Week 230: The Lucky Marriage, by Thomas Blackburn

I much admire this poem by Thomas Blackburn (1916-1977), especially the first three stanzas with their perceptive take on fairy-tales, but I confess I get a bit lost in the last stanza where I feel the need, as rather often with more modern poetry, of someone cleverer than me to explain a few things. What does he mean ‘reach beyond our pronouns and come into ourselves’? That we must stop relying on other people for our spiritual completeness? And what exactly is ‘the lucky marriage’? Any elucidation gratefully received…

The Lucky Marriage

I often wonder, as the fairy story
Tells how the little goose-girl found her prince
Or of the widowed queen who stopped her carriage
And flung a rose down to the gangling dunce,
What is the meaning of this lucky marriage
Which lasts forever, it is often said,
Because I know too well such consummation
Is not a question of a double bed,
Or of the bridal bells and royal procession
With twenty major-domos at its head.

At least its bride and groom must be rejected.
The fairy godmother will only call
On Cinders scrubbing tiles beside the chimney
While her proud sisters foot it at the ball
From all but the last son without a birthright
The beggar-woman hoards her magic seed
Well, if they’d had the good luck of their siblings
And found occasion kinder to their need
They would have spent their breath on natural pleasures
And had no time for murmurs in the night
They heard because they were condemned to silence
And learnt to see because they had no light.

I mean the elder son and cherished sister
Know but the surface of each common day,
It takes the cunning eye of the rejected
To dip beneath the skin of shadow play
And come into the meaning of a landscape.
I think that every bird and casual stone
Are syllables thrust down from some broad language
That we must ravel out and make our own.
Yet who is ever turned towards that journey
Till deprivations riddle through the heart,
And so I praise the goose-girl and the scullion
Who lie together by the refuse cart.

And yet all images for such completion
Somehow by-pass its real ghostliness,
Which can’t be measured by a sweating finger
Or any salt and carnal nakedness.
Although two hands upon a single pillow
May be the metaphor which serves it best,
No lying down within a present moment
Will give the outwardgoing any rest,
It’s only when we reach beyond our pronouns
And come into ourselves that we are blest.
Is this the meaning of the lucky marriage
Which lasts forever, it is often said,
Between the goose-girl and the kitchen-servant,
Who have no wedding-ring or mutual bed?

Thomas Blackburn