Only the Dreamer Can Change the Dream
These selected poems are arranged in five sections bearing the titles of five collections published by John Logan between 1955 and 1973: Cycle for Mother Cabrini (1955); Ghosts of the Heart (1960); Spring of the Thief (1963); The Zig-Zag Walk (1969); and The Anonymous Lover (1973), from which the title poem is taken. Poems from Logan’s two collections published since 1973—The House That Jack Built (1974), and Poems in Progress (1975)—are included in The Bridge of Change: Poems 1974-1980, also published in 1981.
Logan’s poems are frequently philosophical and bookish, specifically preoccupied with the sruggle between body and soul. The opening poem, “Pagan Saturday,” draws the distinction between spirit and flesh. On a hike with other students, the speaker experiences a moment of spiritual intensity: “sudden/ As fear light as laughter I felt/ A creature flare with beauty/ At the back of my eye.” This experience is different from a simple lyric sense of physical well-being or exhilaration. The speaker is aware that “my limbs and body/ Sang on me sometimes—/ But this was brighter than my arms.”
“A Dialogue with La Mettrie,” prefaced by a passage from the eighteenth century materialist’s book, Man a Machine (1798), deals more explicitly with the question of man’s essential nature. Paraphrasing Julien Offray de La Mettrie, Logan speaks of “the delicate moral/ Hum in the anxious matter” and concludes: “Man is a machine./ And there is no other thing/ Underneath. Except I believe/ Ambiguity, with its hope/ Or its ancient agony.” Logan’s search is for a way to refute La Mettrie’s mechanical view of man, a way to account for “this arch of feeling.” He wishes to be “cut free/ Of the grieved matter of La Mettrie.”
Death offers freedom from the flesh. In “Cycle for Mother Cabrini” Logan is grateful that the body is
subject to laws
Of decay. . . .
For flesh is my failing:
That it shall fall is my
That it shall not
Conquer is my blind hope.
That it shall rise again
Commanding, is my fear.
That it shall rise changed
Is my faith.
The interplay of theme and image that unifies this collection can be located in this stated position in the 1955 poem. It is the interplay between the physical and spiritual, the failures of the flesh, the hope of overcoming the merely physical and mechanical aspect of man’s nature, the hope of spiritual change that concern the poet in succeeding sections of the collection.
In “Eight Poems on Portraits of the Foot” it is the wish, Logan says, “for some genuine change other than our death/ that lets us feel (with fingers of the mind)/ how much the foot desires to be a hand.” In “Three Moves,” external changes serves only to remind him of the difference between physical and spiritual change. “Three moves in six months and I remain/ the same.” A friend inquires about his soul and the speaker realizes: “I hadn’t thought about it for a while,/ and was ashamed to say I didn’t know.” Some ducks at his third residence within a six-month period become a symbol for the speaker’s inability to undergo spiritual change; or, at least, he contrasts his unachieved human potential for such spiritual change with the inability of animals to achieve it: “these foolish ducks lack a sense of guilt,/ and so all their multi-thousand-mile range/ is too short for the hope of change.” What the experience of this spiritual change might be like is indicated in “Two Preludes for La Push,” in which natural settings serve as analogs of spiritual meanings, somewhat after the manner of Thomas Merton: “In a hush/ of holy fog. . . ./ the white, furious waves mash and rush. . . . These waves/ are sudden, violent, unpredictable as grace.”
The most effective poems in the collection discover scenes and situations that serve as adequate symbols for the crass and sometimes bestial nature of man when he is bereft of any spiritual dimension or possiblity. “The Thirty-three Ring Circus” consists of thirty-three verse paragraphs full of vivid details...
(The entire section is 1758 words.)