Friday, November 23, 2007

Poem of the Week 11/15/2007: Pigeons at Dawn

Pigeons at Dawn

Extraordinary efforts are being made
To hide things from us, my friend.
Some stay up into the wee hours
To search their souls.
Others undress each other in darkened rooms.

The creaky old elevator
Took us down to the icy cellar first
To show us a mop and a bucket
Before it deigned to ascend again
With a sigh of exasperation.

Under the vast, early-dawn sky
The city lay silent before us.
Everything on hold:
Rooftops and water towers,
Clouds and wisps of white smoke.

We must be patient, we told ourselves,
See if the pigeons will coo now
For the one who comes to her window
To feed them angel cake,
All but invisible, but for her slender arm.

Charles Simic

I am hesitating to say what I think this poem means; Charles Simic (our current Poet Laurate) uses imagery so delicately and carefully... I don't want to do it violence. It has a secret, you know, and it's hard to strip that away. So before you read my comments, please read the poem again.

I think, ever so quietly, this poem's secret is our crystalline and awkward search for meaning. The beginning presents a secret--the much that is hidden. It also hands us searchers: the tortured soul up late at night, and the lovers tasting it on each others' skin. And yet there is a third kind of searcher, he who looks to the things in this world, the beautiful and silent times.

What are they looking for? What has been hidden for so long?

Simic brings us through this journey through the rest of the poem. Perhaps it is down a creaky elevator. The poet and his friend, before they reach the morning, must plumb the depths of the icy cellar; here, Simic invites the thought of the subconscious without committing to it.

Because after the depths, the heights: the poet and friend open up to the rooftops. In the morning, it is quiet and cold in this city which could be any city. And they wait in this somehow open and spare landscape for the detail for which they wait--the tiny gleam of secret, of meaning.

And so Simic brings us to the end, leaving an image of smoke and light, and the tiniest hint of meaning, of beauty. Are we to find meaning in the small things? What is the journey we must take to arrive there? What roads will a person take?

Am I being to heavy with this poem? It could be that Simic means this to be aesthetic commune with the world, and for the mop and bucket to be only a mop and a bucket. Were I a good literary critic, I might even say so, that Simic is stuck to images and wants us to stay there as well. But this is a beautiful thing: to have images and meaning together! Images and subconscious--Heidegger says that Plato was daring to call the only unseeable things eidos, Forms. That which is invisible is made visible, sometimes in poetry. Can I make this clearer? When Coleridge wrote his great poem "Kubla Khan," he says that he recieved it in a dream wherein "the words rose before him as things." The unseen becomes seen, the hidden revealed. So why not blend the two, let the poem be fully image and fully subconscious! Good night!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Poem of the Week 11/8/2007: The Titans

The Titans (Die Titanen)

It’s not yet
Time. They are still
Unbound. And the indifferent don’t care
About godly matters.
Let them puzzle it out
With the Oracle. Meanwhile, during the festivities,
I’ll take my ease thinking of the dead.
In the old days, many generals died
and lovely women and poets.
Today, it’s many men.
But I am alone.

and sailing on the ocean
The sweetly scented islands
Ask where they are.

For something of them remains
In writing and in myth.
God reveals so much.
For a long time the clouds
Have influenced what’s below
And the holy forest, fertile as a god,
Has sent down roots.
The world’s riches burn too intensely.
For we don’t have the song
That will shake our spirit free.
It would consume itself,
For the heavenly fire can never
Endure captivity.

Yet men enjoy
The banquet, and in celebration,
Their eyes are brightened by pearls
On a young woman’s neck.
Also games of war
and through
The garden paths
The memory of battle clatters;
The resonant weapons
Of heroic ancestors lie soothed
And still upon the breasts
Of children. But the bees hum
Around me, and where the plowman
Makes his furrows, birds
Sing against the light. Many give
Help to heaven. The poet
Sees them. It’s good to rely
On others. For no one can bear his life alone.

For when the busy day
Catches fire,
And heavenly dew glistens
On the chain
Leading lightning from sunrise
To its source, even mortals
Feel its grandeur.
That’s why they build houses
And the workshop is so busy
And ships sail against the currents
And men exchange greetings
Holding out their hands; it’s sensible
On earth, and not for nothing
Do we fix our eyes on the ground.

Yet you sense
A different way.
For proportion demands
That coarseness exist
For purity to be known.

But when the first cause
Reaches into the earth
To make it come to life,
People think the heavenly
Have come down to the dead
And the all-knowing has dawned
In a boundless emptiness.
It’s not for me to say
That the gods are growing weak
Just as they come into being.
But when
and it goes

As far as the part in father’s hair, so that

and the bird of heaven
Makes it known to him. Wonderful
in anger, that’s what matters.

Friedrich Holderlin
trans. Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover