The grammar of form branches into concepts of perfection: we say of an athlete, she has perfect form on the high beam. In describing lyrics we may spontaneously express ourselves in hyperbolic terms of perfection.
Then too, on the creative side, the process of composition has a transcendent diagonal that indirectly pushes the poet toward perfection, almost never acknowledged as such.
Perfection as a goal internal to composition shows its influence in the voice/voices as realized by the poem. The poet herself is implicated in this final sound both as auditor and musician.
In its embeddedness in culture and cultural values including hierarchies and proportions, the self of the poet is musical. In this the poet is representatively human. Indeed all flesh is musical and sustained by principles and powers we cannot reduce to thought.
Night, Sea, by Adam Zagajewski, Asymmetry Poems, Trans Clare Cavanagh. FSG 2018
Form emerges from confluences of image and thought. This small perfectly imperfect poem —- note the punctuation—- follows the sequence of realization. First, what’s out there. Then, our subjective interpretation of what’s out there. Then our search becomes reflexive—-‘it shines with reflective light.’ Aporia: our meditation grounded on the stony threshold between self and other. But this threshold creates a community of being. Together we wait for the sun’s return.
Where some find ‘the pathetic fallacy,’ others will accept their own partnership in the unfolding of the poem. Try reading Li Po and other seminal Chinese poets with the modernist thing about ‘the pathetic fallacy’—-impossible! The corrective model is shadowed in the classical concept ‘participation.’ Horace is full of such pathetic touches.
Note on punctuation: the flow of meditation in the between authorizes play with conventions which left to themselves disfigure meditative ‘spontaneity.’ The scare quotes are not agnostic or ironic: the arrival of the poem as an open whole depends on sources we cannot and should not control. On the contrary, the poem happens first in these depths. The poet’s punctuation releases the poem in its meditative flow.
This meditative pattern is attested in poetry from all ages and places. When Zagajewski lets it appear in its simplest form, he becomes a witness to form—-and we his readers likewise. So the image of our selves as orphans in the night with the sea models the experience of reading the poem.
Poetry is not the curation of the poet’s self nor a mode of self-transcendence. Poetry is the discovery of the self in otherness. Writing poems is a dodgy business. W.S.Graham:
Dammit these words are making faces
At me again. I hope the faces
They make at you have more love.
from “Implements in Their Places.”
Charles Tomlinson captures the humor and joy —- and self-deprecation—- of Horace’s image of himself as a between in Ode II20, final poem of book 2. “Biformis vates.” (Horace in English, Penguin Books, 1996, 294)