White Swan, Black Swan: Poetry in an Analytical Hour

From Poetry Magazine
by Molly Peacock

Each month we feature a guest post from a contributor to Poetry's current issue. Molly Peacock's poem "The Nurse Tree" appears in the February 2016 issue. Previous posts in this series can be found on the Editors' Blog.

As William Butler Yeats revised his sonnet about a girl fighting off a giant swan, he added "A sudden blow" to the beginning, following those three words with a colon. When I received a call from my psychoanalyst's colleague saying that she had suffered a debilitating stroke and heard the phrase, "She will never practice again," I thought, A sudden blow: Quite mistakenly on that Sunday in March three years ago, I assumed that nothing would follow the stroke's wrenching colon, and my beloved analyst would die.

Colon comes from the Greek kolon, meaning limb. The rest of Yeats's poem "Leda and the Swan" is written as a branch off the huge tree of those three words. Instead of dying: my analyst valiantly maneuvered hand over hand toward a limb off the main trunk of her years.

How is it out there on that limb? At 80, this intrepid woman is very much alive. Picture her on a great horizontal bough with a small table easel and Cottman watercolors, Arche papers, plus the uninterrupted hours we all long to have for our life projects. No, she no longer practices. Yes, she depends on a daily attendant. Yes, beyond all, she's unburied a talent from her youth and is using it as a lens to view a life, and live: she is painting. Still lifes, still life!

Read the full article on the Poetry Foundation website.