WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 249-250
Baum, ed., House of Life
Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets.
The sonnet's obscurity mimics the inscrutable silences that are the central focus of the text's questions and (in the sestet) its helpless conclusions. The figuration of the trees is particularly effective, releasing a series of “Sphinx-faced” icons that permit only a drift of “blind surmise/ From depth to ominous depth”. The clarity of the images as images reinforces the sense of bafflement. “UnabashÈd augury” defines this central paradox of the poem: as if these figurations, like their originals in the natural world, possessed (or were posessed by) a secret knowledge that escapes the human seeker—escapes, in this case, even the poet who can fashion and see the images. In this respect—and in some of its diction as well—the sonnet distinctly forecasts the poetry of Thomas Hardy.
The poem should be compared with the late double work “The Question”, which pivots on the figure of the Sphinx.
DGR worked up the sonnet from his notebooks, which contain drafts of various lines—often in duplicate. Note Book I (British Library) has a scrap of line 1 (page 15r) and Note Book II has drafts of lines 1-3, 8, and 10 (pages 6r, 10v,
27r). Note Book 3 (Duke Library) has drafts of lines 1-2, 1-3, 4, and 8 (page 2, 4, and 8) and a loose notebook page at Duke has drafts of lines 1-2, 1-3, 8, and 10-11 (page 33).
Four integral manuscripts of the sonnet are extant: a corrected copy in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” sequence; a lightly corrected copy in the Library of Congress; a fair copy in the Rosenbach Library; and a fair copy in the British Library.
First published in the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets, collected thereafter.
The title alludes to
Genesis 3: 8 where the Lord God comes “amongst the trees of the garden” when Adam and Eve are hiding after eating the forbidden fruit. DGR's governing image creates a powerful sense of the uncanny—as if the trees stood as great, silent witnesses to this primal disastrous event, with their silence emblemizing the absolute severance of human beings from the world we would read and understand. It goes without saying that the disaster involves a quest and desire for ultimate knowledge. DGR interprets the fall as something worse than a failure, for Adam and Eve are cast by God from their state of innocence (beyond either loss or gain) into a condition of pure loss. In this respect the sonnet casts itself forward to the last sonnet of the sequence, “The One Hope”—a “blind surmise” indeed since, in that poem, the one hope has no ontological or even linguistic identity. It is simply an existential condition of pure need.