Sunday, July 17, 2005

WHY POETS WRITE ABOUT DEATH SO MUCH


stones of light 3
Originally uploaded by annavs.

I wanted to write the Sunday Optimist Report yesterday, but I worked a lot this weekend, slept little, and when I searched my poetry books for inspiration, the poem that spoke to me in the clearest voice was this one by Jorge Luis Borges. Is it optimistic? You be the judge:

TO WHOEVER IS READING ME

You are invulnerable. Have they not granted you
the powers that preordain your destiny,
the certainty of dust? Is not your time
as irreversible as that same river
where Heraclitus, mirrored, saw the symbol
of fleeting life? A marble slab awaits you
which you will not read--on it, already written,
the date, the city, and the epitaph.
Other men too are ony dreams of time,
not indestructible bronze or burnished gold;
the universe is, like you, a Proteus.
Dark, you will enter the darkness that awaits you,
doomed to the limits of your traveled time.
Know that in some sense you are already dead.

I know I wrote about a death in my last post, and perhaps it is the demise of a woman I didn't quite like, but whose life meant something to me and perhaps even something to the universe, which is still affecting me.

Or maybe death really is the great subject for poets. The monumental news we're sent here to proclaim over and over to our disbelieving readers. To our disbelieving selves. We die! Look, it happened to my sister, we say when we pen an elegy. Or to my lover. Even to the one I considered worthy of hate, but who turned out to be nothing but a poor human, governed by the same cruel laws that I am. It will happen to me and you. No matter how infinitely real and important our lives feel to us, they will be extinguished suddenly or with torturous leisure. We know not why or when or what follows. Even if we say we know or think we know, we don't know.

And it is precisely this dark wind at our backs that makes our days so thrilling. Anyone who thinks they have time for boredom or envy or antipathy is only half awake. It is up to the poets, the musicians, the artists to shake them up and spin them around and jolt them toward wakefulness. We are here in this amazing time. This amazing place. See it. Listen to it. Drink it up to the final drop.

Meanwhile, I have a new poem up on Sigla if anyone is interested. It's not even about death...or then again, maybe it is.

17 comments:

Perfect Virgo said...

If there is optimism then I only feel it in the sense that we all travel the same path. The big final event has not been reserved for me alone.

However the words you penned to follow it show excitement and human compassion in buckets. Your optimism shrieks from the page, "drink it up to the final drop." There are things worth living for, we don't have to meekly await death.

Regarding TAKE ME TO ALABAMA: You just touched the rawest of nerves there Patry. My interest in music is boundless. What hits me hardest is your portrayal of a man deeply affected by an intimate performance. I just know he would not comprehend "stadium event." The way he breaks off work to reminisce lovingly and easily is touching.

I love the simple, honest, dirty pleasure of modern rock. I listen to "Blues, Roots, Southern, Indie and Punk" all in tight miniature venues in the UK.

Poetry is the toughest medium, you accomplish it superbly - there are several examples on my blog which I mostly feel are weak.

I would like to link to you if that's ok?

Squared said...

>>whose life meant something to me and perhaps even something to the universe

I am sure some lives affect those around them, some are never noticed, and some change the history. But one thing I believe is that we are still not good enough for the universe to be bothered about us. I am no optimist of humans anyway.

rdl said...

Maybe it is neither, just a wake up call. You only got so much time; don't waste it, don't worry about it, get up off of yr. duff.(sounds like an ole disco song).

gulnaz said...

you have written about death but have made into a clarion call for living.
thanks.

Patry Francis said...

perfect virgo: You saw something in my poem--and in the conversation that inspired it--that I didn't see. As a writer, I focused on the aspect of the many talented people who remain unknown, unsung.

You saw the kind of magic that happens that happens between a musician and an audience in a small venue.

I very much enjoy reading your blog and would love to be linked from it.

Squared: Another perspective that came to me when watching a science special on public television. The human body when you break it down to the atomic level is as infinite as the universe itself. What does that mean? I'm not sure. But it made a deep impression on me.

R: Everything goes back to the disco, doesn't it?

And Gulnaz: Thanks for reading my post exactly as I wished it to be read.

James Goodman said...

I really liked Take me to Alabama. Well, I have typed and erased several additions to this comment, but I didn't like any of them so I will leave it as I liked it! :)

finnegan said...

Damn Virgo, how do I follow what you've said here? I mentioned earlier (I forget where) that Virgo should start a blog of reviews of one sort or another. My man's got penetrating insight into the "hows" and "whys" of things; his entry here illustrates what I'm talking about Perfectly.

I agree with Gulnaz about death being a clarion call for living.

Even with Symbolists like Poe---who forefronted death through nightmare imagery---one senses how wonderfully bright and comforting the light really is.

I liken it to the feeling I get when I experience death in a dream and wake up to birds chirping in the tree outside my window.

Perfect Virgo said...

The magic of an intimate performance stays with you for a lifetime as it did for your central character. My guess is he stood close enough to see the whites of the band's eyes.

Finnegan, sorry to pip you to the post old chap. I'm blushing to the roots of my few remaining hairs here.

Patry, do forgive us old guys nattering in the back row here. Abominable behaviour when our host is talking!!

Patry Francis said...

I am actually enjoying the nattering very much. And if I might natter a little bit myself, I went to C.'s service last night, and James, the man from the poem was also there. We all worked together at one point. It was clear that for some of the more jaded among us a lot of the minister's words about our "loving and generous" friend rang hollow. But for James, who has eyes only for the good in people, every word was true. Maybe music does that to a man. Especially music that comes so close you can see the whites of the musician's eyes.

(Did I use the word natter right? It's not a common one for me, but I love it.)

Roger Stevens said...

I love Borges. I read lots of his stuff when I was a student - long time ago now.
Will check out your poem. My computer won't let me do two things at once.

easywriter said...

Everyone has said everything, oh why can't I be eloquent or at least a tiny bit insightful? I read Take Me To Alabama and it had a beating heart, it had breath and a soul, it made me live the moment.

Perfect Virgo said...

Yes, splendid use of the colloquialism 'natter!' Natter away, it's in your vocabulary now!

Music can have a powerful effect on the soul. Achingly strong lyrics can make me feel I have so much good in me, yet only others who immerse themselves in music can see that in me. Your man was moved so deeply by it and you described his emotion beautifully.

Renee Wagemans said...

This is great.
I like your style.
Renee

Dave said...

I've never been much of a Borges fan - rather too didactic and full of caca for my taste - but "Alabama" was superb.

I don't see life and death as being separate things. The problem is that we keep confusing the ultimate openness of life/death with nullity.

(I am going to link to you too, and add this blog to my Bloglines subscriptions. I've been trying to draw the line at keeping up with 50 blogs, but as bloggers I read quit blogging, I add new ones.)

Anonymous said...

Hi ;)
hey... what demented news!
what do you suppose about it?

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