Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Analysis of "For Louis Pasteur" by Edgar Bowers

Original poem reprinted online here: "For Louis Pasteur" by Edgar Bowers
Originally read: April 22, 2013
More information about the Poet:  Edgar Bowers

So the version I have is from "Poemhunter" which I cannot find online now.  When I searched for another version of this poem, I found that there's a line missing in the beginning, "Who is Apollo?' College student" which serves as an epigraph to the poem.  This is vastly important because the first line of the poem, "How shall a generation know its story / If it will know no other" refers to the anonymous college student -- the one who should learn and/or know the history of others.  How important is the epigraph to the poem.  It's not the core, but the quote sets up how the poem is read -- with intense allusions, and images, and anger, and history, and a bit more anger.

Like the allusion to Louis Pasteur.  There's a sense of anger because the speaker has to explain and correlate Apollo, myth, and history to a creative writer -- there's a sense of distance there as well, for example look at these similes:

   His mind was like Odysseus and Plato
   Exlploring a new cosmos in the old
   As if he wrote a poem--his enemy
   Suffering, disease, and death the battleground
   His introspection.

The first simile addresses the whole "Who is Apollo?" question in a snarky way.  The speaker goes off on mythological allusions as if he's showing the student how to integrate the myth and person to further define a person.  Also by using a simile to compare Pastuer's exploration of medicine to the writing of a poem -- both take on each others attributes through context.  But the quotations from Pasteur changes the direction of the poem.

The quote turn from science and peace to something more violent "''Death to the Prussian!' and 'revenge, revenge'"  Note also before the quote there's the cheeky, "But then, the virus mutant in his vein"  The virus is set up as an ironic allegory -- the very thing that Pasteur worked for, immunization, shifts and changes Pasteur's opinion because of war.

I feel like I'm only scratching the surface with stanza 1 because there's so many complexities and shifts, and so little time on my part.  But note that all the complexities and shifts leads to this rhetorical question that goes back to epigraph above.

"How shall my generation tell its story"  This is a very ambitious question based on the question in the epigraph -- if the generation before doesn't even know Apollo how would they tell our stories.  Now the following sequence is a long narrative that has angular line breaks and shifting content that I won't be able to look for everything but here's a couple things I noted:

  1. The list of specific names brings a sense of the personal to the speaker as though to humanize the other.  "George Humphreys," "Clark Harrison," "Herr Wagner," "Gerd Radomski" are all actual people.  Yet, the way the speaker approaches these people as real with memories that are so localized that the use of allusion becomes tighter with the reference to Pasteur lost in the whole second stanza.
  2. The adjective noun combinations work to further personalize and centralize the focus to the speaker's experience:  greener surfs or rumored France"  "Cynical Constantines" (which maybe be an actual group) "Hürtgen dark"  notice how the adjectives add more to the nouns and shifts the tone from hope, despair, or failure depending on whose story the speaker is talking about.
  3. The personal turns to the allusive later on in the second stanza, but what impact does the allusion have but superficial?  "Strangeloves," "Son of Mars" and the eventual return of the narrative of Pasteur who lost his own son to the war -- these allusions, to me, are completely overshadowed by the person,  and the allusion, no matter how detailed and painful, serve mostly as a transition to the third stanza.
 The beginning of the third stanza starts, "I like to think of Pasteur in Elysium" and here is the combination of the speaker and his thoughts on Pasteur as the first two stanzas worked more as separate entities -- the allusion (other) versus the allusion (person) which transitioned through the allusion (other) of Pasteur and now we get to the personal.

And what the speaker imagines is the pre-war Pasteur.  Just like the speakers comrades and friends he names, the speaker considers (or has to) the docile best part of Pasteur -- the man who "teaching his daughter to use a microscope / And, each year, honor three births."

Furthermore the speaker puts Pastuer's action amongst "Socrates, Galen, and Hippocrates -- the spirit / Fastened by love upon the human cross."  A part of me doesn't know how to take the end -- there's a tinge of anger and cynicism since the context before is the travesty and change war does, but then there's that sense of hope because Pasteur is placed upon the same generous pedistal. 

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