Search This Blog

Friday, August 12, 2011

Number 232: John Updike "Bindweed"


Intelligence does help, sometimes;

the bindweed doesn't know

when it begins to climb a wand of grass

that this is no tree and will shortly bend

its flourishing dependent back to earth.

But bindweed has a trick: self-

stiffening, entwining two- or three-ply,

to boost itself up, into the lilac.

Without much forethought it manages

to imitate the lilac leaves and lose

itself to all but the avidest clippers.

To spy it out, to clip near the root

and unwind the climbing tight spiral

with a motion the reverse of its own

feels like treachery--death to a plotter

whose intelligence mirrors ours, twist for twist.

--John Updike

Hap Notes: The bindweed that Updike is talking about is a sister to the Morning Glory (in fact they are one in the same, really) which has a delightful flower and a powerful will to get to the most sunlight it can. The delicate tendrils that wind around and around the fence, a clump of grass, another flower (the Morning Glories used the Zinnias and an old rake I'd left on the side of the house in the last place I lived) or whatever is around it are lovely but determined. It is almost impossible to extricate the various flowering bind weeds without a huge amount of patience and, even then, one risks the killing of the host plant that the bindweed has attached itself to so tightly.

Updike is saying something very interesting about this ability to twine around an object – that it is is a human trait. There is an odd feeling, as one clips the weed, unraveling it from a lilac or a zinnia or a rake, that one is undoing a great deal of patient conscious work on the part of the bindweed. The patience and forbearance it takes to do this mimics the work of the plant and the delicate green vine-y tendrils are so fragile yet so willfully attached.

How can a plant with such delicacy be so determined and difficult and tightly binding? The poet tells us that the "plotter" who can succeed at being this involved and twined and twisted, especially if it is unwanted, seems to have done this with intelligent forethought. How much does that "mirror" our own machinations, do you think?

At this point you know what I think of Updike – a poet disguised as a novelist.

Here's where we have talked about him before: (which will lead you, winding and twining, to the next one which will lead to the following Updike entries and so on...)

No comments:

Post a Comment