Years ago I heard a poet answer the question, “How does one make a poem?” with, “Grab a word and pull on it.” I loved that answer because though a fledgling with poetry I knew that poetry involved a friction, a tension, a tearing of the soul. Or, in the words of T. S. Eliot,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.
T. S. Eliot – “Burnt Norton” (1935)
This cacophony of sense experience is something that most of us never experience, self included, for though I love poetry I lack the humility required for the poetry gods to speak through me. But a poet can “wrestle with the gods” in the depths of his/her heart and manage to wrap words around this subjective turmoil, a process captured so beautifully by the following words from Archibald MacLeish.
Bewildered with the broken tongue
of wakened angels in our sleep
then lost the music that was sung
and lost the light time cannot keep!
There is a moment when we lie
Bewildered, wakened out of sleep,
when light and sound and all reply:
that moment time must tame and keep.
That moment like a flight of birds
flung from the branches where they sleep,
the poet with a beat of words
flings into time for time to keep.
I know several poets who are very talented and one who has the unique ability of being able to, “with a beat of words fling into time” a powerful subjective experience. Her work is very similar to that of William Wordsworth described in the NYRB article that I posted here in the past couple of days.
But my main point here is to provide a marvelous link to show this linguistic process in action with the comedic brilliance of Trevor Noah in a stand-up routine several years ago. His point is humor, and the humor is outstanding, but note how he plays with words and demonstrates how fluid they actually are though most of us spend our lives in the rigidly structured banality of everyday language. (You might have to copy and paste into your browser; go to 5:29 mark)