything that is new, toward me is galloping,

        My many dreams are a holy hurly-burly,

        All of your dreams are deaf,

        So, cleave your thorax of gold.)

 

The rhyme üget~süket is a virtuoso .x.anti-grammatical rhyme;; on the semantic level it contrasts the verb "gallop" with the adjective "deaf"; on the phonetic level, the last four speech sounds are contrasted only in one distinctive feature, [voiced], in the sounds [g~k]. The rhyme süket~szügyed is peculiar in that each of the conso­nants is akin to its counterpart in one feature, but contrasts with it in one or two others. Thus, the pair [~s] are akin as sibilants, but contrast as to their place of ar­ticulation (cerebral vs. dental) or, if one prefers, [palatal]; the pair [t~d] have the same point of ar­ticulation, but contrast in the feature [voice]; finally, [k~d] agree as to their qual­ity of [–anterior] consonants, while they differ both as to the fea­tures [voice] and [palatal].[4] .x.Cognitive Poetics;

One of Gombrich's stimulating insights into the nature of the grotesque is that when its effect is too audacious, it can be mitigated by .x.symmetry;. "The symmetry swallows up the curious creatures" (Gombrich, 1984: 279). "Sym­met­ry itself, as we remember from the Kaleidoscope, has a masking effect" (ibid.). I suggest that the converse of this observation may also be true, thus accounting for some of Ady's favorite .x.stanza; forms. I have already mentioned the three-line long asymmetrical stanza in "The must-Hercules". In "Struggle with the Grand Lord", we find a five-line stanza, equally asymmetrical. The first four lines constitute a four-line stanza, the symmetry of which is emphasized by the .x.rhyme; at the end of the second and fourth lines. It is this symmetry that is overthrown by the addition of a fifth line, also rhyming with the preceding rhyme-pair.

A comparison of the two stanzas quoted above highlights an ad­ditional device, used for arousing a feeling of unpredict­ability. In the seventh stanza, the first and second lines express parallel, whereas the third and fourth lines express contrasting attitudes; thus, these lines exhibit a meticulously symmetric­al structure. The fifth line overthrows this .x.sym­met­ry; and leads to a logical con­clusion from the preced­ing argument; as such, it tends to be perceived as differ­ent from the preceding lines, and perceptually isolated from them. In the fourth stanza, by contrast, no new in­forma­tion is given at all in the fifth line: it simp­ly repeats verbatim the second line (a fa­vorite device of Ady's). This has an illogical, .x.emo­tion;al affect, as the different con­texts highlight slightly dif­ferent aspects in "I may not wait anymore": the line "A sin­gle second is enough to kill me" foregrounds a sense of urgency and danger, whereas the lines "I am called forth for voyage, for pleasure, / By mysterious, luring words" suggest some irresistible attraction.

The asymmetrical stanza form, or the unpredictable rep­etition of a rhymed line, or an .x.anti-grammatical rhyme; alone would hardly gen­erate this emotional atmo­sphere of verbal magic; it requires their combined ef­fect, further enhanced by the se­man­tic and thematic elements discussed in the present section. Thus, the magic spell of Ady's poetry can be said to be an .x.emergent regional quality;. It should be noted that all these elements—antigrammati­cal rhyme, asymmetrical stanza form, unpre­dictabili­ty, illogically repeated whole verse lines, and differences in barely noticeable seman­tic (and sometimes phonetic) nu­ances—are means typically deployed by .x.hypnotic poetry; as well, for quite similar ef­fects (see below, chapter @18).

 



[1]      The italics indicate the rhymes in the Hungarian text.

[2]      Pumpkin-Seed Jack is, in Hungarian folklore, an unnaturally small creature.

[3]      Adys three-line stanza, taken in isolation, looks very much like a Dantesque terzina. But whereas in Dante, the middle verse line rhymes with the first and third lines of the next stanza (and so on, indefinitely), Adys middle line is left as a loose end.

[4]      For reasons which Cognitive Poetics cannot explain (but perhaps structuralist phonology could), various dissimilar plosives and other consonants in the final position (as in this rhyme [d] and [k]) are more readily accepted as perfect rhyme in Hungarian than in any other language I know.





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