From the cutting room floor: notes on Robert Hass’s “Weed”

As an experiment, I’m going to start posting notes, etc. that didn’t make it into the final version of an essay or post, but are nonetheless interesting (at least to me). Sweepings from my cutting room floor, so to speak.

Original Post

Poem

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Hass says the name horse-parsnip  “is history / but means nothing”

-—— “is history” can either mean that it’s important, or that it’s over: “you’re history!”

Horse-parsnip: named for the animal to which it is poisonous (humans, too), so the name is important, but nothing in the poem suggests this is on Hass’s mind.

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1933…..“in New Jersey / in 1933”———The year is a mystery: Williams’s poem “Queen-Anne’s lace” was published in 1920, so it’s not about when it was written/published. And though it’s presented as a childhood memory of the speaker, the year cannot apply to Hass, who was born in 1941. Typo?  1953 would work. OR a persona? He’s used them before (though not many comment on that).

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Horse-parsnip….more commonly referred to as wild parsnip, is in the carrot family—as is Queen Anne’s lace! They’re cousins. Complicates Hass’s comparison significantly.

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“the name / is absurd”

“Absurd” is Stevens’s word: “The sounds of the guitar / Were not and are not. Absurd. The words spoken / Were not and are not. It is not to be believed.” (from “The Rock”)

J Hillis Miller points out that “absurd: from ab, away, an intensive here, and surdus, deaf, inaudible, insufferable to the ear… . The Latin surdus was chosen in medieval mathematics to translate an Arabic term that was itself a translation of the Greek alogos: speechless, wordless, inexpressible… “ (The Linguistic Moment 394).  

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