April 1, 2019

Donald Hall: Goatfoot, Milktongue, and Twinbird

In the essay, "Goatfoot, Milktongue, and Twinbird: Interviews, Essays and Notes" Donald Hall considers the psychic origins of poetry.

This essay captures what feels true.  Donald Hall believed poetry had root in vatic expression, coming from God or the divine. In addition, he considers the experience that is preverbal as a major source of poetry, saying: "The mouth pleasure, the muscle pleasure, the pleasure of match-unmatch.”  Milktongue refers to the five senses, the infant nursing at the breast with milk in his or her mouth.  Goatfoot refers to muscle pleasure, like the rhythms of nursery rhymes, games and happy dances. Twinbird is the infant's discovery of his or her hands. Like birds, they are in the air. Initially, they seem independent but gradually a baby understands the hands are dependent and respond to his or her will. Also a delight grows when a child sees the mirror image, the match-unmatch of the hands. The words goatfoot, milktongue and twinbird contain both image and rhythm (dactyl).

In the following poem by Hall, one can trace these three: mouth pleasure, muscle pleasure and match/unmatch.


Pale gold of the walls, gold
of the centers of daisies, yellow roses
pressing from a clear bowl. All day
we lay on the bed, my hand
stroking the deep
gold of your thighs and your back.
We slept and woke
entering the golden room together,
lay down in it breathing
quickly, then
slowly again,
caressing and dozing, your hand sleepily
touching my hair now.

We made in those days
tiny identical rooms inside our bodies
which the men who uncover our graves
will find in a thousand years,
shining and whole.

Hall also once said, "Poetry begins in elegy."  See his essay about elegy here: https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-poetry-of-death

To see his entire book of essays, Goatfoot, Milktongue, and Twinbird: Interviews, Essays and Notes (digitally archived): https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015002132382

See the text of "Gold" by Donald Hall: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/gold

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