Saturday, April 5, 2008

For Service, Press Here

I am frequently astounded by my capacity for inaction. If I had a dime for every good idea/ invention/story/ song/drawing/ etc that ever came into my mind and never received fuller realization, I'd have a lot of dimes. Of course, this is why all creative endeavors benefit from a measure of discipline. In fact, the very act of being creative is fostered by disciplined opportunities for creation. I have recently been reminded of this truth.

I have two friends who are not quite right (actually to the extent that they are bent, they are bent like me - which is why I enjoy their company). One of them, for reasons known only to him, emailed a few haiku touching on the joy of his work life. By the time I read his email, our other friend had already responded with a few of his own. I wanted to and did respond in kind. Had it not been for the prompting and the challenge, I would have written no haiku that week. But pressed a bit, that part of me which needs creative outlet took what it could get and went to the task of composing seventeen syllable poems.

Such opportunities and the sort of companions who foster them are not to be passed up. The haiku are here.

p.s. I feel obligated to clarify that I actually have a good number more than two of friends who are not quite right. But only these particular two are relevant to this observation.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Loon's Cry

A friend mentioned to me his interest in Wordsworth. He suggested I read Intimations of Immortality. As I read through the poem, my mind immediately jumped forward in time to Howard Nemerov's poem, "The Loon's Cry". There are similar images and themes - that common objects have seemed suffused with internal light and meaning - and that it has been lost. Wordsworth, of course, finds a hopeful resolution; not so much so.
Ever since finding Nemerov's poetry I have connected with his disappointed realization that he has 'fallen from the symboled world" and that our modern knowing exhausts things of their truth. It is a difficult place to come to. There is simultaneously the knowing that while this end can't be right that it wasn't wrong to come to it. So how do your regain a symboled and illumined world? I think Nemerov didn't see a way, and instead just tried to make the best of where he was. Wordsworth claimed to have made it back or nearly enough. But the romantic resolution feels a bit thin and affected to me.
While Intimations is readily available on the web, I couldn't find the Loon's Cry. So I've added it here.

The Loon's Cry

On a cold evening, summer almost gone,
I walked alone down where the railroad bridge
Divides the river from the estuary.
There was a silence over both the waters,
The river's concentrated reach, the wide
Diffusion of the delta, marsh and sea,
Which in the distance misted out of sight.

As on the seaward side the sun went down,
The river answered with the rising moon,
Full moon, its craters, mountains and still seas
Shining like snow and shadows on the snow.
The balanced silence centered where I stood,
The fulcrum of two poised immensities,
Which offered to be weighed at either hand.

But I could think only, Red sun, white moon,
This is a natural beauty, it is not
Theology. For I had fallen from
The symboled world, where I in earlier days
Found mysteries of meaning, form, and fate
Signed on the sky, and now stood but between
A swamp of fire and a reflecting rock.

I envied those past ages of the world
When, as I thought, the energy in things
Shone through their shapes, when sun and moon no less
Than tree or stone or star or juman face
Were seen bu as fantastic Japanese
Lanterns are seen, sullen or gray colors
And lines revealing the light that they conceal.

The world a stage, its people maskers all
In actions largely framed to imitate
God and His Lucifer's lond debate, a trunk
From which, complex and clear, the eoisodes
Spread out their branches. Each life played a part,
And every part consumed a life, nor dreams
After remained to mock accomplishment.

Under the austere power of the scene,
The moon standing balanced against the sun,
I simplified still more, and though that now
We'd traded all those mysteries in for things,
For essences in things, not understood-
Reality in things! and now we saw
Reality exhausted all their truth.

As answering my thought a loon cried out
Laughter of desolation on the river,
A savage cry, now that the moon went up
And the sun down--yet when I hear him cry
Again, his voice seemed emptied of that sense
or any other, and Adam I became,
Hearing the first loon cry in paradise.

For sometimes, when the world is not our home
Nor have we any home elsewhere, but all
Things look to leave us naked, hungry, cold,
We suddenly may seem in paradise
Again, in ignorance and emptiness
Blessed beyond all that we thought to know:
Then on sweet waters echoes the loon's cry.

I thought I understood what that cry meant,
That its contempt was for the forms of things,
Their doctrines, which decayed--the nouns of stone
and adjectives of glass--not for the verb
Which surged in power properly eternal
Against the seawall of the solid world,
Battering and undermining what it built,

And whose respeaking was the poet's act,
Only and always, in whatever time
Stripped by uncertainty, despair, and ruin,
Time readying to die, unable to die
But damned to life again, and the loon's cry.
And now the sun was sunken in the sea,
The full moon high, and stars began to shine.
The moon, I though, might have been such a world
As this one is, till it went cold inside,
Nor any strength of sun could keep its people
Warm in their palaces of glass and stone.
Now all its craters, mountains and still seas,
Shining like snow and shadows on the snow,
Orbit this world in envy and late love.

And the stars too? Worlds, as the scholars taught
So long ago? Chaos of beauty, void,
O burning cold, against which we define
Both wretchedness and love. For signatures
In all things are, which leave us not alone
Even in the though of death, and may by arts
Contemplative be found and named again.

The loon again? Or else a whistling train,
Whose far thunders began to shake the bridge.
And it came on, a loud bulk under smoke,
Changing the signals on the bridge, the bright
Rubies and emeralds, rubies and emeralds
Signing the cold night as I turned for home,
Hearing the train cry once more, like a loon.

Howard Nemerov
from Mirrors and Windows (1958)