The Joy of Poetry

Way back in July, I quoted T S Elliot, from “Little Gidding”..

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

We have a prescience here, that something profound has been conveyed to us. It has not come to us directly, but as I described earlier, through “another way of knowing”.

It came as a great surprise to me when I was doing some research into the Sufi poet, Rumi, that his poetic work is the most popular poetry as indicated by sales of his work in the United States! This seems so strange when you remember the great American poets like Longfellow, Frost, the mystical Walt Whitman and the Anglo-American W H Auden.

Perhaps it is because Rumi engaged our spirituality he is so popular. Whatever the reason it is surely the metaphors that make his poetry and that of others so powerful.

Here is Rumi talking about the problem of ego;

“That servant for whom the world lovingly wept
The world now rejects: what did he do wrong?
His crime was that he put on borrowed clothes
And pretended he owned them!”

Or what about the power of this statement:

“A soul which is not clothed
With the inner garment of Love
Should be ashamed of its existence.”

I was personally moved by this verse:

“Lovers think they are looking for each other,
But there’s only one search.

When one of us gets lost, is not here, he must be inside us.
There is no place like that anywhere in the world.”

There must be a great disadvantage for a poet like Rumi being translated into English. That he is still so powerful attests to the strength of his metaphors. One wonders at the delight of reading Rumi in the original Persian.

Look at the marvellous poetic instruments Gerard Manly Hopkins uses in “The Windhover”.

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,- the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

The alliteration, internal rhymes and marvellous metaphors are only clear to us because he wrote in our own language – English. What have we missed by not being able to read Rumi in his native tongue?

So what am I trying to say here? Most of us know of truths that we struggle to express. Much of what we know that is important in our lives is not easily put into words. Rationality often fails us. Sometimes, when our rational processes have proved inadequate, we stumble on to something insightful that our common sense can’t easily comprehend. And that makes all the difference! And this is the source of all significant poetry – its ability to engage the mystical!

Let me finish with a few lines of my own.

The Quest

We are all knights in search of the Holy Grail,
But what we seek is no chalice touched by holy lip.
It is the essence of our being, no less,
A vessel from which we each our eternal life sip.

We pursue it in the far places, that others conjure,
Expecting in some remote castle it will stealthily reside,
Unaware that whilst we peruse the wastelands
Of our external world, it was always with us – inside.

And the quandary that we face is that we can
Not see this elusive sacred part
Because what we are searching for
Is that which is searching; that is the heart.

And the Fisher King that holds the secret to his breast
Striving hard, though barren, wounded and not to know
That what he searches for in the ocean is the ocean,
Is released at last when knowing he is ego,

Can then fade away and thus remake fertility,
Slough off the skin of the frog’s illusory spell,
Revealing the Prince of kind eternity,
Fool and knight now joined with wisdom as well.