Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Indispensability of poetry

Poetry is an endlessly inspiring thing in my life. Poetry combines the joy of riddling with the play of language and metaphor with the rhythms and melodies of music. Poetry alchemically transforms the ordinary (and mostly unnoticeable) words and phrases of the everyday into the complex and specific meanings of our so, so variable experience – experience that is simultaneously joyful and sorrowful, mysterious and prosaic, emotional and spiritual, contradictory and logical and much, much more. Pablo Neruda never fails to break my heart (in the good way – the breaking that is the opening of our heart to our so beautiful and bittersweet world) and, in an essay called Childhood and Poetry, he writes of a boyhood encounter in which he exchanged, with a boy he never met, a pinecone for a toy sheep. He writes:

I have been a lucky man. To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvelous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses, that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.

That exchange brought home to me for the first time a precious idea: that all of humanity is somehow together. That experience came to me again much later; this time it stood out strikingly against a background of trouble and persecution.

It won't surprise you then that I attempted to give something resiny, earthlike, and fragrant in exchange for human brotherhood. Just as I once left the pinecone by the fence, I have since left my words on the door of so many people who were unknown to me, people in prison, or hunted, or alone.

That is the great lesson I learned in my childhood, in the backyard of a lonely house. Maybe it was nothing but a game two boys played who didn't know each other and wanted to pass to the other some good things of life. Yet maybe this small and mysterious exchange of gifts remained inside me also, deep and indestructible, giving my poetry light. (from Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems, Robert Bly, tr., Beacon Press, 1993)

No comments: