Slumbers Seal, Slumbers Reveal

I describe “A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal” as a poem that breathes. I hear the breathing in the sibilance slippery softness of the opening lines,  generated by slumber, spirit, and seal. It is one of “the Lucy” poems, poems written by Wordsworth in contemplating the effects of a young girl’s death, though I think we still don’t know if the girl was ‘real,’ even though we can be sure she is dead.

The sibilance of the poem’s opening lines also thematically complicate subject and object— the speaker’s spirit, living, is sealed by another’s slumber, death. As she goes, so do we:

A SLUMBER did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears:
She seemed a thing that could not feel The touch of earthly years.
No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course, With rocks, and stones, and trees. [1799]

I thought of this poem when thinking about the winds represented on a map. I was thinking about our various traditions of human time, and how they have been potentially altered by the time of the human.

I remember that in the course of thinking about these questions, I was lucky to go to the Studio Museum in Harlem, to see their excellent exhibition on Afrofuturist visual culture, The Shadows Took Shape. As a movement, afrofuturism is concerned with the radical means by which we recover a liberatory sense of living against a historical backdrop characterized by object status, by status itself as a data that tries to seal us of off from living and freedom. Afrofuturism embraces the future’s necessary call to difference from today, and owns it. All activism is science fiction.

It was during that visit to the Studio Museum that I first I saw Pumzi, a short film out of Kenya, directed by Wanuri Kahiu. Pumzi helped me get at the wild peace I hear in “My Slumber” in the breathing that is not the loved one’s, and also to imagine a future after any return to the soil. Kahiu’s radical vision of love and hope helps us imagine life in the anthropocene. But not in the literal sense that we shall all plant trees and save the world.

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