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Monday, 4 October 2010

Jack Delano/William Empson: Desolation


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photo

Sawmill at the Greensboro Lumber Co., Greensboro, Georgia: photo by Jack Delano, June (?) 1941


Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
It is not the effort nor the failure tires.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

It is not your system or clear sight that mills
Down small to the consequence a life requires;
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.

They bled an old dog dry yet the exchange rills
Of young dog blood gave but a month’s desires.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

It is the Chinese tombs and the slag hills
Usurp the soil, and not the soil retires.
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.

Not to have fire is to be a skin that shrills.
The complete fire is death. From partial fires
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

It is the poems you have lost, the ills
From missing dates, at which the heart expires.
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.



photo

Sawmill at the Greensboro Lumber Co., Greensboro, Georgia: photo by Jack Delano, June (?) 1941.

photo

Sawmill at the Greensboro Lumber Co., Greensboro, Georgia: photo by Jack Delano, June (?) 1941.

photo

Sawmill at the Greensboro Lumber Co., Greensboro, Georgia: photo by Jack Delano, June (?) 1941.

photo

Sawmill at the Greensboro Lumber Co., Greensboro, Georgia
: photo by Jack Delano, June (?) 1941.

William Empson: Missing Dates, 1937

Photos by Jack Delano from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress

4 comments:

curtisroberts said...

Because of a previous Empson entry, I know this poem and think this pairing is devastating as well as desolating. (In fact I was reminded on waking up to this of the time when my clock radio seemed to play Desolation Row every morning.)

The Empson speaks (volumes) for itself. I wonder, however, what it felt like for Delano to be at the sawmill that day before the Kodachrome darkened – whether things were happy and chatty and what was actually going through his mind. It’s a bit like that feeling you have when you imagine whether after the director shouts “cut”, the actors playing the intense scene begin discussing where they will be having dinner that evening.

TC said...

Curtis, as we have discussed before, it's intriguing to try to get inside these photographers' minds, remembering that the ones who did the most travelling -- like Delano, Lee, Vachon -- were often following an "unscheduled" itinerary, largely, it seems, of their own devising. So as with the Marion Post photos of the copper region in the post below, I can't help imagining that in these instances the photographers more or less stumbled into a hell that was not marked as such on any maps.

My first instinct was to use passages from The Inferno in these two posts, and I did find a few that were indeed all too apt; but in the end the unvoiced and wounded land seemed to wish to call out in the harsher speech of an epoch with a capacity for infernal violation far beyond anything Dante could have imagined.

(By the by, I don't believe the files of either Delano's Georgia sawmill visit or Post's Copper Basin expedition have been featured in the various exhibits of highlights from the FSA/OWI collection; the responses they might evoke, perhaps too complicated to handily contain within such contexts...?)

curtisroberts said...

I think Empson (with the references to modern China) is the appropriate (and highly effective) choice. When we visited the city of Wuhan in south-central China in 1998, we were told that it would remind us of Pittsburgh in the 1890s. Well, not quite, but I think the advice was basically accurate in terms of feeling. I still visit Wuhan online fairly regularly to try to see if/how things are different. The photos I see invariably show more smoke than I remember, but things always look different seen from the inside.

TC said...

Curtis, what's the old saw, "red skies at night, sailor's delight"?

We get the Chinese pollution here on the West Coast, by the way.

"Orange skies at night, in future's despite..."