May 16, 2011

Poetry - A Question of Essence

Poetry is something which should be taken seriously, but not too seriously at the same time. Obviously, one cannot slap words into a meter and call it a poem. A lawyer cannot write his case in dactyls and outdo Homer; no, a poem is a conscious effort to describe beauty through language - to wed formal beauty (in the Platonic sense) with material form (in the linguistic sense). It combines left-brain meter, rhyme schemes, and vocabulary with right-brain wit, ingenuity, and wonder. The poet takes the subjective experience he has of beauty, and crafts it into an object, making the subjective objective. For a poem to be good, then, its form must accurately incarnate its content - the indescribable beauty of the subject must be realized within the definite confines of the object. This is not possible without a certain gravity - the poet must seriously apply himself to the rhythm of his words, and unite himself to their flow. However, he cannot even begin to describe the beauty he sees if he is incapable of seeing beauty, which requires enough levity and self-detachment to actually see something worth writing a poem about.

The subject in view is always beauty (or potentially the lack thereof). If a poem sought to describe truth, it would be philosophy; if it sought to convince, it would be rhetoric; and if it sought to simply describe, it would be physics. The point of a poem about a flower is not the flower itself, although the flower is a necessary component. The point of a floral poem is the irreplaceable beauty which the flower brings into material existence. The poem points to a glory and wonder which, without such flowers to incarnate it, would remain eternally unreachable in metaphysical reality, without reaching those of us bound to a physical plane. A poem which simply lists the material aspects of the flower, counting pollen and petals and seeds, would miss the point of both the flower and the poetry. At the same time, however, the poem is not a place to preach about essence, nature, God, or beauty. Words which talked about how beautiful a flower was, how important that beauty was for us humans, and how wonderful it is that we have flowers, would be more suitable to a pulpit than a poem. The poet conveys his experience of beauty to his reading audience dynamically by allowing them a glimpse of what he sees, physically and metaphysically.

Poetry, then, is less of a lump of words, a description, or a linguistic form for displaying emotion, but a delicate balance between the physical medium used and the metaphysical reality expressed. The poet has encountered a metaphysical reality through something physical, and, in order to communicate this experience, he sets it to words. The poem follows the same form as the experience - just as the poet encountered beauty through matter, he expresses beauty through words. The great poet is the one who most successfully allows his reader to see the wonder he himself witnessed; the one who can see the glory of the face of God, and share that vision, allowing others to see just as he sees. The great poet is the one who selflessly points beyond himself toward a radical encounter with beauty itself. The great poet is the one who, when asked why he writes poetry, can simply say, "look and see for yourself."

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