Friday, December 28, 2012

Love and Death

    Although most poetry is about beauty and emotions, “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings recollected in moments of tranquility” (Wordsworth,) many poems are about love or death. It’s hard to conjure any other pair of categories of such powerful impact on humans. The key word here is power.

    Poetry uses the same words as prose yet it uses those words in such a way as to imbue them with an effect simple prose cannot accomplish. How does poetry accomplish this? It’s oversimplification to say it’s done with rhyme and meter unless the concept of containment is also added. It’s like dynamite. The containment gives dynamite its release-all-at-once explosiveness. The key here is containment.

    It’s like watching a powerful railroad locomotive pulling a train up a steep grade or speeding past on any stretch of track. If a passerby asked “What’s the attraction?” a railfan might say “If you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand.” It’s the power being contained between the two steel rails — the simultaneous interplay of power and containment.

    So it is with poetry — the simultaneous interplay of power and containment. And so it is with the casual passerby who says they don’t like poetry. No explanation will peel the blinding scales from their eyes.

    Some poets must be read more than once to unlock their accessibility. Others are immediately available to us. Take e.e. cummings, for instance, in his

somewhere i have never traveled
* * *
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

     Or the passionate declaration by an anonymous poet:

O Western Wind
O western wind, when wilt thou blow
That the small rain down can rain?
Christ, if my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again.
     Nor should Ogden Nash be forgotten. Humor is welcome.

Reflections on Ice-Breaking
Candy is dandy
but liquor is quicker

     Enter the Grim Reaper with Edna St. Vincent Millay’s

Dirge without Music
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, --- but the best is lost.
The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Perhaps it is the passion of love that gives respite from thoughts of Hamlet’s “… undiscovered country, from whose bourn No traveler returns…”

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