A reflection on how the human capacity to dream under siege impacts the poet’s universe.
As every poet is aware, there are multiple hidden forms of reality which our discursive language seeks to keep apart. The attempt of poetry, on the other hand, is not only to discover the connection between these multiple hidden forms, but also to bring them within the fold of language. This is possible because a poet is basically not one person but, as Picasso said of himself: “a multitude”.
The poet’s universe is a densely populated universe. The space within his self is not an empty space, but an open space where all forms of reality, dream and imagination, come and go and often melt into the crucible of his self. In that sense, a poem becomes an active meditation, a meditation for the true nature of our being and becoming. Thoreau, the great thinker said that the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation. Poetry seeks to invest the self, our activity of living, with quietude and strip it of desperation so that the various aspects of reality emerge clearly and language finds the ability to bring their multiple aspects together into his imagination.
Unfortunately, in our times there is nothing more under siege than the human capacity to dream and imagine. It is the emotive journey of the imagination that delivers us from continuous corrosions of our essential humanity. Nietzsche made that remarkable statement that we use up so much of our true creativity in dreams that our waking life becomes so poor. Art seeks to restore dream and creativity to life. In each of us, there is a psychic subconscious world which we often refuse to acknowledge.
Literature holds up a mirror to that inner self and seeks to present that privileged image which the writer’s creative self wants to make everyman’s. It is a final act of achieving communitas. It is a desperate bid to hold on to the experiences etched on fleeting moments and to discover the power and glory of memory and imagination which inscribe an event or an emotion into eternity. It seeks to transform its dull ordinariness into a mystery and a miracle, so that the unique becomes the universal and the tiny, sharp icon of an individual emotion becomes the archetype for an age.
Our times has taught us a great annoyance towards mystery in any form, the mystery of all that exists, the mystery of our own existence. It has done so because one feels humble, even powerless, in the presence of mystery, while our age seeks to believe that we are all powerful, and now more so after the discovery of the ‘god particle’. It has taught us not to trust impulses that are non-rational. The poet, on the other hand, believes that mystery is not only what keeps the world going, but that it is at the heart of our being and it is the task of words to find symbols for it. Symbols for mystery, which happened not in ancient times but is happening today before our eyes. Even today little babies smile like angels and someone paints flowers with multiple hours.
Speaking of poetry and its transformational role, St. John Perse said: “It is action, it is passion, it is power, and always the innovation which extend borders. Love is its hearth-fire, insurrection its law; its place is everywhere, in anticipation.”
Unfortunately, mystery demands that we contemplate it and seek to resolve the conflict between illusion and reality and to make the dream visible with all the colours of man’s obsession, ambivalences, sacrifices, cravings, hopes and fantasies. Its subliminal message can liberate the power of love and communion that defeats death and annihilation. By closing the door on intimacy with our own inner being as also with the others around us, we can only condemn ourselves to loneliness and the torture of being surrounded by objects, as Roquentin finds in Santa’s novel. Before his final madness van Gogh painted that agonised picture of a group of prisoners going round and round in a circle. Outside there is life in abundance, a landscape washed in moonlight and all that they need do is only to open a gate and walk out. And yet they don’t do that. Life is the residence of the human spirit, and human dream and by refusing to open the liberating door of imagination it can be turned into a prison.
Search for the perfect word
Every sincere poet knows this is also his predicament and a sincere search leads on inevitably to the search for the purity of emotion and purity of language. A language than can partake of the dual purpose of reaching out to the core of one’s being and making possible, at the same time, a meeting ground with other selves. That could mean staking almost one’s whole life on a word, the realisation that you may need a whole life and may even many lives to perfect a word.
As we think of poetry’s destiny, I would like to quote a few lines from Greek poet Seferis: “I want nothing more than to speak simply,/to be granted that grace./Because we’ve loaded even our song with so much music that it’s slowly sinking/and we’ve decorated our art so much that its features have been eaten away by gold/and it’s time to say our few words because tomorrow our soul sets sail. ” An Old Man on River Bank Cairo (June 20, 1942)
Yes it is time, high time.
And another Greek poet Ritso said in inimitable words: “then it came about my friend that we learnt talking together, quietly and simply. We understood each other now and tomorrow I say we will be simpler still. We will find the words that carry the same weight in all hearts and the lips of all so that we may express what we feel and people will smile at us and say ‘Such poems we ourselves can make a hundred an hour.’ Good, we can say we wish it so because we do not sing to separate ourselves from the world, my friend, to unite it we sing.”
Before his final madness and death, the German poet Holderin asked that agonising question “why be a poet in such spiritless times”.
Yes, our times are spiritless and darkening but we can go ahead with the humble courage to sing, to write us with the world and not to separate from it.