"What is your definition of poetry?" barked the Soviet apparatchik/journalist. Osip Mandelstam straightened up, took a deep breath - & declared : "The poet's sense of being right."
Blogging is a notoriously loose-flappy kind of prose. (Nevertheless, I like it.) My previous post under this heading was not put together very well, and probably did my own grandiloquent poema something of a disservice.
I spoke of the argument, the theme, as the spine or bone-structure of a literary work. Proposed that every poem makes some kind of argument - exists within some frame of (Einsteinian-relativistic) world-lines and logical architecture.
Works of visual art or music impinge on our sense of things with an unspoken or implicit language of signs. Imaginative literature (poetry) does something analogous by way of symbolic analogies. The testimony is direct, perhaps, but it is also more than that. The story echoes with meaningful imagery, the way a symphony shimmers with overtones.
I suggested that underlying Ravenna Diagram - the long ongoing poem in the mode of Pound's Dantesque Cantos, or Olson's Williamsish Maximus, or Zukofsky's Poundian "A" - lies a foundational argument, rooted in a specific worldview.
Poems make arguments within an ecosystem of clashing worldviews, ideological systems which talk past each other. They can be acts of intellectual resistance, as well as free-standing creative constructs.
Dante's life, whether he knows it or not, is drawing to a close along with his poem, in the quiet backwater of Ravenna. He looks up at the mosaics of San Vitale or Sant' Apollinare, and infuses the Paradiso with their imagery.
Pound, in another age, jaunting around Italy, becomes enamored of Sigismondo Malatesta, the noble warlord, who stole statuary from Ravenna in order to construct his Tempio, dedicated to Isotta (with whom he was besotted). He constructs a quasi-Dantean architecture for the Cantos, based on a set of horizontal friezes or frescoes in the Tempio.
Dante's Paradiso concludes with a visionary contemplation of the Trinity, symbolized as 3 interlocking rainbows in the heavens. The poet concludes humbly : he says the logic of their facets eludes his mind, reducing him to baby-talk. This is how the poem ends - with a vision of supernal cosmic Love, beyond rational explication or human comprehension.
So when I say that Ravenna Diagram is grounded in a poetic argument regarding the nature of the Trinity, and that the poem is set within a matrix of evocations and allusions to Dante's Ravenna... well, perhaps you can see where this is leading.
The Trinitarian ontology or worldview, emanating historically from the theology of the Greek fathers and early Christian Orthodoxy, could be seen as an intellectual extrapolation or superstructure, grounded in the collective spiritual experience of the early Church.
Dante wrote a thousand years later, from the center of the medieval Scholastic flowering (Thomas Aquinas et al.). Yet fundamental questions about the destiny of individuals, and of the human race as a whole - about the progressive direction of history toward some kind of theological manifestation or end-time - were neither set aside nor resolved.
The questions facing St. Maximus the Confessor, in the age of the early Church convocations, creeds, and collective self-definitions, were even more basic. The obsession of the Byzantine civilization revolved around the status and character of the Three Persons of the Trinity. In the process of resolving these issues and defending Orthodox doctrine, Maximus developed a very acute and creative anthropology (drawing in part on the Byzantine absorption of Aristotle and Classical philosophy in general). Maximus's intellectual formulations have been deeply studied by scholars like Hans Urs von Balthasar and Lars Thunberg (wonderful books, highly recommended).
I seem to have gotten away from the topic at hand, and dribbled into obscure volumes of forgotten lore. But not really. This is background.
The anthropological lens developed by Maximus provides a means of interpreting the process of human history as a whole. And this, as Pound asserted, is what epic (or his epic, anyway) is about : "a poem including history".
Imagine seeing the "historical Jesus" within such an interpretive framework. Imagine a poem which grapples with the recognition that Christian theology - especially in its relationship with Judaism - has its own lacunae : perhaps will experience in the future a total renovation or re-configuration of its meanings. Not on behalf of some demythologizing critique, but rather out of the cumulative experience of history itself, which sheds new light on old words and deeds.
Think of a poem which sets up dramatic historical juxtapositions, on behalf of a dramatic theory of history (see Urs von Balthasar on this, too). Thus : we don't yet really know the "historical Jesus" in the fulness of historical actuality. Imagine a mythopoiesis of history (as with Olson's or Williams' localism, for example, or - perhaps more important - a feminist interpretation of the Gospels) which sets up a dialectic in juxtaposition to the abstract formulae of theological statements.
Add to this the dramatic dimension of the enunciation of the poem itself : impossible project which only magnifies the historical here & now of the poet's own time. But this absurdity & impossibility opens up creative (theological) possibilities, too : Jesus himself was called the Nazir, the holy man, the singer, the poet (in the line of poet-king David).
This is just a sample of the arcane shrubbery forming the backdrop of an "argument" for the said murk-in-progress (Ravenna Diagram)...