Love this poem, Ruth, especially the last four lines about trying to resurrect one's life. Beautiful and executed with a scalpel's precision.
Thanks a bunch, George. This came after reading the passage from Annie Dillard I posted in this morning's *small* and time spent trying to find the names of those grasses. I realized that I was maybe trying to "have the cocksure air of a squatter who has come to feel he owns the place" as she puts it. I appreciate your encouragement a lot.
it is an interesting twist to the question -- whether knowing the names of the grasses would explain, not the grasses in the meadow, but "the life in me" -- as if language turns the world into a mirror where we might see ourselves reflected (with accuracy or distortion) ... which language probably does, i think ...naming things is a laden and dangerous act (and it is, for good or ill, the first human action mentioned in genesis, as if having the names is a prerequisite for adam's work in the garden). on the one hand, i can see naming as an act of violent appropriation, laying out the world in lines that cross at the ego ... on the other hand, i can see naming "all the grasses / in this pasture" as an act of prayer-like attention that recognizes the diversity and dignity and value of each individual kind ...i read the poem as unfolding somewhere in between ... (and i like being there in the in-between with you :-).
I too like this reflective and searching poem. There's a lot here in a short space.I was also interested in James Owens' comment – though I veer much more towards 'prayer-like attention' than 'a laden and dangerous act' and 'violent appropriation'. Sure, names can be dangerous. Things, abstract and concrete, may be misnamed, misinterpreted; may be the wrong names. But it's an ongoing process and conversation: words can be changed, reinterpreted, argued over. And, conversely, can also be comfortingly correct, and 'set in stone'. Naming is a necessary and natural human activity. And a spiritual one (Rilke).I think there is the experience, and all the possible words and names for the experience, and both feed into and enhance each other.The mystical is by definition wordless; yet words are used by the mystics to communicate, even enrich in some way, the mystical experience.
robert:i think there is a paradox in naming and a danger, perhaps in all use of language -- which makes the paradox essential to human nature, since we are, fundamentally, creatures of language ... language makes it possible for us to relate to things in their particularity, while simultaneously and necessarily setting us at a distance from them ...perhaps we can imagine a sort of dignified, primordial act of naming that lifts its individual objects out of chaos and celebrates the uniqueness and haecceity of each beast and plant and stone (and it is a beautiful idea that i approach with reverence and longing...)but there is no primordial language (and probably never was). there is no language, only languages, and all languages exist at the polluted end of thousands of years of historical formation, and, from our end of those millennia, it is easy to find ourselves so deeply tangled in words, words, words that we remember no contact with the world they are supposed to be describing -- think of dictionary entries that never come to rest on the thing, but only point to other words, that point to other words, and so on ... it is easy to live inside a symbolic sphere that floats in its own air with never a step touching earth ... one of the things that poetry does (that ruth does! :-) is to fight against that abstracting force of language ... this is a paradox, too (but really the same paradox again): poetry works against the power of language to separate us from the things of the world ...... that's not quite what i meant by "violent appropriation," and i'm not sure it's relevant to what you were saying (and i don't disagree with you, by the way -- i long for rilke's sort of spiritual naming, i just think it's hard to get to ...), and we have strayed a distance from ruth's lovely, instigating poem ... but this is a fascinating topic that opens in many, hard-to-resist directions :-)(ruth, i hope you don't mind that i have gone on a bit ... at least a bit :-) ...).
I went off on a bit of a tangent here, Ruth – more freewheeling on James's comment than what your poem is actually saying!
Names are fine, watching a field unfold with time and space is splendid. I know the name of some things, but why not create some of your own.
I welcome the discussion, James and Robert! Stratoz is a scientist, Robert is a pilgrim walker who knows the names of the plants that grow along the path and is also a poet and essayist, James is a poet and translator of poems (and it seems also a linguist). George is also a pilgrim walker, an attorney, a photographer. There, I have just named the commenters on this page. What a mind-boggling limitation of who you each are! But they also point at who you are (like fingers at the moon).What are we getting at (yes, I agree with you!) if not the real tension of being human on this planet? I don't sense any discrepancy between thoughts written here. Maybe it's because I have my own "translation" of James and Robert that communicates to me who you are through the words I have read of yours for many months and years, and this translation of mine informs what you say here. It's like I've said before, there are things (mysteries, deep longings, connections, meanings, ecstasies) that can't be said, yet, hypocritically I go on typing. How could there be words for a broomy head of grass backlit by a rising sun? The delicious task is to translate (or paraphrase, at best) our experience onto the page (or photograph) so that someone else feels the sunrise, as if we are the backlit grass, at least that is what my task is. When I read Robert's essays with specific names (not abstract!) of flora, I feel connected to the earth, and to him. When James writes a poem, I feel connected with his spirit, and my own. When George displays a photograph of a heron, I am one with that animal, and with George. When Stratoz practices experiments with his students, he is looking at the wonder of life, and I am looking with him. These connections lift the divine in me to connect with the divine in you. Namaste! Maybe we are simply translating the divine so that we may each understand more of it than we could without each other.
i have been very excited and moved by the conversation here. in fact, i have found myself crying. these are exactly the essential questions to understanding existence and truth. i have just begun reading a pithy exploration, The Meaning of Life, by Terry Eagleton. he refers to many notable philosophers who have spent lifetimes exploring just what language is and its bearing on our experience, on our personal translations of experience, and therefore our understanding of existence. i can not add anything to the arguments which have so eloquently been laid out. i can only beg that we keep pushing through the veil toward the truth. the action itself, not the arrival, is of utmost importance. this pulse, right or wrong (and who is to determine this?), is our life.love)))
Erin, you were vibrantly alive in my mind in writing this poem (you are always here with me on the page) and in my response to the comments of George, James, Robert and Wayne. I am glad for this book you are reading and excited by it in turn. I had a conversation with my sister yesterday on our long drive down into Indiana about the Bible being a translation of the experience of God (not the innate word of God). It took me a decade to shed what had clung to me like the wrong skin since childhood. I believe there is divinity in the Bible, as there is in all Life, but the words and verses need not be worshipped as God itself (himself, herself .... pronouns, oh dear, can God be limited by pronouns?). The fact that wars can be fought over how God is interpreted is debilitating, but it reflects the importance of the essential questions in our spirits. We just have to keep straight what the essential questions are (and of course not kill the ones who disagree).I want to honor with prayer-like attention whatever is Life. Hugs to you.
"It's like I've said before, there are things (mysteries, deep longings, connections, meanings, ecstasies) that can't be said, yet, hypocritically I go on typing."If this is hypocrisy, give me more of it!We can but try, we feel compelled to try and express, to translate. And in doing so I think we are more human, ennobled, fulfilled, freed in some way. (Though often frustrated too...)
Yes, more of this hypocrisy, Robert! It will come, we can't hold it back. Yes it will ennoble, fulfill, free and frustrate us, and it will connect us across oceans and mountains in common enterprise.
I am so intrigued by your perception of language. We use it as a tool, but it can create a barricade to experience. We name things, but do we really know them?
Amanda, they are just windows, aren't they.
A wee poem with HUGE resonance for all, it does appear, dear sister!
All responses are welcome.