On Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!

Her voice dragged me in, this old crone
who sat in her chair rigid like a schoolgirl.
It beat against the wisteria tendrilled heat
and the cloistered darkness where we sat,
my aunt and I, me home from school to the barren
bower of her past, where jilted desires hung unspoken,
an endlessly fingered bridal dress of twisted longing.

And beyond the close suffocating gloom
a bird against the curtained window pane,
incessant in its blind activity.

Miss Coldfield, aunt by connection not blood,
pale against the backdrop of my nightmares,
dead in all but memory, droning on and on.
I should go, I must go, I wanted to say
to the encroaching darkness of sundown
where the long shadow of Colonel Sutpen
loomed over child, slave, woman, mongrel.

West Virginia is no Bethlehem to give rise
to a king with palace and servants and land
burdened with heirs and thrones falling to decay.
But Sutpen fathered Absalom, no two Absaloms,
and the dynasty tottered among the swampy weeds
of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi.
Tottered into my past through my father who knew
Colonel Sutpen when he wed Miss Coldfield’s sister.

I see her wan outraged face, her voice condensing now
into a cold, blank hatred for the man, widowed,
heirless, coming to propose, not on bended knee,
but with a contract dependent on her fecundity.
The helpless voice of thwarted love spinning on and on,
not for incest, or blood shed, or cruelty and deceit,
murder avenged, but for the Coldfield honor
dragged through the dust of the Jefferson streets.

And all long in the ground, the Coldfields & Sutpens,
their last blood mingled in a half-sentient child-man
howling in the burnt out embers of a ruined house.

“So?” Shreve cried. “You’re not them!”  No, I said, turning,
I’m Quentin Compson. I’m not Rosa or Judith or Henry
or Charles Bon or any of them

But the half-buried warped root of the past,
its voice, her voice.

To let the dead bury the dead
is to believe the paradox that life triumphs somehow,
that the bird fluttering against the window is known,
that history and fate though tied are not blind,
and all is not lost, not even Absalom, but can be
yes, can be redeemed.


William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (1936) on which the poem is based is a masterpiece of literary fiction, chock-full of Biblical allusions though shaded by the author’s nihilism. But like any good story, there is much truth to be gleaned of ourselves, of life, of experience, along with a taste of the genius of words employed however idiosyncratically but with just that quality of thought and precision that makes characters and events thrive richly in the imagination.


9/29/2022: Linked to dVerse's OpenLinkNight #324 hosted by Grace. Join in with a poem of your own prompting.

13 thoughts on “On Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!

    1. A poem book review — Hadn’t thought of it like that, I was just riffing off of Faulkner, but that is what it is! And yes, Faulkner tends towards the gloomy, but I loved this book. I think it’s his best. It was a pleasure visiting your blog. As Ah-nold says, I’ll be back 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Grace. The story is all Faulkner’s and it was easy to write of it: it lingers and lingers long after you close the book. It’s almost preternatural how he immerses you in the world of his mythical Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi.


  1. I wish that the online poetry world was better seeped in literature — that to say “Faulkner” would awaken and entire diagonal of voice — but here we are. My ears are so sticky with his honeyed baroque Southern twang that I get lost in those hives and have trouble staying with the narrative. You stay faithful to it here and take us into the questions Faulkner raised.


  2. What a powerful write this is, Dora. That first stanza sets the scene so compellingly with its rich details. I love this line:

    “an endlessly fingered bridal dress of twisted longing.”

    And then the haunting narrative draws you in and leads you onward. Spooky and brilliant 🙂


  3. I have never read Faulkner, Dora, let alone this book in particular, so I feel out of my depth to say anything about this poem; I’d be throwing darts in the dark. I will share a rather interesting tidbit about Faulkner though. Faulkner said that my man Hemingway “had no courage” because of his famous simple declarative sentences, and Hemingway replied that Faulkner’s talents had waned because he was a drunk, which is pretty rich, considering the source! You’re the second friend in a few months who has recommended Faulkner. I am remiss for not yet having read him.


    1. I’m stunned they could be so petty, not! 😂 Literary geniuses those two, bringing their own music to their narratives, like Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall trilogy) whose passing this month we mourn.

      Liked by 1 person

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