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The Stranger

January 2, 2018

Her eyes are like the seeds of melons. Her breasts are thin and she walks awkwardly. I am in love with her.

With her I have adventured into a new love. In all the world there is no such love as I have for her.

I took hold of her shoulder and walked beside her. We went out of the city into the fields.

By the still road we went and it was night. We were long alone together.

The bones of her shoulder are thin. The sharp bone of her shoulder has left a mark on my hand.

I am come up into the wind like a ship. Her thin hand is laid hold of me. My land where the corn nods has become my land.

I am come up into the wind like a ship and the thin hand of woman is laid hold of me.

–Sherwood Anderson 1918

COMMENTARY: Sherwood Anderson was 36 years old–established, married, well-off–when he had a nervous breakdown and decided to become a writer. It seemed, all other things considered, an unlikely move. He was, at the time, a successful businessman, having founded a company that sold mail order roof-repair kits and other household products. Other than advertisements and company reports, he had written little and had published nothing, and it would not have been unreasonable for those who knew him to assume that he would go on selling repair kits for another 30 years, fiddling with investments, golfing, clicking pens–whatever it is businessmen did in the early 20th century. Then, one day, while dictating a letter to his secretary, he claimed that he felt as if his feet were turning into water and his body was melting. He ran out of the building and checked himself into a hospital. The experience–whatever it may have been–(nervous exhaustion, stroke, angelic visitation)–would change him for the rest of his life. He quit his job, divorced his wife, and devoted himself to his writing, producing several novels, and, more than a decade later, his masterpiece Winesburg, Ohio. Anderson told the story of his “conversion” throughout his career–to the point that it became part of his personal mythology. Whether it really happened or is self-romanticization is, of course, impossible to determine, but it does illustrate a thematic contrast that would be evident in much of his writing: the suffocation of “career” in affluent industrialized America vs. the poetic madness of the inner self.

This poem, part of the collection Mid-American Chants, (one of two poetry collections Anderson published) is a fairly direction treatment of this theme. In the forward to the book, he writes, ” I do not believe that we people of mid-western America, immersed as we are in affairs, hurried and harried through life by the terrible engine industrialism have come to the time of song….Here we stand in roaring city streets, on steaming coal heaps, in the shadow of factories from which come only the grinding roar of machines. We do not sing but mutter in the darkness. Our lips are cracked with dust and with the heat of furnaces. We but mutter and feel our way toward the promise of song.” Backlit by this statement, it’s possible to read this poem not only as a personal love-poem (after his divorce, Anderson had a number of lovers) but as an entreaty to the distant, mysterious, “strange” muse that takes hold of the mind and beckons it into the unknown. The long lines, rough with bare, elemental nouns (bones, field, ship) is half Whitman and half Song of Solomon and suggests a passionate journey towards a dark horizon.

From → Love Poems

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