Page 187 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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HELLERSTEIN / DOUBLE-BIND OF DESIRE
1 7 5
simile of nobility, disintegrates when the active “muddy, big feet”
become passive attributes, “hair blond as cornhusks and sky-blue
eyes.” The mud of toil and bad weather is replaced by the figures
of earth’s produce and sunny skies. In contrast to the city-bound,
class analogies of the first stanza, which characterize the intrud­
ers and the intruded-upon, the analogies of the second stanza
center around the actions rather than the attributes of the gentle
intruders. The “you” of the second stanza has no active response,
but is simply acted upon. Similes give us the intrusion in terms of
the natural world, in terms of pleasure: as agile as a bird’s flight,
as tender as a mother’s hand rocking the cradle.
MEANING OF INVASION
The apparent beauty and innocence of the invaders’ coming
and rocking is reversed in line thirteen, where “
kumen
” (come)
and “
vign
” (rock) of the previous two lines give way to “
ganvenen
(steal). Stealing refers back to the illicit intrusion and violation of
the self in the first stanza. However, the violence in line thirteen,
rendered figuratively, is more subtle and more insidious, for this
invasion, this stealing, enters not the house, but the heart, the seat
of love itself. Whereas the muddy feet of the first intruders
should be cleaned off to show respect for the place they are
entering, the small bare feet of the second intruders use the most
essential intimacy, the heart’s blood, to cleanse themselves.
Childlike, these intruders are not children; their guise is inno­
cence and, although their feet are
“sheyne”
(beautiful), the quality
of their intentions is not known.
The accumulating syntax of the second stanza builds action
upon action until the question answers itself. There is no appro­
priate response to an invasion of feelings that take the form of the
beautiful, natural, and innocent. In fact, Halpern’s implied an­
swer discredits the violent, class-bound defense of the self as
property, while deliberately refusing to offer an alternative way
of preserving one’s integrity against the violation of beauty. By
addressing the poem as a challenge to “
du
” (you), he implicates
each individual reader in the impossible task of resisting what
each desires most: Just try and get rid of them! Try not to be se­
duced by what you most desire, for your desire will render you
powerless!
If this is a poem about the treachery of desire, why does