Tuesday, December 10, 2013

feature poem of the week (reprint from defunct blog


Somewhere is the software to ID all
The snowflakes falling in this storm, but there
Ain't enough RAM crammed in my brain to call
Them forth by name, each crystal character
Putered and programmed, made to have a soul—
And even if I compelled the power
To inscribe them here as equals, in whole
Terms, I would not permit such an error.

But which is which, cries Ms. Ubiq-Unique.
We're not formatted for whiteout.  And when
The screen of your vision freezes in flurries
And the core of this word blizzard hurries
To melt again, to find itself again,
Won't mine be the sign these syllables seek?

Is it obvious that this is a debate?  Which the first speaker has already lost, historically— nobody believes anymore in this neoclassical esthetic—as Samuel Johnson summarized it:

"The business of a poet . . . is to examine, not the individual, but the species; to remark  
general properties and large appearances: he does not number the streaks of the tulip, or describe the different shades in the verdure of the forest."

Ms. Ubiq-Unique has won the argument long ago.  The individual, every one of us, must have his or her streaks enumerated and displayed in poem after poem, ravin'd till the end of rhyme—  

"Not the individual, but the species."  Those words make me think of the searing sections LIV, LV, LVI from Tennyson's In Memoriam:

"Oh yet we trust that something good," LIV begins, something good will come of our single singular lives, flawed as each of them are with "pangs of nature, sins of will, / Defects of doubt, and taints of blood."  And: "[N]ot one life shall be destroy'd, / Or cast as rubbish to the void, / When God hath made the pile complete."

"So runs my dream," Tennyson confesses: "but what am I? / An infant crying in the night: / An infant crying for the light: / And with no language but a cry."

Is it infantile for human beings to, as LV begins, "wish, that of the living whole / No life may fail beyond the grave"?  Nature, the poem continues, is "So careful of the type . . . / [and yet] So careless of the single life."  

Nature dumpsters us daily, which is why we "wish" that "beyond the grave" each of our unique souls will not "fail": our sole spirits will live on—

(Or as Kobayashi Issa phrased a variant similar lament in the haiku portion of a haibun about his young (child) daughter's death: The world of dew is, yes, a world of dew, but even so (Hiroaki Sato, trans.)  . . .
Another trans. has it: This world of dew / is a world of dew, / and yet . . . and yet . . . . )

at the start of LVI, Nature scoffs back at Tennyson's mourner:

'So careful of the type?'  But no:

From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, 'A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go.

Thou makest thine appeal to me:

I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit does but mean the breath:
I know no more.'  And he, shall he,

Man, her last work, who seem'd so fair,

Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll'd the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed

And love Creation's final law—
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed—

Who loved, who suffer'd countless ills,

Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal'd within the iron hills?

No more?  A monster then, a dream,
A discord.  Dragons of the prime,
That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music matched with him.

O life as futile, then, as frail!
O for thy voice to soothe and bless!
What hope of answer, or redress?
Behind the veil, behind the veil.

[Blogger isn't letting me indent the 2nd and 3rd lines of each of Tennyson's stanzas here!]

The veil is my snowstorm, if I can justifiably return to my poem above.  I (or my speaker) cannot see beyond that veil to view its parts each flake of which is unique unlike the billions of others that surround it, and therefore is worthy surely of distinction and recognition.  Oh yet we trust that not one life shall be destroy'd and that each spirit ("breath") will find its own azygous zone of salvation.  

But, y'know, if it doesn't get that shot in heaven, then maybe it could get it in a poem? 

But unfortunately a poem is a veil, and the fugitive-living face that would be immortalized in that poem remains featurelessly gauzy—

God won't save the "pile" of us, and even if there is a god (a poet) who someday has the software to perpetuate each planetary entity and every byte of its quintessential nonpareil DNA (assuming the androids cyborgs robots will care to have that happen up there in 2099),

"I would not permit such an error."

Why?  Because I'm Baudelaire, that's why.

No I am not Baudelaire, am an attendant bard, one that will do to swell the head of any mirror he looks into,

but as Michael Hamburger observes, p. 15-16 of his book, The Truth of Poetry (1982),

Baudelaire . . . was an allegorical poet, rather than a Symbolist, [and] most of his poetry conforms to Samuel Johnson's classical prescription that 'the business of a poet is to examine, not the individual, but the species, to remark general properties and large appearances; he does not number the streaks of the tulip, or describe the different shades in the verdure of the forest.  He is to exhibit in his portraits of nature such prominent and striking features, as recall the the original to every mind; and must neglect the minuter discriminations. . . .'

Another quote, which I jotted down from somewhere or other:

Walter Benjamin concluded that allegory “is in the realm of thought what ruins are in the realm of things.” 

This world of dew is a world of dew: the brief liquid of our life will inevitably evaporate, and even the planet itself will eventually be sumped up by its mortal sun.  Its ruin is no allegory, nor is ours: and yet . . . and yet . . .


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