19 April 2012

The Poet's Moment

Poets, in many ways, are trained to believe in impermanence, that all beauty fades, that all living things die, that love, in all its splendor, decays.

And so we write poems and odes to the impermanent, in an attempt to memorialize them, in order to make the impermanent seem less permanent. For if Shelley hadn't written about those two vast trunkless legs of stone, who would remember Ozymandias and his crumbled ruins?

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".
--Percy Bysshe Shelley

The monuments we build out of stone or glass or metal seem permanent, but they are hard to copy. They are one of a kind. If they are destroyed, they never return to their former glory. But I can make copy after copy of a poem and distribute them to people I know, I can post it on the web, I can recite it during those silences in a conversation.

And you might recieve that poem, might take a few minutes to read or listen to it. Maybe a few more to try to let it move you or help you connect it with something that matters in your life.

And it might be a lovely moment in your life. Or maybe you'll discredit it. That happens a lot too and although we poets complain about it, we do it too. We're human. Only so much can touch a human being and sometimes poems don't do for one person, what they do for others. You build a relationship with a  poem, like you do with a person. You have some you go back to time and time again in times of need. You have some you hate and those you love dearly. You have a favorite poem and you may even have one you don't read often enough but when you do it takes you back to another time and place.

And the moment when you realize you're thinking about people you know now instead of the poems I'm describing is the moment when you see the impermanance we poets see.

I've been struggling with my marriage lately and with my father's passing and the two events, though unrelated are affecting each other and I've just recently learned just how so.

People keep throwing the word "happy" at me, as in "Only you can make yourself happy." Or "I wanna make you happy." Or "You have to decide what's going to make you happy." Why is happy, a temporary emotion treated as if it were a permanent thing in our lives, as if it were a state of being or a goal. It is simply one of many emotions that are as impermanent as every other emotion.

Except fear.

Fear is, if not permanent, persistent. It takes hold within us. It abides within us and so I think what we mean by "being happy" in the permanent state, is really living without fear.


I'm not very good at planning for the future because Robert Frost taught me that way leads onto way and I shouldn't expect to go back and that the road not taken versus the road less traveled by makes all the difference. So a future is about as impermanent as anything can get. Nothing is set in stone, or better, verse.

So I strive to live in the moment. The poet's moment, the moment of awakening into the future, the moment where the thing being remembered ceases and the memorial begins. That moment of becoming something else, that moment where love becomes sensual touch becomes love again. That moment of stretching far and away.

1 comment:

  1. What strikes me about this post was the irony of "Ozymandias". It's a great testament to the world's impermanence, though Horace Smith now has a dubious place of honor on Wikipedia.

    I found this blog because a friend of mine requested "happy" poetry, and I thought Dalton's "Like You" seemed innocuous enough. Also, this friend had rejected Salvatore Quasimodo's "No Night So Clear Ever Vanquished You."

    "Then God was fear of a closed room...
    And my throwing myself on the ground,
    my crying the name out loud in the silence
    was sweetness of feeling myself alive" (6;10-12).

    This has now been a very advantageous blog finding and a very long comment. Thank you for blogging about poetry, and have a wonderful day.