Category Archives: Marettimo


Novels & essays serve but will not last.
One clear stanza can take more weight
Than a whole wagon of elaborate prose.
Czeslaw Milosz

As I stand at the threshfold of a new millennium, I stand reassured that in a thousand years from hence poetry shall thrive still, for wherever there is human existence there dwells, as always, the sovereign art of Poetry. She -for surely the poetic spirit is of the fairer sex – exists from age to age in perpetuam; the verve of life & the ebullience of every age. As man invented boats to cross the oceans of the world, he invented poetry to cross the waters of the soul. Her vessel is metaphysical with William Hazlitt praising her omniscient abilities;

She cannot be constrained by mastery, she has the range of the universe, she traverses the empyrean, & looks down on nature from a higher sphere.

But what exactly is poetry? Observe the secret ingredient which raises the ordinary to a higher station. Let us take a football… on its own not a very poetic object. But, when slam’d into the back of the net in the last minute of a World Cup Final… that ball has become infused with poetry. Poetry is everywhere. She can be found in actions, events, emotions, thoughts, places. She can be found in the hills & lanes of nature; from a flight of dragonflies dancing cross your path to the ruins beneath smoking Vesuvius; She can be found in the gardens at Giverny to Scott’s last, frostbitten entry in his snow-sprinkled diary. Wherever she abides, poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, shedding elysian light upon the secret chambers of the brain, & grants an expression to many unsaid things. Thro’ the blossom, fragrance & golden cadence of her elegant wordsmiths, Humanity is taught best how to articulate the particular rhythms & diction of each birthright, the language of our mother & of our native land. Poetry is the natural arbiter of speech, whose champions have enriched, refined & deepened the way we talk to each other, preserving all our twanging dialects within her numerous folds.

She is music, philosophy, painting, mathematics, language, science, geography… & at the same time a mystery on the fringes of Human reason. She is an inspiration for art… without the German epic poem, The Neibelungen, Wagner would not have perceived the grandeur of his majestic operatic cycle. Even then, without the poetry of his libretto, could he have ever put words into the mouth of Seigfried. ‘Genuine poetry,’ said T.S. Eliot, ‘can communicate before it is understood.’ It is was when, as a young man, as I was sitting in the magnificent opera house in Vienna, listening to Parsifal sung in an unfamiliar tongue, that I for the first time truly sens’d the power of my art. The poetry of a foreign language is still poetry, when true meaning is less understood & more felt in the soul.

The breadbasket of Poetry is the creative imagination; a superb palatial hall, resplendent in the mind, where reside, ‘the best & happiest moments of the happiest & best minds,’ where experiencing poetry should, ‘strike the reader as a wording of their own highest thoughts.’ She is a glue which binds together many differing things, some vast repository of truth at once at the center & at the circumference of human existence, commingling together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society,

Like a tangible & grandiose mirror she reflects ages past, a living fossil which stores multiple zeitgeists within her sculptur’d pages. Who remembers the Merovingian kingdoms of the Franks? They had little culture to speak of & this great empire has slid into the shadows of posterity. Oppositewise, the ballads of Iolo Goch, Owen Glendower’s partisan poet, both contributed to & archived the Welsh rebellion against British rule, a body of work which has subsequently raised that prince to the mantle of international hero.

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One of her highest achievements of is to paint a sequence of images in the malleable mind, a narrative of the imagination, connecting the receiver one-by-one to a variety of human emotions, inviting us to create mental pictures to the words supplied – in short, a cinema of the mind. In the twelfth century, an Arabian poet called Averroës stated that poetry’s function is takhyil, the invoking of wonder-arousing images in the listener’s imagination. Sidney summ’d up this chief function when he proffer’d that, ‘poetry has the power to reproduce an ideal golden world!’ To assist the receiver, these images are wrapp’d up in the inate music latent within words, whose hypnotic rhythms lull the listener into an open state of mind. This is known as the CHAUNT, & from the sonneteer reading a sonnet to his beloved by a stream, or the mass Mushaira readings of Pakistan, a recital is Poetry in its most natural state. Witness the unique & magnetic tone of the reciter altering their voice in the same manner as when we change ours to speak to elderly ladies, students, babies or dogs. Recitation casts a spell over the audience, the soul-vibrations of the reciter lending their own faculties to the original text as their voice rises, ‘like a steam of rich, distill’d perfumes.’ The listener exists, for a time, in the dilated sphere of the poet’s intellect, listening to the words & music in a mystical meeting of souls.

There is a problem, & probably one of only fallow, but in this modern age of digital television & playstations, where everything is done for the imagination, the glory of Poetry, this majestic phantom of the human mind, has fallen into much neglect. The Entelechial nature of poetry as a teacher of truth is easily realised these days by drama & tragedy in film, television & book form. Bereft of its originial purpose, Poetry has rather become like a rudderless raft set loose on the seas of Humanity, with no real purpose of being. To address this sad matterstance must become the chief pursuit of the poets.


The poet must have an ear of a wild Arab listening in the silent desert, the eye of a North American Indian tracing the footsteps of an enemy upon the leaves that strew the forest & the touch of a blind man feeling the face of a darling child

What of these champions of poetry, the poets themselves, or in Shelley’s words those, ‘ministers of a benificient power seated on the throne of their own souls.’ To sucherrant knights (&, of course, knightesses) the spirit of Poetry is a burning fire inside the psyche, sometimes fierce, sometimes embers, but always, always there. Transmigrating mind-to-mind thro’ the means of metempsychosis, Poetry is a symbiotic & tutelary spirit which latches itself onto the soul & mind of a poet; when, as Wordsworth said with perfection, these especial individuals ‘cannot chuse but feel.’ Imagine a tree reflected in a river… we can all see the image shimmering on the surface, but the poet possesses an innate ability to reach into the water, pluck out a leaf & place it on a page. The elaborate & noble diction adopted by the poets to portray their inspirations effects a certain uniform & harmonious recurrence of sound that is at once recognized only as poetry. ‘I wanted not only height of fancy,’ said Dryden, ‘but dignity of words to set it off:’ as the poets write they instantly know what is worthy of immortality, what is half-born & better kept for later editorial, & what is mere dross to be discarded at once.

On completing their poems, the creators are propell’d to sing their discoveries to the world, a driving spirit describ’d by Shelley as the, ‘essential attribute of poetry, the power of awakening in others sensations like those which animate my own bosom.’ Alas, as Don Marquis states with saccharine accuracy, ‘publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose-petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.’ Some of these petals are whipp’d back over the poets’ heads on a wafting breeze, to enter the clouds of fame, waiting for those stressless moments whenever denizens of the world feel at enough to lie on their backs & gaze in wonder at the skies. These heaven-set works belong to all time, whose immortality was expertly reflected by the Roman poet, Horace, when he declared;

I have completed a monument, more lasting than bronze & loftier than the majestic plan for the pyramids

According to Indian poetics, the principle cause of poetood is Pratibha, or genius, a certain gift received at birth. ‘I have discovered I am a poet, it is not my fault at all,’ said the vernal Rimbaud, as to be a poet is not a vocation, but a life. With the human accession to Poethood, there first comes a feeling of stupendous affinity to the art, a moment of high epiphany, when the young & fertile mind is, as Alexander Pope reports, ‘fired at first sight with what the muse imparts!’ The British poet CS Lewis recorded such a poetical awakening in his poem Dymer;

For nineteen years they worked upon his soul
Refining, chipping, moulding & adorning
Then came the moment that outdid the whole
The ripple of rude life without a warning!

In his Prelude, William Wordsworth excellently describes the earliest energies of Poethood when he ‘wantoned in wild poesy… with fancy on the stir from day to day & all my young affection out of doors.’ Other poets have remarked on the sensations of falling in love with poetry.

I am seventeen. The hopeful, dreamy age, as they say – & I have begun, a child touch’d by the muse, to express my beliefs, my hopes, my feelings, all those things proper to poets – this I call Spring Rimbaud

In this poor body, composed of one hundred bones and nine openings, is something called spirit, a flimsy curtain swept this way and that by the slightest breeze. It is spirit, such as it is, which led me to poetry, at first little more than a pastime, then the full business of my life Basho

‘The first study for a man who wants to be poet,’ declared Rimbaud, ‘is the knowledge of himself, complete… as soon as he knows it he must cultivate it.’ A poet must daily attend the University of Life in order to generate enough varied experiences to fill the memory banks, creating a stock of images to draw upon when their rhyming manua is aroused. Longinus connects poetry directly to the life of the poet, laying down the principle that nothing short of sublime living yields sublime poetry. A larger portion of the poet’s task is directed to the assimilation of poetic experience, the accumulation of which inevitably increases the poetical ability. To define the true poetic experience one must perceive it as a moment of exultation, the drawing together of electrical aspects of existence in an epiphany of feeling. How was Spenser as he laid the scrolls of the Faerie Queene at the feet of Queen Elizabeth… how was Keats as he wrote a sonnet at the summit of Ben Nevis… how was Owen as he composed to the roar of the Kaiser’s shellfire… how was Byron as he swam the tantalising waters of the Hellespont betwixt Asia & Europe… how was Wordsworth as he took a first walk beside Rydal Water with his sister Dorothy… how was Dante as wrote Abandon hope all ye who enter here a moment before entering the cantos of his Inferno. These moments, & the effect they have on a poet, have been perfectly summarized by Shelley, who declared;

I have been familiar from boyhood with mountains & lakes & the sea, & the solitude of forests: Danger, which sports upon the brink of the precipices, has been my playmate. I have trodden the glaciers of the Alps, & lived under the eye of Mont Blanc. I have been a wanderer among distant fields. I have sail’d down mighty rivers & seen the sun rise & set, & the stars come forth, whilst I have sail’d night & day down a rapid stream among mountains. I have seen populous cities, & watched the passions which rise & spread, & sink & change, amongst assembled multitudes of men. I have seen the theatre of the more visible ravages of tyranny & war; cities & villages reduced to scattered groups of black & roofless houses, & the naked inhabitants sitting famished upon their desolated thresholds. I have conversed with living men of genius

The majestic spirit of Poetry contains a spark of divine fire, & when placed upon a page inwoven into a line of true poetry, the fire should glimmer before the eye, & upon intonation enrapture the mind. This is a proces known as analeptic mimesis, & the poet should be able to recognize these moments which drive an art. Thus, when following a course of study in which these scattered divine moments are identified, appreciated & subsequently absorbed; the divine spark shall settle in the poets themselves.

The three pillars upon which the poet must stand are literature, travel & love. ‘I believe that every English poet should read the English classics,’ said Robert Graves, ‘master the rules of grammar before he attempts to bend or break them, travel abroad, experience the horrors of sordid passion, and – if he is lucky enough – know the love of an honest woman.’ As for a poet’s technique, the poetic theories of India lays distinct emphasis on scholastic Vyutpatthi (training) and Abhyaasa (steadfast practice) to fortify and regulate the gift of genius. The poet must be both industrious & a master of technique, for only a natural spirit backed up by artful skill, exploration of new methods & learning of the solid type may produce a work to treasure for its, as Mary Shelley noted, ‘complete enginery of a poet.’
What is to be insisted upon,’ stated TS Elliot ‘is that the poet must develop or procure the consciousness of the past & that he should continue to develop this consciousness throughout his career.’ Each poet is an inheritor of a great tradition, & also it’s interpretor. It seems as if an engraved baton is pass’d down from poet to poet, with each new acolyte making their own individual notches in the wood. Of such a process Elliot has given us an excellent description of the Poetic Tradition;

Tradition… cannot be inherited, & if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; & the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer & within it the whole of the literature of his own country had a simultaneous existence & composes a simultaneous order

What happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art that proceeded it. The existing monuments are an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for the order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered

This sense of the past constitutes the living fibre of all proper poetry, a light of direction with which ‘poets of genius,’ as Voltaire so prosaically stated, ‘make a completely new path thro’ Parnassus that never existed before, into a region where no man has yet trodden, & there seeks out & explores the unknown.’ Eventually, the new poet will find an untouched spot beside the streams of Parnassus & begin to brew their mead. ‘You must,’ wrtote the German poet Rilke ‘require a great deal of talent & maturity before contributing something of your own.’ Adding the ambrosia of their personal inspirations & the herbs of their own artistry, the new poets produce a new & unique manna, when they become, in Shelley’s words, ‘a portion of the loveliness which they make more lovely!’

If you feel yourself a poet, when composing you should find or invent forms you feel most comfortable with, thro’ which you may continue your personal conversation with the muse. You will see in these future works of art your own precious & appropriate inheritance, a piece of your spirit which speaks with your own voice, & for the lucky few a voice that can speak down the ages. Most will find it difficult to be married to one’s muse for a lifetime, & there shall inevitably come a time when, following a gradual estrangement & diminishing of power, the muse abandons the poet. Sir Walter Scott captur’d perfectly the sensation of losing inspiration with;

Receding now the dying numbers ring
Fainter & fainter down the rugged dell
& now the mountain breezes scarcely bring
A wandering witch-note of a distant spell
& now tis silent all

When Byron noted, ‘my task is done, my song hath ceas’d, my theme has died into an echo,’ we may observe how a poet’s life & words are connected intrinsically, that being a poet is akin to writing a poem itself. The first onrush of poetry in youth matches a poem’s initial burst of life. This is followed by the calm & mature thought of a poem’s polishing, which mirrors the mature poet happy in their creative work. Then, when the poem is finally set in stone, the reign of fancy over, it hovers like an epitaph above a dead poet’s grave.

Eventually a poet’s work shall be concluded, thro’ retirement or death, or as Robert Graves opined, ‘something dies in the poet. Perhaps he has compromised his poetic integrity by valuing some range of experience or other – literary, religious, philosophical, dramatic, political or social – above the poetic.’ It is now that the true Parnassian prize awaits; a slow-moving posthumous accession into the eternal pantheon by the mutual agreement of Futurity. Even Shakespeare was slow to permeate into society, for the court of posterity is measured in centuries & not years. But he knew he would be famous, he knew posterity would be kind to his creations, he could feel it, & wrote in a sonnet;

Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read;

As the poet becomes dust, words & memories, time sits in judgement upon their contributions to the art. As the years pass by, a poet’s posthumous fame solidifies until they earn their place in the Immortal Arena, upon the slopes of Parnassus, where are gather’d the pantheon of poets. In the mortal planes, a poet’s essence is contain’d in more than just the poetry they left behind. Minds & souls are reflected in their prefaces, letters, influences, life, libraries & those pencil-mark’d footnotes that litter the books therein, for poets comment upon their role even as they perform it.



Breathe-in experience,
Breathe-out poetry
Muriel Rukeyser

We have now come to the metaphysical energy that I shall from hereon in call POESIS, which is the true source of poetic inspiration? The world exists in an eternal state of flux, constantly generating this electrical charge that drives artistic inspiration. Our poets are the beacons which attract this poesis, which builds up until it is released & converted by certain laser beams which sear their serried thoughts onto the page. ‘The poet’s mind,’ said TS Elliot of the same process, ‘is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.’ Poesis is the force which acts both like a magnet to those ‘numberless feelings, phrases, images’ & their transporter into the poet’s psyche. In the natural spheres, poesis blankets poetic sites & scenes, such as bluebell woods & open plains in the early morning mist. We have on record a visionary account of seeing poesis, made by the 25-year old Protestant mystic, Jacob Boehme, in 1600.

Sitting one day in his room his eyes fell upon a burnished pewter dish, which reflected the sunshine with such marvellous splendor that he fell into an inward ecstasy, and it seemed to him as if he could now look into the principles and deepest foundations of things. He believed that it was only a fancy, and in order to banish it from his mind he went out upon the green. But here he remarked that he gazed into the very heart of things, the very herbs and grass, and that actual nature harmonized with what he had inwardly seen.

Poesis is the very same force which Lao-Tzu defined as the Tao, which flows, ‘through all things, inside & outside, & returns to the origin of all things.’ In the human spheres, poesis can be gained from society, the interaction of people such as deep friendships & intimacies, company & conversation. Within the poet himself, poesis bubbles forth from the ferment of his emotions; Passion, Grief, Lust, Dejection, Love, Anger & Joy can all move a poet. Where Rimbaud says ‘the poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious & rational disordering of all the senses – every form of love, or madness he searches himself, he consumes all the poisons in him & keeps only their quintessences,’ this quintessence is the poesis which he retains for future use. The constant barrage of stimulation that comes with travel is one of the greatest sources of poesis, as is a hearty diet of culture. Immersion in the arts leaves a lingering hint of poesis in the poet’s soul-pool. It is important for a poet to engage in culture; whenever Lord Byron would come to a new residence his first transaction would be the purchase of a box at the Opera House, for example. One should also study the richest sources of poesis; the old poems themselves, which ever contain a portion of the original poesis channeled by the poet of origin. The state of the poet’s inner self also has an important contribution; Stability, Confidence & Ambition can all stimulate their art. One of the most important, & perhaps the most essential sources of poesis stems from solitude. These moments of tranquil communion tap the poesis latent in a poet’s psychic store-rooms as they converse with both their soul & the art, whereby through deep & thoughtful musing they gain fresh insight & envision new projects.

There is a drawback. With all this poesis swimming about the psyche the poets have always been treated as ‘mad’ & this may be true – but it is a finer sort of madness, but if poesis is allowed to build up too much, & is not channeled out properly, the clogging may cause madness & perversions in the artist’s work. Many poets have had periods of madness, from asylum-bounden John Clare to the breakdowns of Sylvia Plaid. The American poet Jones Very, started writing a series of exceptionally & beautiful & mystical sonnets when he was locked up ‘safe’ in an asylum for a month. Likewise, the great work of the twentieth century, TS Elliot’s Wasteland, was composed in a sanitarium in Lausanne.

A poesis-pregnant poet often feels ready to write, but does not know what about. They will think of several topics, looking around them frantically until, like a child finally fitting a square peg into a square hole, something inspirational comes along, the poet’s psyche connects with a tangible subject & the poem may flow. It all begins with the poet’s drifting mind, as soft as blossom in Springtime, until from some divine perch the Pegasus of Poetry swoops down. Picture if you will a lightning flash, a grand epiphany that sparks off the creative process. This starting point, the inspiration-trigger known as the CATALYST, forms a bridge that links the outside world to the poet’s deep psyche in which pools of built-up poesis are stored. The poet is taken beyond the mortal coil… it is a visionary moment where an image, a word, a line, or even an entire poem is laid before the eyes. ‘We who are priests of Apollo,’ said John Dryden, ‘have not the inspiration when we please, but must wait til the god comes rushing on us, & invades us with a fury which we are not able to resist, which gives us double strength while his fire continues, & leaves us languishing & spent at his departure.’ The catalyst can be anything; the daffodils that lined Ullswater as Wordsworth walked by them are a prime example. The Nightingale Ode of John Keats contain a number of feelings which have nothing to do with the bird; it is as if her sweet warblings suddenly sparked of an onrush of sentiment that had been building up within him. An individual catalyst may provoke differing responses… for one poet a mound of earth could be perceived as a Faerie Barrow, which inspires a pastoral sonnet, while for another poet may see a Saxon burial ground & compose an elegy to fallen warriors. One of my favorite examples of the catalyst in action is the French poet, D’Aubigne, who conceived his great epic poem Les Tragiques whilst lying wounded by the road after an attempt on his life. Another instance can be identified in the life of Charlotte Bronte, who wrote little poetry, but when her sisters died in swift succession, these tragic events formed a catalyst for to write some beautiful poetry.

Once the poesis is beginning to flow, we enter the art’s kitchen, where the raw ingredients may be cooked up into something recognizably poetic. This brings us to the most mystical section of an art – the act known as composition. The vehicle for this process is the mind, or PSYCHE, made up of the creative imagination & its memory banks. To this is added REASON, which forms the balance & the bind between the two. When the Psyche is operating at a compositive level, it may be described as performing an act of CREATION, where in the poem’s world, the poet is omnipotent. Poets find the deepest pleasures during composition, for when the mind knits all together in this way, the poet has surely made a connection with the infinitismal.

Composition is an intuitive sensation, driven by the poet’s suspicions as to what is good; a sense of the chase where the poem’s ‘vision’ is a stag to be hunted down. The first poetical pre-requisite is an open mind, free from clutter & focus’d on the matter at hand. The French word for this openness was vertueux, & without this state of mind no poesis can be drawn into the psyche, nor chanelled outward onto the page. ‘If you think of consciousness as a lake,’ suggests Colin Wilson, ‘it becomes plain that if the lake freezes – or becomes thick & muddy – a stone thrown into it will have far less effect than when the water is clear. When you are tired, events hardly cause a ripple in your consciousness. You hear a piece of music that normally moves you, but nothing happens. The stone has plopped into an almost solid jelly, & it merely vibrates slightly. On the other hand, if I am wide awake & full of vitality, the same piece of music may cause something like a tidal wave in my lake, an overwhelming emotional experience.’ In a letter to the composer Tchaikovsky Mily Balakirev, ably described the magical way creation begins when the artist is verteux;

Inflame yourself with a plan. Then arm yourself with galoshes & a stick, set off for a walk along the boulevards, starting at the Nikitsky, inspire yourself with your plan – & I’m convinced that before you reach the Sretensky boulevard you’ll already have some theme or at least an episode

Entering the poetic trance can be compared to an eastern mantra, & it is while under this spell, akin to the reverie that shamans enter when drawing on their incantations, that the poets will produce the mystical manna which invigorates their words. The Islamic word baraka means ‘sudden divine rapture’ & represents the religious exstasi that many poets feel when entering the trance. The most genuine poetry has been written spontaneously & immediately in a state of baraka, with some poems often arriving fully blown in the poet’s mind, testament to the gigantic powers a poet can command when under the trance. This state of self-hypnosis, this nascent existence in the twilight of imagination, perches just on the vestibule of consciousness.

When poets enter the baraka they seem to be sleepwalking in a heighten’d sense of relaxed receptivity. As a powerful atmosphere envelops the spirit, a period of vivid & violent activity engages the mind. Here, a series of formless feelings & images – given the name MIMESIS by the ancyent Greeks – issue forth into the Psyche, ready to be worked into poetry by the poet. ‘Mimesis is innate in human beings from childhood,’ wrote Aristotle, ‘indeed we differ from other animals in being most given to mimesis & in making our first steps in learning through it – & pleasure in instances of mimesis is equally general. This we can see from the facts: we enjoy looking at the most exact portrayals of things we do not like to see in real life, the lowest animals, for instance, or corpses.’ It is upon such raw mimesi that the poets stamp their signature, coating them in raw poesis & sculpting wonderful words & phrases of great intensity & clarity. ‘The poet,’ mused Rimbaud, ‘must see to it that his inventions can be smelt, felt, heard,’ & as the word-constructs are flung by the psyche to the forefront of thought, their curious & peculiar syntax transcend the emotional force of even the most consider’d rhetoric. Here we may observe the conversion of raw poesis into vivacious living matter. Sometimes all the poesis will flow out at once, like milk from a broken bottle, but it is very rare that an entire poem contains true poesis, for the poetic faculty is by nature an evanescent mist that arrives unexpectedly & disappears just as quick. A poet of at least some mastery should be able to identify the patches of poesis within any given line of poetry, both by its inherent beauty & also that magical, spark-like trigger-glimmer which shoots through the psyche as one hears or reads the line.

‘Open yourself to the tao,’ taught Lao-Tzu, ’then trust your natural responses & everything falls into place.’ What is created is very much a mosaic, where the moments of pure inspiration are connected by artifice. ‘I have simply clothed my thoughts,’ said Shelley, ‘in what appeared to me the most obvious & appropriate language.’ Sometimes, however, the creation is still-born, something went awry in the womb, so to speak. No matter how much poesis is bubbling in both the poet’s soul-pool & psyche, no matter how inspiring the catalyst, if the poet is not properly ‘in the zone,’ so to speak, then nothing magical may happen. ‘If conditions aren’t right,’ poeticized Ed Northstrum, ‘the poem won’t come out, it will sit inside & stew & emerge a different beast.’

‘It is not the ‘greatness,’ the intensity, of the emotions, the components,’ wrote Eliot, ‘but the intensity of the artistic process, the pressure, so to speak, under which the fusion takes places, that counts.’ It is this quality which makes poetry so special, for it vastly reduces the chances of creating good poetry; so many factors must be in combination to both discover the matter of poetry, & then portray it in its most beautiful way. When composing poetry onself, one should always keep in mind & combine two brief but brilliant statements by famous poets; Coledridge’s, ‘the best words in the best order,’ with Elliot’s ‘use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something.’

When a poet is attempting the composition of something longer; just as the farmer learns how to cultivate the land year-in, year-out, the dedicated poet must learn how to harvest & sustain their stores of poesis. They must be able to enter Baraka at will, to maintain & sustain this state of conscious lucid dreaming over great periods of time, in order to complete their longer compositions, when, according to Oscar Wilde, ‘the energy of creation hurries him blindly to his goal.’ Then, when the poem is completed, they will be, as Rimbaud declared, ‘always filled with Number & Harmony, these poems will be made to endure.’



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

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


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

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


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


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.


Poetry, even that of the loftiest &, seemingly, the wildest odes, had a logic of its own, as ever as that of science; & more difficult, because more subtle, more complex, & dependant on more, & more fugitive causes

The scientific branch of poetry that is its Poetics has been studied & utilized by the poets since classical times. It may be defined as the technical actions the poet employs upon the mimesis which bubbles up from the psyche; the art’s nuts & bolts, if you will. Of the institutions, form is a major component, while verse is also higly ranked as rhyming falls easily on the ear & knits the memory together for future recital. These & other learned devices influence how the pure mimesis that arrives at the threshfold of the consciousness will finally appear on the page, there handled, as Ezra Pound said, ‘as a musician would expect to know harmony & counterpoint & all the minutiae of his craft.’ From abbreviation to macaronics, from metaphors to epic similes, from conceits to hypercataletics, from the Dyfalu to the Cyghanned of the Welsh bards, there are many spices that give a poem its taste & texture.

I do not have enough time or space here to create a guidebook to creating poetry. There are far too many of these type of books out there as it is. Among them is the ‘Poetic Craft & Principle’ of Robert Graves, in which one may read just about the best advice on poetics & poetical creation the budding poet may read;

An important rule of craftsmanship in English Verse is that a poet should never tell his readers how romantic, pathetic, awe-inspiring, tragic, mystic or wondrous a scene has been. He must describe the details himself in such powerful but restrain’d language (nouns & verbs always outnumbering the adjectives), that it will be the reader who catches his breath, looks up from the page & says: ‘How romantic, how pathetic, how awe-inspiring, how …

The essence Graves is capturing here, the stuff which takes ‘ordinary verse into the region of poetry,’ was described by the Roman author, Longinus, as Sublimity, describing it is

A kind of eminence or excellence of discourse. It is the source of distinction of the very greatests poets & prose writers & the means by which they have given eternal life to their own fame. For grandeur produces ecstasy rather than persuasion in the hearer; & the combination of wonder & astonishment always proves superior to the merely persuasive & pleasant. This is because persuasion is on the whole something we can control, whereas amazement & wonder exert invincible power & force

Me at the end of my travels.jpg

There has always been a metapsychotic side to poetics. Since the tribal shaman of the North American Plains regularly took peyote to help their spiritual celebrations, the elevation to the baraka has been assisted by narcotic stimulation. From a sip of the Pierian spring to the electric flush of an ecstasy tablet, taking drugs helps push back the barriers of the mortal mind & leads the poet to regions of his psyche hitherto unexplored. If strong of mind they can return from these journeys as though they had travelled abroad, a wiser man for a now wider understanding of the world. Many poets, including Yeats, were smokers of Hashish, but few have moved onto the heavier drugs… for poets prefer to live their lives rather than give it up. Opioids, however, have been the inspiration of poets for millennia. The most famous was Coleridge, whose dalliance with the drug at first inspired then destroyed his art. Taken as Laudanum, a readily available counter drug until recent years, it would soothe the poet & help conjure wildly poetic visions. The relaxing effect alcohol has on the personality is the first stimulant among the senates of the poets. From the Whiskey of Burns, thro’ the Brandy of Coleridge to the Absinthe of the Van Goch, these nectars have been the friend of many an artist & writer. But of all the stimulants, it is with Wine that the poet rests his chiefest favours. The mellowing effects of this fermented grape-juice have seeped into poetry over the ages, where monarchs would always present their poets with free wine, to help with their inspiration. Alcohol also has its downside, unfortunately, contributing to the early deaths of many poets, such as Rabbie Burns & Dylan Thomas. Elsewhere, the Chinese poet Li bai drown’d trying to capture his reflection in the Yangtzee river while rather the worse for wear, while Christopher Marlowe was stabbed in the eye during a drunken brawl.

Only a select & industrious reading of the canon, combined with a rigorous course of study, will enable the poets to sharpen their poetical abilities. Technique is clearly important, but this is no guarantee to writing true poetry. ‘The poet,’ commented Sri Aurobindo, ‘least of all artists needs to create with his eye fixed anxiously on the technichalities of his art. He has to possess it, no doubt, but in the heat of creation the intellectual sense of it becomes a subordinate action or a mere undertone in the mind.’ When composing for yourself, please try not to stray far from the Longinus’ maxim in which, ‘sublimity is an echo of a noble mind.’ One should keep one’s thoughts as free from turgidity, puerility, false emotion & frigidity as possible. Instead, approach emotion from a lofty height, engage with heart-felt feelings your subject, at all times rise from the swamps of common opinion & look at something in your own, rather fresh, way.

Epic Tradition: Homer to Dante

I think that the poet is master of his art who by means of skilful words alone stirs my soul, grieves it, soothes it, fills it with his imagined terrors, and like a magician places me now in Thebes, now in Athens

In his ‘Discourse de la Posie Dramatique,’ Denis Diderot observed that ‘poetry wants something enormous, barbarous, savage.’ It is only with epic poetry that such an ideal is realised. The Epic sits on a lofty pinnacle, observing every facet of humanity & encompassing every genera of poetic utterance, from the love lyric to the dramatic battle scene. If one was to put all the world’s epics on a bookcase… & they would only need a couple of small shelves… you would find so much human existance in so little a space. These are are the mountains that jut out of the clouds of time; the great peaks of literature, towering over the valleys & the lower hills where reside the lesser hillocks of poetry & prose.

The true epics are the literary representatives of a culture; here the lore, legends, & language of a people passes onto the page, when, as Tasso declared, ‘the theme of epic is best taken from history.’ The prehistory of epic poetry begins with the shamen of primeval peoples, those namers of things, who in some bizarre firelit ceremony I imagine to utter strange & new sounds, teaching the tribe to speak as they recanted their tribal tales. As humanity evolved into the higher cultures of the Bronze Age, so too these shamen, who had now taken on a more bardic role, the tribal spokesman & a living treasure trove who would memorise the annals & traditions of the people. As time strode further, & history got deeper, the tales these bards would sing became larger & more complex. They would be called upon to entertain a king & his court, often accompanying their words with music. ‘The Germans celebrate their gods in ancient songs,’ noted the Roman Tacitus in 98AD, ‘which are the only kinds of records & annals they possess.’ These celebrations were preserved in the memory banks of the poets, an oral tradition passed down from poet to poet over the ages, with each new reciter tapping into their poetical facilities & enhancing the action with fresh phrases & interesting embellishments of the plots.

It was from such repositaries of imagination & legend that epic poetry was born, & with one tribe in particular. The tradition flourish’d in the minds of the Greeks like no other race before, or perhaps even since, whose poets were determined to analyze man, the cosmos & our role in it throuhh the device of the epic. It is with the swift-flying poems of Homer that the Western mind finds its first expression, whose wine-dark words issued the language of the gods from his mortal-yet-immortal mouth. Homer has been translated into every Western language, the collossus of poetry. He was also the first to convert the oral stories of the Trojan War into written literature, enacting a process known as the ‘diaskeue,’ which would be repeated over the centuries; the Sumanguru of the Sudanese, the Finnish Kalewala, the Estonian Kalewipoeg, the Shah Nameh of Persia & the Niebelungen of Germany would all be created through this process.

Homer’s two masterpieces, the Iliad & the Odyssey, are the immeasurably influential standards to which all epic must be valued. With the ancient Greeks visiting India; it is with their traders, perhaps, or even Pythagoras on his own visit to India, those sultry lands that the Homeric tradition was transplanted in the Indian courts. One may surmise that is after certain Hindu princes were regaled with the heroic tayles of Troy, that the two great Hindu epics began to be created. Composed in the voluptuous Sanskrit language, the Ramayana & the Mahabarata echo the Odyssey & the Iliad. Just as Odysseus goes on many adventures in order to be reunited with his wife, so does Rama seacrh India for Sita, while a great battle ensues in both epics when the heroes eventually find their loved ones. The comparisons between the Iliad & the Mahabharata are clear; when massed battles & dynastic conflicts mingle with the machinations of the gods.


After the legions of Rome marched into Greece, closing the country within the folds of empire, the ancient culture of Plato et al. was absorbed into the Latin psyche. The poet Andronicus soon translated Homer’s Odyssey in order to teach his Latin-speaking children the wonders of the Muses. Greek models were used by the Romans to create a literature worthy of the greatest empire ever to grace the Earth. The plant of Latin literature would grow. The Romans produced many great poets, from Horace to Ovid, but the laurels of epic glory are reserved for one Roman poet in particular, Virgil. After learning Greek & studying Homer, indeed claiming possession by that ancient poet, he settled under the shadow of Vesuvius in the Bay of Naples & began his great poem, The Aenied. Drawing from the lost epic by Gnaeus Naevius for its content, the poem concerns the foundation of Rome, tracing the lineage back to the walls of Troy. The poem consists of twelve books; the first six mirroring the voyages of Odysseus & the last six echoing the military endavours of the Iliad. Containing a harvest store of mythology & legend, the Aenied was soon to become the ‘bible’ of Rome.

The next true epic poet was an Italian, Dante Alighieri. In an essay on epic poetry, Voltaire wrote, ‘after we have lifted up our eyes toward Virgil, and Homer, we need not look down on the other Roman Authors who have been stumbling in the same Carrier.’ Over a thousand years separates Dante from Virgil, with the Fall of the Roman Empire inbetween. During the fifth century AD, in Western Europe a thousand years of high culture became a distant memory as the Roman Empire dissolved & the Classical Age drew to a close. Much of its literature was lost, but the greatest classics were fanatically preserved from the barbarian flames, for as Sri Aurobindo remark’d, ‘the poetic mind of Greece & Rome has pervaded & largely shaped the whole artistic production of Europe,’

It is like a phoenix that the spirit of poetry would rise up from the ashes of the defeat of Rome. This all appears to be down to one man, Charlemagne, the first soul of the Holy Roman Empire. It is his gift of the golden coasts & verdant massifs of Provence to musicians & poets that gave modern poetry its true foundation. The wandering jongleurs would compose their poems in the Provencal tongue – Langue d’oc – using increasingly intricate forms, such as the Rondeau & Chant Royal, & almost from the beginning of the movement the epic tradition was reborn. The poems these troubadors sung at the great courtly feasts of Europe are known as the Chanson de Geste (songs of deeds), lyrico-epics concerning tayles of heroic action. The oldest extant epic in French is also the greatest of the era, the Song of Roland. The anonymous poet records Charlemagne’s defeat by the Moors at the Pass of Roncevaux & the subsequent slaying of Roland, the emporer’s son. The poem has been found across Europe, translated into many languages, it’s four thousand lines ressuscitating the complex plots, fiery clash of arms & stirrings of humanity in a way that would have made Homer proud. As the violin-twanging Jongleurs wander’d beyond the courts of Provence they took their poetry with them, reaching all the corners of Europa. It was in Sicily, half-way to the Arab world, that they would meet the stream of texts on poetics, & fuse into the Sicilian School. This was a body of high & like-minded poets, who served the brilliant court of King Frederick the second at Palermo. It was here that the sonnet was first invented & an innovative attitude steered the poet to original pastures of thought. These poets in turn would influence the Tuscan school of the thirteenth century, chief among whom was the poet Dante Alighieri. It was from his majestic poetry that the Italian language was born – to this day the legacy of his ‘sweet new style’ can be heard upon the tongues of all Italians. It is no surprise that Italy would become the mother of modern Western poetry, for as Neruda said she, ‘holds the voices of the ancient poets deep within her earth, where it is purest.’

Following political exile from Florence, Dante went to work on the first great religious epic. His three-part ‘Comedy’ (three centuries would pass before the ‘Divine’ was added), would take him from the gates of Hell, up the slopes of the mountain of Purgatory & into the halls of Heaven, where the beatific vision formed the climax. Guided upon his journey by Virgil & his muse, Beatrix, he excelled in his word-artistry & succeeded in capturing the sentiment of an age like only the epic poets could. He is the bridge thrown between the ancient & modern worlds, the true rediscoverer of the epic tradition & all its nuances. It would be the first of several such epics to grace the global bookshelf in the three quarters of a Millenium since Dante first wrote;

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here

Poetic Apostles

I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is prose; words in their best order; – poetry; the best words in the best order.

There is a tradition among budding poets that they look up to a forebear with a respect verging on hero-worship. In most cases the elder poet will be long dead, like Spenser’s Chaucer & Elliot’s Shelley, but from time to time a poet is lucky enough to meet their idol & engage in conversation with them. These moments contain a deep-seated poesis, either springing up from the bubbling soul of the young poet, & falling like rain from the wise spirit of the god-like elder. The younger poet is no longer grasping blindly at some spirit in the dark, but finds the passage is lit by the experience of his master. To highlight the experience, this essay shall concern itself with one such occasion, when the soldier Frank Xaver Kappus engaged in a series of letters with the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke.

The younger poet had the fortune to attend the same military school as Rilke, & upon discovering this circumstance felt compelled to send a letter containg some youthful musings & poetry to Paris, where Rilke was staying at the time. What followed was a series of ten letters, written by Rilke on his subsequent travels across Europe; posting them in France, Germany, Italy, Sweden &, of course, Paris. In effortless & beautiful prose, Rilke engraves a ‘life-blueprint’ for the younger poet to follow, & in doing so created something of a universal standard. ‘There is so much, dear Herr Kappus, going on in you just now,’ wrote Rilke, the stately voice of experience recognizing a kindred spirit who would now listen intently, for as Kappus himself wrote, ‘when one who is great & unique speaks to us, it is for lesser men to fall silent.’

As Rilke sent off the letters, it seemed as he was rewalking the path which he had taken himself many years previously – the path to poethood. When describing those early moments which sees the young poet wrangling with his heart, mind & soul over the decision to be a poet, Rilke mused, ‘imagine each individual destiny as a greater or lesser space, we shall see that few people come to know more than a corner of their own room…. Examine the origins of your own life; that is the source at which you will find out whether or not you are called on to be a maker…. There is no-one who can advise or who can aid you; no-one. There is only one way – You must go inside yourself! You must seek for whatever it is that obliges you to write. You must discover if its roots reach down to the very depths of your heart. You must confess to yourself wheteher you would truly die if writing were forbidden to you. This above all: ask yourself in the night, in your most silent hour – Must I write? If there is an affirmative reply, if you can simply & starkly answer ‘I must’ to that grave question, then you will need to construct your life to that necessity.’

To those young spirits determined upon a life of poetry, Rilke says, ‘you must accept this destiny & you must bear it, enduring both its burden & its greatness.’ When the choice is made, when the fires of poetry burn brightly within them, the new poet may at last turn their attention to writing. ‘You will require a great deal of talent & maturity of your own’ says Rilke, ‘before you can contribute anything of your own to a tradition that has, already, so many good & sometimes brilliant exemplars.’ He urged Kappus to, ‘depict your sorrows & your hopes, your ever-changing preoccupations; your faith in some kind of beauty; depict it all with quiet, humble, passionate sincerity & use the things all around you to express it: the images of your dreams, the objects you keep in your memory.’

‘To be an artist means that you cannot enumerate or calculate but must grow as the trees grow – letting the sap flow at its own pace, standing firm through the gales of spring, never fearing lest there should be no summer. For there will be summer. But only for those who stay as patient as if all eternity lay before them, expansive, steady, unperturbed…. If you keep close to nature, to all that is simple in nature, to the small things which scarcely anyone notices & which can for that reason invisibly lead to what is great, what is immeasurable, if you truly possess this love for lesser things & if, by serving them, you can quietly win the trust of things that seem humble – then everything will grow easier for you, more unified, somehow more reconciling, not necessarily in your mind, which may hesitate, amazed, but in your deepest awarness & watchfulness & understanding… stay patient with all that is unresolved in your own heart – try to love the very questions just as if they were locked up riooms or as if they were books in an utterly unkown language. You ought not yet to to be searching for answers, for you could not yet live them… do not watch yourself to closely… do not be over-hasty in drawing conclusions from your experience; simply let it happen to you… What matters is to live everything. For just now, live the questions. Maybe you will little by little, almost without noticing, one distant day live your way into the answers.’


Rilke said that to a poet, their daily life is a rich source of poesis, & hoped the young soldier would be, ‘poet enough to evoke its riches,’ & when ready they should, ‘possess inside you the potential to create images & forms.’ Rilke compared poetic creation with sexual procreation; ‘the impulse to create, to beget, to give form, counts for nothing without its powerful & lasting confirmation…. For the act of begetting is a kind of giving birth &, surely, man also gives birth to whatever things he creates out of his inner riches…. To give birth is everything. To allow each thing its own evolution, each impression & each grain of feeling buried in the self, in the darkness, unsayable, unknowable, & with infinite humility & patience to await the birth of a new illumination.’ These creations are the poems, which he said should be, ‘things in their own right,’ & ‘independant entities… works of art whose mysterious presences, whose lives, endure alongside our own perishable lives.’

Further elaborating on the extant necesseties of poethood, Rilke emphasised the powers of solitude, when ‘your solitariness shall be a quiet place, a homestead for you, however strange the circumstances that may surround you, & by its means you will always find your true path… Think of the world you carry inside yourslef & give those thoughts whatever name you please – but pay attention to what grows up within you & give it precedence over the things you are aware of all around you… what goes on deep within you is deserving of your love: it is upon that you must work, at whatever cost.’

Rilke also recommended the use of a good library, actually naming the books in his letters, but the sentiment intended can be utilised by any budding poet; ‘you should live for a while in these books & learn from them whatever seems to you worth learning. But first & foremost learn to love them. They will repay your love a thousand times over &, whatever paths your own life may take, I am certain that these books will remain among the most important threads in the fabric of your living, of all your happenings & of your joys & dissapointments.’ He also warned Kappus of the perils of literary criticism when he wrote, ‘endeavour to read as little aesthetic critiscism as possible. Things of this sort are either perceived opinions, opinions grown petrified & meaningless, insensitive & far-removed from anything alive; or else they are clever word-games in which one view may prevail today & the converse view tomorrow…. almost all critiscism is nearly-art – which injures & defames all tue art… You should always trust yourself & your own intuitions against that kind of analysis or argument or presentation.’

Toward the end of the series, which had continued sporadically over several years, I believe that Rilke sensed the poetic importance of this particular dialogue, in the same way that Shakepseare sensed his sonnets were destined for immortality; ‘whether my letters are truly of any asssitance to you – that is something I sometimes wonder…. let us wait & see what may come of them.’ I believe this was an open invitation for Kappus to make a record of their private conversation with an eye to future publication. This indeed happened in 1929, three years after Rilke died, which the world would come to know as Letters to a Young Poet. They contain many splendid insights which can only benefit the poets of the future when, upon realising they are a poet… ‘something unfamilar enters into us, something unknown: our senses, inhibited & shy, fall silent: everything within us shrinks back, there is silence, & at its centre this new thing, strange to us all, stands mutely there.’

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