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

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 14 Oct 2006 15:53:13 -0700

No, I don?t get your point yet, Mike.  What you have done is what anyone
might do with that poem [anyone of a certain sort who likes poetry].  I?ve
read the poem and have no reason to object to your interpretation (absent
your enthusiasm).  I?m not sufficiently interested in it to buy a bio of
Merwin (if a bio exists).  I don?t think what you have done represents a
difference between us.  The difference (a difference?) between us lies in
what we do with these poets we like.  Years ago I read Berryman?s 77 Dream
Songs and was impressed.  Eventually a biography was written and I bought
it.  Who knows, perhaps Berryman was doing or thinking something that could
help me write better.  Alas, the bio didn?t help in that regard, but who
knows, it might have.  You like some of Merwin?s poetry but are content with
what you get out of it.  Perhaps there is no temptation to try and write
like Merwin.  Perhaps you are so set in your ways that no other poet can
interfere with your writing style.  Perhaps there is nothing you want to
learn from Merwin.


I am a bit like that in regard to music, but I feel guilty about it.  I
especially like Eliot Fisk?s rendition of Vivaldi?s Sonata in G minor, RV.
42, and the Concerto in D Major for Lute, RV. 93.  However, I didn?t
remember that until I put the disk on my CD player.  And then I didn?t
remember what I was listening to.  And when I realized that I especially
liked it, I couldn?t remember the piece I was listening to.  I couldn?t have
written this paragraph unless I read the back of the CD case.  I function as
though I am content to like it without knowing anything about it, but I feel
guilty.  I have never read a bio of any composer, and if I did, it might be
Berlioz because I was interested in Kay Redfield Jamison?s description of
his manic-depression.  My interest would lie in his being an artist with
manic depression and not in his particular art. 


But poetry is another matter.  If I am interested in a poet then I want to
pursue the matter as far as I can.  I did that with Hart Crane.  I didn?t
really like his poetry, but I liked his plan.  He wanted to write an epic
and pursued his goal.  There is a new bio of Crane. Robert posted a review
of it, and it is of mild interest.  I read a bio of him long ago, but
perhaps more has been discovered.  Perhaps the new one will be more
insightful.  Unfortunately nothing is likely to make his poetry more
interesting.  I recall it as being Whitmanesque and that same thing can be
said about Berryman?s Dream Songs; although Berryman is much more successful
than Crane.  Dream Songs has been seen as being influenced by Whitman?s
?Song of Myself.?  


It has been a long while since I read Whitman but I recall his ?Song of
Myself? as being a celebration, something he gloried in singing.  One
couldn?t say that about ?Dream Songs.?   Henry gets into a lot of trouble,
but we don?t mind reading the poems because he is a good sport about it.  He
is funny and doesn?t mind being the butt of his own jokes.  Stepping back,
what is the significance of Whitman?s being delighted to sing of himself and
Berryman merely trying to make a bleary sort of sense out of himself in a
world out of control?  Is Berryman more enlightened than Whitman?  Or does
Berryman represent a degenerative process of some sort?  As a society we are
not the same as we were in Whitman?s time.  Is that a good or bad thing?
You, Mike, might be thinking I am thinking that?s a bad thing, but I?m not.
I see the progress of Liberal Democracy in the world as a good thing and
there was only one Liberal Democracy back in Whitman?s time and it wasn?t
nearly Liberal enough in our sense of the word.  


So was that a more naïve time?  Only in Naïve times, someone has written,
can heroic epics be written.  We are far too sophisticated to write an Iliad
or an Odyssey.  The Romans were even too sophisticated and that is why
Virgil isn?t as good as Homer.  In fact we don?t even like heroes in or
time, at least not if we are intellectual.  They seem to be doing really
well at the box-office, i.e., comic book heroes, but the working-class must
be watching them.  We certainly woudln?t.  What we sophisticated like are
victims.  Someone needs to be a victim to be the subject of something
serious -- a nice drug problem, being haunted by the CIA or FBI, being
pursued, framed, misrepresented, hopeless, hounded, haunted, or buried
alive.   Well I have seen that, or think I have seen that, and don?t like




-----Original Message-----
From: Mike Geary
Sent: Saturday, October 14, 2006 9:58 AM
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Poetry x 2 = Sabbatical



>>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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