Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Poet of Ordinary

In his Letters to a Young Poet Rainer Maria Rilke rejects any notion that a poet require an "eventful life" to write good poetry.
He writes,
If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place. And even if you were in some prison the walls of which let none of the sounds of the world come to your senses - would you not then still have your childhood, that precious kingly possession, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attention thither.

After reading this first letter of a collection of ten I turned to the other book I had with me, Marcel Proust's Swann's Way. The first 50 pages are an expansive and metaphysical/aesthetic account of his anxiety over being with his mother. Towards the end of this account he pours over a childhood experience of eating a piece of cake and tea.
He writes,
No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestions of its origin.

In an attempt to recapture this feeling he continues to eat and drink but realizes that the experience is only weakened and so concludes that,
It is plain that the object of my quest, the truth, lies not in the cup but in myself. The tea has called up in me, but does not itself understand, and can only repeat indefinitely, with a gradual loss of strength, the same testimony.

His reflection continues,
I put down my cup and examine my mind. It is for it to discover the truth. But how? What an abyss of uncertainty whenever the mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond its own borders; when it, the seeker, is at once the dark region through which it must go seeking, where all its equipment will avail nothing. Seek? More than that; create. It is face to face to with something which does not so far exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day.

Proust continues to trace his pursuit for a few more pages before accepting the loss of what he could not retrieve and return to the routine of the everyday at which point he receives the gift he was searching for, the memory triggered by the tea and cake.

I am beginning to recognize the real significance of poetry. There is reckless and abundant meaning in its care. You begin to suspect that every room that you enter whether physically or in mind drips with meaning and possibility and that all that can be known is there to enter into. As the quote in my header suggests,
There is another world, and it is the same as this one.

1 comment:

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Brings to mind two passages about memory and forgetting:

"Men go out and gaze in astonishment at high mountains, the huge waves of the sea, the broad reaches of rivers, the ocean that encircles the world, or the stars in their course. But they pay no attention to themselves . . . " (Augustine, Confessions, 10.8)

"Now men are planning to go to the moon. And the first to get there will plant his nation's flag on it, and that nation will say, It is mine. But another nation will dispute the claim and they will fight here on this earth for possession of that moon. And whoever goes there, what will he find? Nothing but himself. And if people go on to Venus they will still find nothing but themselves. Whether men soar to outer space or dive to the bottom of the deepest ocean they will find themselves as they are, unchanged, because they will not have forgotten themselves nor remembered to exercise the charity of forgiveness" (Meher Baba, Everything and the Nothing)