Poems

 

I have sought to enlist the harmony of metrical language, the ethereal combinations of the fancy, the rapid & subtle transitions of human passions, all those elements which essentially compose a poem
Shelley

To many people, including the poets themselves, Poetry is the mysterious force which guides their pen. Then how does the process work? What is the product of the matrimonial union between the poets & their art? These are known by the universal name of Poems, the literary legacies of a Poetic Trinity ruled by the formula;

Poet + Poesis = Poem

Just like the Law, the corpus of poetry is based on procedure & precedent. What poetical nuance once discover’d about the art by a daydreaming spirit, will one day be taken for granted by subsequent generations. The creative forces which furnishes the world with each new poem is a steadily evolving entity that can never be readily explained; she is like snake, always shedding skin that has grown old & tatty. Originality in poetry is difficult, for as Anne Bradstreet remark’d, ‘there is nothing that can be sayd or done, but either that or something like it hath been done and sayd before’. This lack of originality, however, is what binds poets to both to each other & to their tradition. As Rimbaud said, ‘the poet would define the amount of the unknown awakening in the universal soul in his own time,’ – i.e. recording the poesis of a particular zeitgesit for posterity, but it must be done in something of a fashion which indicates a poet lurks behind the words.

When the poet is verteux, even to the minutest extent, then they are ready ready to compose. Some poems may fly onto the page & some shall be wrestled, but in the final account they will be wonder’d at, for as Sri Aurobindo said, ‘all great poetic utterance is discovery.’ Imagine the creative process as ignean rock pouring from the volcano of the psyche. At first it is malleable as lava pours onto the page, & may be steered into shape by the poet. This ‘molten verse,’ as Alfred de Musset called the poetry of Racine, will slowly cool & sculpted until it is a finished article set in stone. The process reminds me of the statement by the Renaissance artists Michaelangelo, who said his sculptures were already immured in marble… & were slowly brought to light by chipping away the encasing marble.

Coleridge once opined that, ‘poets diffuse a tone & spirit of unity that blends & fuses; each into each, by that synthetic & magical power of the IMAGINATION.’ Picture the imagination as an eagle flying through the vast skies above the swampy subconscious, whose waters become a boiling ferment when a poet’s mind is on fire. The more powerful the eagle the better the prey as it swoops & snatches some ‘thing’ from the ooze, dripping in gunk, ready to be treated with mead. This is the metaphysical stimuli known as ‘mimesis;’ some vision, sound or emoti2015on, ready to be given a recognizable & conscious existance with words. In Arabian poetics & the poetics of classical Greece, there are the two notions of Takhyil & Phantasia. In essence this means painting pictures in the mind, & it is the poet’s manipulation of their mimesi which enables the painting of these mental tapestries.

Although all men possess the subconscious, it is only the poets who have command & control enough over their creative faculties to regularly fetch the mimesial substance from the mind to be converted into a living object. As Neruda reported, ‘words, sounds or images buzz past us like bees – they must be caught quickly & put in one’s pocket!’ Other poets have described the process in their verse;

The poet’s eye in a fine phrenzie rolling
doth glance from Heaven to Earth,
from Earth to Heaven,
& as imagination bodies forth
the form of things unknown,
the poets pen turns them to shapes
and gives to airy nothing a local habitation & a name

Shakespeare

A thousand fantasies
Begin to throng into my memory,
Of calling shapes, & beck’ning shadows dire,
And airy tongues that syllable men’s names
On sands & shores & desert wildernesses

Milton
The heightened awareness of life & sound
Twin focus of energies light & space,
Then a more refined moment gathers round,
Calms the cortex, with a deft touch of grace
All settles in that sweet, especial place,
And thoughts of poets turn to poetry

Damo

In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent: A thing is brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us, so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out & stood in the light, lashing his tail. That’s why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion, though it is an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel

Milosz

Victor Hugo once said, ‘poetry uses a language composed of special ingredients out of reach of normal education.’ Imagine if you will a cauldron. The imagination mixes the poesis by a ‘thinking’ act of invention, creating the poetic mead that shall be used during composition. To this ambrosial mead are added the herbs, representing the poet’s skill with the art. Further thinking-heat is added until the moment the mead is fully cooked, when it shall be strained & purified through the poet’s persona, that mask from which the personality is projected, or in other words the poets ‘voice.’ This cocktail blend of liquid inspiration is then used to coat the incoming mimesi, bringing them to a recognizable shape, & thus to life! The poets, as Rimbaud noted, must ‘see to it that their inventions can be smelt, felt, heard. If what they bring back from ‘down there’ {the psyche} has form, he brings forth form, if it is formless he brings forth formlessness {untreated mimesis}. A language has to be found for that matter, every word being an idea.’

The greatest influence on any poem are the the lives of the poets themselves; who bring trained experience, both technical & spiritual, to the act of composition. ‘Even the most ‘occasional’ poem,’ said Auden, ‘involves not only the occasion but the whole life experience of the poet, who themsleves cannot identify all the contributing elements.’ Every line & every word a poet writes depends upon their own particular & peculiar set of circumstances which brought them to the exact moment when they sat down to write. Extraneous influences also effect composition; the place of composition is important, for each setting conjures a unique atmosphere. Many poets enjoy the bracing air of the seaside, for example, while others prefer the prehistoric splendour of the mountains. When entering nature, a pleasurable warmth comes over poets… their pace slows & they begin to jabber with the trees. It is in such places that a poet works best, for humans inherit a quiet of mind from uncontaminated scenes. Movement through these places is also important, for such activity helps fan the poesis into around the poet’s psyche, like the breeze that feeds the fire. It is also an amazing quality of poetry that natural habitat can seep into a line, influencing the work. Neruda buried himself, ‘deep in nature’s woods, before a rock or a wave, far from the publishing houses, far from the printed page,’ where, ‘in whose ennobling stir,’ Lord Byron would ‘feel myself exalted.’ Write a poem in a daisy-peppered meadow in May & your lines shall be heady with the rejuvenative joys of Spring. Come late November, the line will burthen an increas’d feeling of melancholia.

Following the initial composition period – when treated poesis surges & gushes onto the page with unchecked abandon – the mind enters subconcious process of creative correction or improvement; to remove the unsightly & ungainly from the text, to correct & polish words according to one’s critical intelligence. This of poetry is known as Apollonian, an ornate tapestry composed by a conscious artist. In ancent times, Pindar proclaimed the superiority of natural inspiration, but Hellenistic poets would stress the importance of art. The answer lies atwain the two, for as Horace noted, the poet needs both abilities. The very best poems will mix the two sails; a yin & yang of guided spontaneity, combining sonorous aesthetics with deep inspirations. This should sufficiently provide a pleasant effect overall, & the greater the poet the harder it should to be to notice the seams between the pegasus & the alchemist, to distinguish calculated artifice from reflex inspiration. ‘True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,’ wrote Pope, ‘as those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.’ This editorial may take place immediately, as in the frantically revised worksheets of Dylan Thomas, or fifty years later as in the life-evolving Prelude of Wordsworth. One could even ask the question, is a poem ever truly finished?

Like a child that has been nursed from the world to adulthood, the poet is happy enough with the poem to present it to the world; the end product of the multiple strands of the art, the culmination of cultivation, the tips of icebergs & the flowers of plants. Poems are independent entities in their own right, a mysterious presence whose life endures long after our own perishable ones. They are minature caches of literature which store moments of high creativity within the confines of their form. As the ancient Greeks held spots of ground struck by lightning as sacred, building fences around them in the process, so do we hold the greatest poems of inspiration wonderful by fencing them off with acclaim & praise. Each new poet will find themselves one day stood at the yawning gates of the poetic corpus, searching for those lightning strikes of Pegasis hooves. ‘The poem is not a thing we see,’ mused Robert Penn Warren, ‘it is, rather, a light by which we may see – and what we see is life.’

When studying an individual poem, the best way is to walk thro’ the poet’s shoes & gather the mimesis analeptically, then reason why each word was chosen in order to bring an idea to life. Then apply the principle of Mathesis as designated by Aristotle, when the art-eater can identify ‘concidences’ in the work both within itself & at the larger bodies of art outside. Eventually the student poet will realise that a lot of writing may appear like poetry, but is actually far from it – they have learned to tell the difference. It is all rather akin to wandering the star systems of space, where the vast majority of rocky spheres are sterile & intemperate, but every now & again you may stumble across a fertile planet like our own.

Try not to listen to the voices of the ages too much, but decide instead for yourself; for as TS Elliot once admitted, ‘the less I knew about the poet, before I began to read, the better.’ By reading the erudite criticism of a poet before the actual works themselves, you will be entering the reading with preconceived attitudes, diminishing the pleasures of discovering the jewels for oneself. ‘It is better to be spurred to acquire scholarship because you enjoy the poetry,’ decreed Elliot, ‘than to suppose that you enjoy the poetry because you have acquired the scholarship.’ No-one is indespensible either. As the millennia progress, those poets who are considered valuable today may be forgotten in the entirity. It is up to each generation to decide.

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