We should invert our eyes and practice a sublime astronomy in the infinitude of our hearts, for which God was willing to die … If we see the Milky Way, it is because it actually exists in our souls.
—Léon Bloy, as quoted by Jorge Luis Borges in “The Mirror of Enigmas,” Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings (New Directions, 1964)
Poetry and prose, however different in language, overlapped, almost coincided, in content. But modern poetry, if it ‘says’ anything at all, if it aspires to ‘mean’ as well as to ‘be,’ says what prose could not say in any fashion. To read the old poetry involved learning a slightly different language; to read the new involves the unmaking of your mind, the abandonment of all the logical and narrative connections which you use in reading prose or in conversation. You must achieve a trance-like condition in which images, associations, and sounds operate without these. Thus the common ground between poetry and any other use of words is reduced almost to zero. In that way poetry is now more quintessentially poetical than ever before; ‘purer’ in the negative sense. It not only does (like all good poetry) what prose can’t do: it deliberately refrains from doing anything that prose can do.
—C. S. Lewis, from “Poetry,” in An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge University Press, 1961)
Ah, but verses are so paltry an achievement if they are written early in life. One should wait, and gather meaning and sweetness a whole life long, a long life if possible, and then, at the very end, one might perhaps be able to write ten good lines. For verses are not feelings, as people imagine—those one has early enough; they are experiences.
—Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (Penguin Classics, 2009)
There’s too much lime in the world and not enough gin.
The names are the first to go,
then the dates of births and deaths.
It’s as if everything moves on another,
esoteric level, here among the gravestones
where the elements collude so we don’t realize
how we succumb to forgetting. The milkweed unfolds
its damascened leaves and monarch caterpillars
devour them scrupulously, and out of this simple act
something marvelous is already happening,
the promise of a massive and silent migration.
Order is natural progression: a century from now
the sugar maples planted by the pioneers
will still be growing, too ancient to remember
everyone who’s seen them here. This once
was a church, where now two benches meet
in mute conviviality, and this a pound for stray sheep;
one village will be mowed over by another,
one more road will cut through the forest here.
A tractor roars to say the conquest is complete:
we tame the land until it accepts
our habits, our fear of need. When I hear these sounds,
says Stansik, age five, my heart flies from its place.
Just eight months in the country, he is learning
the landscape of language where there is no
fixed geography, and everything
still evokes another memory: cowdung is
smell of village, a pond is primal, rippling
with translucent newts. The stones
say little of these former lives, just that
they once were valiantly loved;
you can almost hear them calling the roll:
Thompson, Merritt, Thayer, each a perfect
solitude, a stilled comet. Stansik again:
Why are there no blacks in Massachusetts?
And: You are not black but gray. Pretty soon he’ll forget
his Russian, the language he is slowly
inventing, the man from whom his mother
had to run away. I wonder if he will remember
this summer, and how the heart feels
when it flies for no reason other than
—what was it? I didn’t know, I had never learned
the word for it, and to this day I walk
the unspeakable territories.
Eric Gamalinda, "When the Heart Flies from Its Place," from Zero Gravity (Alice James Books, 1999)
I am inside someonewho hates me. I lookout from his eyes. Smellwhat fouled tunes come into his breath. Love hiswretched women.Slits in the metal, for sun. Wheremy eyes sit turning, at the cool airthe glance of light, or hard fleshrubbed against me, a woman, a man,without shadow, or voice, or meaning.This is the enclosure (flesh,where innocence is a weapon. Anabstraction. Touch. (Not mine.Or yours, if you are the soul I hadand abandoned when I was blind and hadmy enemies carry me as a dead man(if he is beautiful, or pitied.It can be pain. (As now, as all hisflesh hurts me.) It can be that. Orpain. As when she ran from me intothat forest.Or pain, the mindsilver spiraled whirled against thesun, higher than even old men thoughtGod would be. Or pain. And the other. Theyes. (Inside his books, his fingers. Theyare withered yellow flowers and were neverbeautiful.) The yes. You will, lost soul, say‘beauty.’ Beauty, practiced, as the tree. Theslow river. A white sun in its wet sentences.Or, the cold men in their gale. Ecstasy. Fleshor soul. The yes. (Their robes blown. Their bowlsempty. They chant at my heels, not at yours.) Fleshor soul, as corrupt. Where the answer moves too quickly.Where the God is a self, after all.)Cold air blown through narrow blind eyes. Flesh,white hot metal. Glows as the day with its sun.It is a human love, I live inside. A bony skeletonyou recognize as words or simple feeling.But it has no feeling. As the metal, is hot, it is not,given to love.It burns the thinginside it. And that thingscreams.—Amiri Baraka, "As Agony. As Now." from The Dead Lecturer (Grove/Atlantic Inc., 1964)