Monday, March 26, 2007

Poem of the Week 3/26/2007: What Excuses Have You to Offer

from Mystical Poems of Rumi

What excuses have you to offer, my heart, for so many shortcomings? Such constancy on the part of the Beloved, such unfaithfulness on your own!
So much generousity on your side, on yours such niggling contrariness! So many graces from him, so many faults committed by you!
Such envy, such evil imaginings and dark thoughts in your heart, such drawing, such tasting, such magnificence in him!
Why all this tasting? That your bitter soul may become sweet. Why all this drawing? That you may join the company of saints.
You are repentant of your sins, you have the name of God on your lips; in that moment he draws you on, so that he may deliver you alive.
You are fearful at last of your wrongdoings, you seek desperately a way to salvation; in that instant why do you not see him by your side who is putting such fear into your heart?
If he has bound up your eyes, you are like a pebble in his hand; now he rolls you along like this, now he tosses you in the air.
Now he plants in your nature a passion for silver and gold and women; now he implants in your soul the light of the form of Mustafa.
On this side drawing towards the lovely ones, on that side drawing you to the unlovely; amid these whirlpools the ship can only pass through or founder.
Offer up so many prayers, weep so sorely in the night season, that the echo may reach your ears from the sphere of the seven heavens.

Rumi 13th Century AD

I will offer a better gloss on this poem later. For now, a few notes of clarification. Rumi is a mystic poet writing in the Sufi tradition in Islam. When he talks of the Beloved, he doesn't write of a boyfriend or girlfriend, as we might think of it now, but of Allah or God. I am interested in this poem because it looks at the inconstancy of man as causing suffering, but that suffering itself is redemptive.

Also, I will hopefully post the belated poem of the week this Thursday or Friday.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Poem of the Week 3/13/2007: Spring and All

Spring and All

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines-

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches-

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind-

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined-
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

William Carlos Williams 1923

Williams would always want us to read his poems as images only, but it is so difficult to not walk into them carrying some meaning! Perhaps it is not fair to say He Would Not want us to read anything into it. Rather, we might say that he doesn't want to write in a trace of ego. There ought to be no sense of authorial intent. I think that he looks to give us poems with the same kind of meaning that a photo has. So when we look at this poem, we are looking at Spring as such.

So enter landscape, enter the young and tender sprouts of Spring. It is a tenuous time Williams discuses; here, I get the sense that these are the three or four days before Spring arrives in full. The few days that this poem treats are the delicate ones stretching between Winter and Spring. These are the days of major change, of endings and beginnings. To come into the world is difficult, and the time of change is marked with vulnerability. I am not being that specific in this analysis, but I hope that you can infer the moments in the poem I am discussing.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Poem of the Week 3/5/2007: (all ignorance tobaggans into know)

all ignorance toboggans into know
and trudges up to ignorance again:
but winter's not forever,even snow
melts;and if spring should spoil the game,what then?

all history's a winter sport or three:
but were it five,i'd still insist that all
history is too small even for me;
for me and you,exceedingly too small.

Swoop(shrill collective myth)into thy grave
merely to toil the scale to shrillerness
per every madge and mabel dick and dave
--tomorrow is our permanent address

and there they'll scarcely find us (if they do,
we'll move away still further:into now

ee cummings 1944

I just wondered if one reason that ee cummings uses such strange punctuation is that he works to escape the norm--he looks to dive under language and play and play. This is how he can leap about within time and ignorance in this poem. What lighter and more fun images could there be save those of knowledge tobagganing between ignorance and wisdom? Nietzsch writes of this, that truth comes out of error, but nowhere is it so gracefully and easily apparent than right here. It is a gentler way of putting the idea that sometimes we are wrong, and that our knowledge climbs slowly, with many slips and turns.

Our ability for freedom also slips and turns, working to shake the fetters of What Has Been (presumably, since this is written during WWII, guilt, terror, and darkness. ee cummings was also a prisoner of war for a long time, and so there is good reason that he would want to avoid the terrors of war, to sink beneath them in joyous, leaping language). This is not to say that he looks to escape history, but rather that he does not want to chain himself to it. He looks to the future, looks even to where he is right now-- the idea is simple, relinquish the past, and don't let them worry you about your future. cummings' version of this idea, I think, has more to do with carelessness than it does with really sinking into the present, but even that ability to relax, to be what you are and where you are, that's something. Not nothing, anyway.