Sappho’s Energy: Poem as Pure Potential

“Love shook
my mind like a wind falling on oak-trees on a mountain.” Sappho, Fr. 47 (Andrew M Miller)

Sappho’s energy — enargeia or vivid presence— awakens in me wonder at poetry and more specifically the things we call poems. How do they connect with our deepest desire to see and know the truth of things?

A poem is quite literally and essentially a space for wording the between, a sort of nothing, to use the terminology of William Desmond. Sappho’s fragments expose the flow of words into the defined empty space of the poem that pre-exists the act of communication. Meters and syntactic conventions are only two of the many structures whose interplay makes the poem real to us. Her metaphors may be traditional but they are often startling in their power to create strong feelings in readers by engaging them through analogy. All that glorious mental life is sponsored by the pregnant silence of her meters and stanzas as potential communication between subjects, both the axis of words and grammars and the axis of poet and audience.

Jane Clarke’s Reserve

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From Jane Clarke The River Bloodaxe 2015

Jane Clarke’s reserve is the pit of her power. From the comparison of The Shannon to a draughthorse in harness, the poem quietly, effortlessly, unfolds its mystery. The imagery reaches a climax with ‘drops fall in unison,’ and many a poet would end things there. But the image isn’t everything. And here we are blessed with a kind of revelation of form as disciplined sequence. The poetry of what happens has become a cliche. Here what happens is seen as a process experienced by those willing to follow the ‘master’ or so wonderfully here the heron into the day. We lean into experience, we ‘catch’ as the rhythm takes over, we pull back in yielding to the momentum and glide, we release.
Isn’t that what poets — what poems— do? Isn’t that the ‘inner form’ of the poetry that happens with and for us? Isn’t that fulfillment of the promise of flow in the best sense?
It’s a really good poem that makes new and vital some of mankind’s most intimate intuitions.