[lit-ideas] Re: Poetry x 2 = Sabbatical

  • From: "Mike Geary" <atlas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 14 Oct 2006 11:57:59 -0500


I was never very fond of Merwin, and this poem doesn't cause me to change my mind....The poem is light-weight, simplistic and not very interesting.

Thank you for replying. I was afraid that you'd refuse to play my silly little game. If I were a betting man, I'd have put my money on you not liking the poem, so I'm not surprised you don't. I, however, think it's exquisite. Note that I didn't ask what the poem means, but whether you like it or not. I didn't ask what the poem means because I have no idea. I know what it means to me at this time, but not what Merwin might have intended it to mean. When I first read the poem, it thrilled me. I didn't know why, so I went back to look at what affected me so much. What follows is an analysis of my reading of the poem. I hesitate to do this because by doing so I expose all my hokiness and sentimentality and lack of sophistication, but I'm determined to get through that engineer's brain of your and make you GET IT even at the cost of being thought Rod McKuenish.

"What if I came down now out of these solid dark clouds that build up against the mountain day after day with no rain in them"

This image speaks to me of gloom, of despair, of hopelessness, depression -- the dark clouds building -- the dark night of the soul, of spiritual emptiness --- as perhaps in the mind of one realizing that it is all meaningless -- one's goals and ambitions reveal themselves as nothing but a vainglorious struggle for renown that will end only in oblivion -- Sartre's nausea -- and there's nothing to be done about it, and there's nothing to come of this despair, like rainless clouds, we're impotent in our negation.

"[What if I came down now...] and lived as one blade of grass in a garden in the south when the clouds part in winter

Aha! the enlightenment begins! What if I chuck all these ambitions for which I've traded my joy, what then, what kind of creature would I be?

"...I would be older than all the animals
and to the last I would be simpler
frost would design me and dew would disappear on me
sun would shine through me
I would be green with white roots
feel worms touch my feet as a bounty
have no name and no fear
turn naturally to the light"

I love these images, everyone of them, they awaken feelings of pride in the pedigree of age, of calm in steadfastness and naturalness, of belonging by being rooted in and an integral part of organic existence. I'm reminded of images from Rilke about the Open (don't ask me where) in which one is filled with the brilliance of just being.

"know how to spend the day and night climbing out of myself all my life"

Here! Here is where the poem soars for me -- out of the rootedness, the lowliness, the namelessness one ascends, becomes greater and greater than the self, climbs out of the rooted self into an awareness of ???? of the preciousness of existence? of the godhead? of the joy of opening out -- of blossoming? All that? Those last three lines make me want to dance. I come away from reading this poem with a feeling of joy and gratitude -- kind of like Spiritual Sex. Merwin often does that to me.

Is that what Merwin meant by the poem? Maybe not, maybe even probably not, but I don't care, not one little bit. It's the poem I made of Merwin's poem and I love it, it gives me joy to read.

Why is my response different from yours? Maybe you're not as cloying and Romantically sentimental as I am -- or can be. I'm sure my response springs at least in part from my experiences as an ardent Catholic boy who used to think he'd become a Trappist, whose soul had fair seed-time on a farm, who grew up working-class and still mindlessly swears allegiance to working-class values. I don't know. I stopped long ago trying to understand why some people react to images one way and other's another. Poetry is large, as Eric screamed, shaking me by my lapels, poetry is a large as life, poetry subsumes all our categories. And I agree. Do you get my point yet?

Mike Geary

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