19 May 2006

The Turning

This is the last bit I'll quote from Vendler's slim-but-stunning volume, The Breaking of Style. Her ruminations on the work of Jorie Graham culminate in a marvelous passage concerning the inner workings of poetry (and Graham's "The Turning" in particular):
It is only of course after the fact that we can name these grammatical means accelerating the perceptual thrust of the sentence; during our actual stretched assimilation of this long cascade of words flung over a page we are, to put it imaginatively, participating in making the sun come up, the birds awaken, and the churchbells ring. Such an epic sentence--as the town turns from night to morning--is a human, and therefore effortful, Fiat lux. It cannot have the concision and effortlessness of the divine illumination of chaos, because it is made from a human sensing and concentrating body striving to comprehend a moment in one internalized physical and mental gestalt. And that human body is replicating itself in its aesthetic body of words, rather than replicating the outside world in a direct mimesis. The poet has to substitute, for the metaphysical divine will and the intellectual divine Logos, a frail human eye and even frailer human will, which must concentrate fiercely to translate into internal kinesthetic sense-response "the most loud invisible" of the light and "the vapor of accreting inaudibles," the silent flocking of birds. The poet must translate these first into a consciousness of her own internal physical mimicry of the external stimuli, and then, in turn, she must translate that internal kinesthetic mimicry into the visible and audible signs of English, a language with its own internal constraints on expression. The order of linguistic signification, which succeeds the orders of perception and kinesthesia, is represented in the poem by the moment when "one name is called out." Every genuine poem, as Mallarmé insisted, aims at being "one name"--a single complex and indivisible unit of language proper to its moment and irreplaceable by any other. As the poet lifts the silent and the nonlinguistic and the nonpropositional from perceptual import to kinesthetic import into semiotic and rhythmic import, one form of suffering--seeing the day go by unregistered and unrecorded--is brought to an end.
More than a mouthful... Vendler manages to peel back the film of words to give us a glimpse into the living organism of a good poem... For it is a living, vibrant, evolving thing, involving both the reader's imagination and understanding.

One day, I'll spend my time delving into the meaning of these words...of the miracle that is poetry.

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