John Burnside is a canny maker. He knows how to move from a familiar “quote” to a fabric of known unknowns (“we pray a spring will come / to comprehend it, all this juice and joy // informing a world …”.). The finesse of Burnside’s technique is no sophistry but cleaves to a narrative ‘inscribed’ in the consciousness of time-out-of-time (in saecula saeculorum)
Is this ‘lyric’ personal or self-consciously liturgical? Or both? However we handle such questions, the poem is a fine example of how language — a snatch like “juice and joy” which has its own felicitous shapeliness —- reaches beyond itself.
The roots of poetry are in the language. ‘The language’?
Well, that multidimensional object-medium that allows us a sense of ourselves and our world.
Language can be known in terms of being. William Desmond exhaustively defines four aspects: the univocal (the out there, rationally necessary), the equivocal (sense changing with context), the dialectical (the sense yielded by questions and answers), and the metaxological (the sense, fundamental to poetry, of the special open whole that draws on all the other senses and limits them by its sense of transcendence, of ongoing expanding relevance to what it is to be awake, mindful, in and through language).
Poems are true to ‘the language’ in varying degrees; so are poets; so are readers.
The tensions between the values of good prose and those of good verse are ESSENTIAL to poetry.
from Richard Bringhurst, Everywhere Being is Dancing. Pages 111-127, an essay exploring the early history of literary criticism.
This is from Pindar’s 7th Nemean Ode.