Arab Today, arab today poem of the week i am greatly changed
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Poem of the week: I am greatly changed

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Arab Today, arab today Poem of the week: I am greatly changed

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Charles Dickens was born on February 7 1812, and this week's poem, "I Am Greatly Changed" by Richard Price, appears in a new anthology of 21st century poets' tributes, A Mutual Friend: Poems for Charles Dickens. Published by Two Rivers Press with the English Association, the volume is edited by the poet Peter Robinson, whose own new collection, The Returning Sky (Shearsman), is a PBS Recommendation for this quarter. Despite being a contributor, I can say without bias that the response to Dickens is a vigorous and varied one. Skilfully organised in its themes and variations, the anthology is more than commentary, more than celebration. Most of the poems feel emotionally compelled rather than commissioned, suggesting Dickens, the "mutual friend", may be an oddly liberating "mutual muse". The fractured collage of quotations in "I Am Greatly Changed" is garnered primarily from the final encounter, in chapter 59 of Great Expectations, between Pip and Estella. Both are mature and both, presumably, (although the words of the title are Estella's) "greatly changed" by their ordeals. Dickens wrote two versions of this last chapter. After his friend Bulwer-Lytton criticised the first, he produced a fuller, cheerier resolution. This one is favoured in most editions, though some critics dispute its superiority. The poem draws primarily on the revised version, except in one important respect. The formal handshake belongs to the first. In the second, Pip takes Estella's hand, but the mood is very different and the gesture hints at erotic possibility. Price's poem seems to open a third alternative, not romantic but more than merely civil, when the solitary last line declares, in inverted commas, "We are friends". The encounter in the poem occurs, as in the novel, in the ruined gardens of Satis House, but the setting is revealed only in the seventh and ninth stanzas. The work's focus is the dialogue, cut up and expanded by silence to register maximum intensity and difficulty. In the novel, the dialogue flows smoothly. This, of course, is typical of 19th-century realist fiction: speech appears lifelike, but it's life with the pauses and repetitions edited out. Price has translated the conversation into its imaginary original. The poem's technical skill may be better appreciated if we know the two endings, but its effect does not depend on that knowledge. If you had never read a word of the novel you would still feel you were in the presence of a living poem, spoken by characters with a shared past, at a tense and transformative moment. The speaker at first is Pip. In the novel he tells Biddy that he has given up "that poor dream" (of Estella), and the impression of her "softened" beauty is his. Then we have Estella's words, beginning "I have very often –". In the arenthetical sixth stanza, Pip utters Dickens's inspired line, "a heart to understand/ what my heart used to be." And in the last quatrain it's clearly Pip who says, in moving understatement, "She gave me her assurance". And yet the poem is surely meant to be read more openly than this, as a counterpoint that shifts between two voices and identities. Both speakers share a moving simplicity of diction. Pip seems a little more fluent, whereas Estella, at first, is more hesitant, the punctuation of some of her lines, a dash followed by a comma, eloquently expressing her internal struggle. At the end of the novel, it's Estella who asks forgiveness (a second helping). In the poem, there's a suggestion in stanza five that Pip, in turn, may have caused Estella suffering: she seems to ask God to forgive him. This suffering would belong to the unwritten story of her marriage to Bentley Drummle. The poem reminds me of Emily Dickenson's "After great pain, a formal feeling comes". Estella expresses her retrospective "great pain": the poem's whole structure confirms the extent to which she has been "bent and broken". But the fragments and falterings are assembled bit by bit into a coherent, truthful and dignified shape. "The ground belongs to me," Estella says in Dickens's text, perhaps with a hint of her old pride. Price, by reducing it simply to "the ground belongs", introduces something stranger and less egotistical. The ground belongs only to the place, or to itself. Unlike Estella, schooled with dreadful consequences by Miss Havisham to abhor "the friendly touch", or Pip, once entranced by worldly status and obsessive love, the ground cannot be false to itself. Estella's "Poor, poor old place" echoes Pip's opening "That poor dream". The echo is in the novel, too, but the poem's technique emphasises this and other linguistic patterns. And does the poem change our concept of the characters? I think we may sympathise with this Estella more than the new improved Estella at the end of the novel – because we have heard her nervous breaths and hesitations in the poem's rhythm. We may also find the characters fundamentally closer; in some ways, interchangeable. After the wavering, wincing delicacy of Estella's recollections, the poem's last line is indeed like solid ground: "We are friends". The handshake Estella could hardly bring herself to mention earlier ("I thought – . I thought you would like – .") is accomplished and consolidated. The novel concludes, "I saw no shadow of another parting from her". It is not certain, of course, that Pip's prophecy will be fulfilled. The poem, highlighting the present-tense declaration, implies a relationship that's firmly established. The inverted commas may hint irony, but to me (and I'm not entirely sure why) they suggest a couple for the first time speaking in unison. It's as much what is unsaid as what is said that lends the poem its haunting power. Price's post-modern techniques are never emptily playful. Here, they become dissection-tools to reveal psychological and moral nuances which, combined with the concept of redemption, are wholly in the spirit of Dickens. "I Am Greatly Changed" will appear in Price's forthcoming collection, Small World, which will be published by Carcanet in November. I Am Greatly Changed Great Expectations That poor dream, as I once used to call it, has all gone by. (The freshness of beauty is the saddened softened light of once proud eyes.) I have very often - . I intended to come back. Tracing, proving. I thought - . I thought you would like - . 'God bless you, God forgive you!' you said to me. I am greatly changed. I thought you would like to shake hands. What I had never felt before was the friendly touch. I very often hoped - . I have often thought of you. An imaginary case. I have been considerate and good, I have been bent and broken, suffering, God forgive you. Suffering, God bless you. (Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, a heart to understand what my heart used to be.) The ground belongs! Everything else, little by little, has gone. I wonder you know me. If you could say to me then 'God bless you! God forgive you!' you will not hesitate now. ('God bless you,' you said to me). Poor, poor old place! Ruined place. Would I step back? Ignorant, held? She gave me her assurance (her voice, her touch). I took her hand, evening mists rising now, tranquil. 'We are friends.'   Theguardian .

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