Darkness Audible: Negative Capability and Mark Doty’s "Nocturne in Black and Gold"

Beginning from Doty's commentary on Keats's "Endymion" manuscript, this essay examines the way the poetic process is figured as a conversation between the given and the made but also between the dark, unconscious world and the active, intellectual world of the will. Using Blanchot's and Tiffany's work on the role of obscurity in the lyric, the essay considers Doty's "Nocture in Black and Gold" as an exploration of leave taking in the form of an embodiment of shadow. Beginning with the poem's epigraph from St. Augustine, "Shadow is the queen of colors," the article traces how the poem investigates the color and substance of shadow or nothingness via an engagement with three sources: Whistler's painting, after which the poem is titled, Keats's notion of a happiness of the moment, and the figure of the Queen of the Night from Mozart's The Magic Flute. Doty's reading of Keats locates the origins of poetry in the very nothingness over which Keats's things of beauty are meant to triumph. For Doty, poetic description, like Blanchot's infinitely eroding cadaver, marks the temporal locus of the body, even as it moves into a nowhere, an obscurity that is, by conventional definition, beyond language. Doty's exploration of this nowhere brings him finally to the burnished darkness of the ordinary sublime, a place of intimacy restored.