Tag Archives: Adrienne Rich

Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries!

WHAT ARE YEARS by Marianne Moore

What is our innocence,
what is our guilt? All are
naked, none is safe. And whence
is courage: the unanswered question,
the resolute doubt, —
dumbly calling, deafly listening—that
in misfortune, even death,
encourage others
and in its defeat, stirs
the soul to be strong? He
sees deep and is glad, who
accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
in its surrendering
finds its continuing.
So he who strongly feels,
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
This is mortality,
this is eternity.

I have referenced and explored this poem before in this venue, but I wish to delve deeply into the heart of the matter this time.  She dives into the meat of her message with “he who sees deep and is glad” to introduce the notion of furrowing into the marrow of life which, borrowing from the title of an Adrienne Rich poem I like to describe as, “Diving into the Wreck.”  For the “deep,” i.e. the “marrow” will always be murky, dark, wet, confusing, and frightening until we get accustomed to it.  But in so doing we are “acceding to mortality” which is to say we are becoming human which culture has offered us a myriad variety of ways to avoid.  But as we embrace our mortality, recognize that death is our ultimate fate…a veritable imprisonment…we can then rise “upon ourselves as the sea in a chasm, struggling to be free and unable to be, in its surrendering find our continuing.”

I have been to the ocean many times and the vivid image of the ocean crashing into those chasms, powerfully and noisily, and then surrendering into calm is so gripping.  And only in this catastrophe do the waves, in surrender, find their “continuing.”

This poem is a beautiful picture of the infinite energy that we are coming to grips with the world of finitude.  Our first impulse is to rail against the limits that we find, even death, but Moore had discovered that in accepting the circumstance of human life she found empowerment. And then there is the powerful observation, “They who feel strongly behave.”  I have seen so many who feel so very strongly that they cannot behave and succumb to a haphazard life which often includes addiction.  I know one young man, for example, who can give expression to his artistic skills only when confined to prison walls and is spending his early adulthood and soon-to-be middle ages in and out of prison.  When there he has found the answer to the famous movie line of Jim Carrey, “SOMEBODY stop me.”

“Satisfaction is a lowly thing.  How pure a thing is joy.”  Moore recognized the pyrrhic victory of immediate gratification.  C.S. Lewis described sin as, “Preference for immediate satisfaction over a ‘believed-in’ pattern of glory.”  The dilemma of modern life…so vividly illustrated in the United States currently…is an obsessive “preference for immediate satisfaction” over the interest of the long-term welfare of the country…and the species.

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Poetry is a Dive into the Heart

“O Lord, deliver me from the man of excellent intention and impure heart: for the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” T. S. Eliot brought to our attention the harm that is often brought into the world by people who think they are doing something noble.  In the Four Quartets, Eliot noted, “Oh the shame of motives late revealed, and the awareness of things ill done, and done to others harm, which once we took for exercise of virtue.”

Poets are so skilled at bringing our attention to matters of the heart.  This is because a poet speaks and writes from the heart, a murky realm that most of us escape by subscribing to “common sense reality.”  That is why so often poetry falls on deaf ears and is the reason that for the first thirty years of my life I had no ear for poetry at all, even having a disdain for it!  My ears were “deaf” to poetry and I now realize that it could have been said, I “had ears to hear but heard not” as well as “eyes to see but saw not.”

Poetry introduces one to the maelstrom of the unconscious and often brings uncomfortable insights to us, such as the one in the Eliot quote above.  It is much simpler to live on the surface of life. Poet Adrienne Rich entitled one of her books, “Diving into the Wreck” and I sometimes use that image to describe my headfirst plunge into poetry in the mid 1980’s.  When one spends three and half decades obsessively living in a linear world, sudden exposure to the subterranean depths of the human heart certainly felt like a “wreck” at times…and often does even now!

Here is another Eliot selection addressing the issue of disillusionment that life deals us if we dare to “Dive into the Wreck”:

And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.
-T.S. Eliot “Four Quartets”

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ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/literarylew.wordpress.com

Back in the “Flow” of Life!!!

This ends my longest hiatus from “literarylew” in the four years I’ve been offering this verbal “deed to oblivion.”  I’ve had technical problems with WP but the real “technical problems” are with the rusty technology of my heart which has spent 63 years hiding my “light under a bushel.”

For over a year now I have been immersed in the works of Carl Jung and have found it stimulating and deeply challenging.  Jung did not live on the surface of things and his writings lead one into a plunge into the subterranean depths of the unconscious, a plunge which is disconcerting to say the least.  On this note, I often think of the title of an Adrienne Rich book of poetry, “Diving into the Wreck” for any descent into the hoary depths of the heart is certainly like “diving into a wreck.”  T. S. Eliot described it as daring to “live in the breakage, in the collapse of what was believed in as most certain and therefore the fittest for renunciation.”

Jung wrote extensively about the Christian faith, my spiritual bailiwick, and his perspective emphasized the power of myth which, if one can lay aside the comfort of biblical literalism that I grew up in, can allow one of explore the rich layers of meaning in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  But this cannot be done without daring to see one’s own life as mythical, to realize that the narrative of our life is fictional in a sort, and that in this narrative there can be found a real “Presence” which is the essence of who we are.  Or, as Stanley Kunitz put it, “I have walked through many lives, some of them my own.  I am not the one I was, though some remnant of being remains from which I struggle not to stray.”

Jung and Kunitz grasped the dynamic nature of life, its eternal flux.  Life is not static, though our ego constantly demands that we cling to a static view and experience of life even if that view and experience is devastating to ourselves and to others.  When we begin to tippy-toe into the “flow” of life (i.e., the “Spirit of God”) we find the experience unnerving.

Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?

“Scare the world. be exactly what you say you are and tell the truth.” Someone posted this simple little admonishment on Facebook last week and it grabbed me, making me think of T. S. Eliot’s famous question, “Do I dare disturb the universe?” For, if I ever gain the courage to become authentic and act and speak out of that authenticity, I will “scare the world” and “disturb the universe.”

Now, the “world” and “universe” that I will startle will be very small for I am not a person of note; or, as I like to facetiously put it, I am merely a “small clod of cholesterol in the mainstream of life.” The first universe that I must disturb is the private one that I live in, that narrow prism through which I view the world which, if unexamined, is but a prison. And, if I can find the courage to experience the disturbance of “awareness” this cannot but have an impact on my thought, speech, behavior and consequently my little corner of the world.  (W. H. Auden noted, “O blessed be bleak Exposure on whose sword we are pricked into coming alive.”)

The key is awareness. The key is realizing that we “have eyes to see but see not” and “ears to hear but hear not” and if we ever understand that…in the depths of our heart, and do so with feeling, it will give us pause. For then we will understand that we will never be able to do anything but “see through a glass darkly.” And to see, and feel, this “darkly” dimension of our perspective field is very humbling and even frightening. It has been, and is, for me for I was taught that I could see things objectively.

Authenticity is a dangerous phenomena for the world as it mechanically, relentlessly grinds on day to day under the collective dictate of “the way things are.” The unexamined life is always driven by unquestioned assumptions which are merely those which we have imbibed from the little corner of the world in which we were born and have not dared to question. And as Adrienne Rich once noted, “We cannot begin to know who we are until we question the assumptions in which we are drenched.”

Poetic Thoughts re Intense Emotion Running Amok

In Hamlet, Laertes knows that his daughter is “palling around” with that wastrel Hamlet and cautions her, knowing something himself about masculine rapacity:

Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister,
And keep you in the rear of your affection,
Out of the shot and danger of desire.

Laertes did not want his daughter to give into emotions, but to “stand in the rear” like he did and keep her distance. For, he feared that letting go of that detachment would lead to overwhelming emotion and take her totally out of control, just as he feared it would do to him. Laertes was speaking of an “observing ego” which he knew monitors our impulses and keeps them from running amok.

For, Shakespeare knew that “feelings know no discretion but their own.” (W. H. Auden) When feelings predominate…and begin to tyrannize…they cannot submit to “monitoring” and insist on fulfillment of their own needs and desires. Adrienne Rich wrote of this immersion in emotion when she said, “when we enter touch, we enter touch completely.” And e e cummings agreed with Rich, noting that, “since feeling comes first, he who pays any attention to the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you.”

I suggest some balance is needed. (Yes, my “observing ego” is doing its magic today!) We need intense emotion, we need to be “carried away” with passion, but the “balancer” must not be discarded. When this “balancer” or “observing ego” is discarded, or lost due to neurological impairment, Shakespeare might note of us, “The expedition of his violent love outruns the pauser reason.” Or, to put it in my words, “expression of his passionate intensity outruns the pauser reason.”

 

Flat Earthers Live Today!

Plato observed, “Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed by the masses.” And I agree whole heartedly though I might qualify what he meant by “shadows and lies.” Most people take reality to be merely what it appears to be, they take it as it was and is presented to them, and never deign to look beneath the surface. And, yes, one well might call this “shadows and lies” for at times it is not innocent, especially to those who bear the weight of this collective deception.

Adrienne Rich said something relevant, “Until we see the assumptions in which we are drenched, we cannot begin to know our self.” These “assumptions” are powerful and they are palpable, but only to the discerning eye. Asking someone to see them is like asking a fish to see water. For example, can’t you imagine how difficult it was for those men and women centuries ago who dared to posit the notion that the earth was not flat? Everyone knew the world was flat!

We have our own version of Flat Earthers today.

And Leonardo da Vinci had a thought which is relevant:

O cities of the sea, I behold in you your citizens, women as well as men tightly bound with stout bonds around their arms and legs by folk who will not understand your language; and you will only be able to give vent to your griefs and sense of loss of liberty by making tearful complaints, and sighs, and lamentations one to another; for those who bind you will not understand your language nor will you understand them. Leonardo da Vinci, from “Of Children in Swaddling Clothes”.

 

Intense emotions and surrendering

E e Cummings said, “since feeling comes first, he who pays any attention to the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you.” Adrienne Rich noted, “When we enter touch, we enter touch completely.”
These two poets knew a lot about intense emotion, intense feeling. They knew a whole lot more about it than I do which is the reason they write poetry and I can’t manage to do it. The best I can do is quote the poetry of others! When I met my wife, I was always quoting poetry everywhere I went, and at one point she quipped, “Mad Arkansas hurt you into other people’s poetry.” (She was alluding to a line from W. H. Auden about W. B Yeats, “Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.”)
The following poem by Marriane Moore is about intense feeling also and she concludes that “he who feels strongly behaves.” So often intense feeling is associated with dissolute behavior and emotions run amok. And, that has its place. But, I do feel that “he who feels strongly (can) behave.”
And, another important point she makes, “in its surrendering, finds its continuing.” It is so important to surrender, to give up. And one of these days, perhaps, I will find the humility to accomplish this sublime task:
What is our innocence,
what is our guilt? All are
naked, none is safe. And whence
is courage: the unanswered question,
the resolute doubt, –
dumbly calling, deafly listening-that
in misfortune, even death,
encourages others
and in its defeat, stirs

the soul to be strong? He
sees deep and is glad, who
accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
in its surrendering
finds its continuing.

So he who strongly feels,
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
This is mortality,