Human Manifesto, pt. 3

(Note : more cogitating today on poetry, & my poetry... so I may add this to previous post.)

III. Song of Songs

I focused in previous sections on some philosophical or religious background/worldview for my own concepts of what the poet is about. Spirit, mind, idealism, totality... & yet I think I've neglected a vital part of poetry's distinctive range : that is, not so much mind (in the somewhat Platonic sense I've been sketching), as heart, & soul.

Maybe it's the time of year. These beautiful last days of summer & incipient fall somehow help to bring that autumnal phantom, "soul", into view.

If it's permissible to generalize... I don't think our culture is very capable these days of distinguishing between the physical and the psychic, desire and feeling, body and soul. We live in a cultural marketplace of the body - its functions, desires, natural cycles, & illusions - in the midst of which the feelings & intuitions of the soul grow more elusive & estranged.

In the prior sections I talked about how an "integral poetry" would recapitulate experience & suffuse it with meaning, feeling. This is the goal of its voracious inner energy. By this I would not want to exclude experience in any of its ranges or registers; but I also think poetry's deepest impulses have to do with the life, the searchings, the intuitions of the soul. Our tumultuous, painful, exalted, terrible, tragic, comic, sublime, & ridiculous dramas of love, in all its forms, are the substance of that life which poetry aims to recapitulate, represent & celebrate. Thus the "Song of Songs" takes this name because it represents an epitome of song, song reaching toward its fundamental purpose or telos. The rabbinical & monastic hermeneutics which came after - all the interpretations of this sensuous love-song, as a spiritual allegory of the soul's loving search for God - are also paradigmatic, with regard to poetry's expressive purposes.

I'm not trying to canonize the Song of Songs (certainly it doesn't need me for that!) - only aiming to suggest how it represents a central aspect of poetry per se : the search for wholeness, integration - the attunement, the harmony of male & female, parent & child, sibling & sibling, neighbor & stranger - of love with life, soul with body, soul with God.

It can be argued that I'm singling out only one aspect of poetry. True, but there's no help for it : this "manifesto" is an effort to describe my own experience. & what I'm suggesting is that the impulse to write poetry cannot be separated from the impulse to love. Song, as such, is an effusion, an emanation from a state of harmony, or an intuition about possible harmony. It is a back-&-forth, reciprocal drama, which happens as a kind of conversation or encounter, within the creative imagination of the poet.

The affective pathos in individual poems, those qualities which move us, emotionally, are like mini-dramas, off-shoots from the central energy of this creative "love-impulse". The poet, echoing & re-echoing an inward "song of songs", is actually wooing some sweet dimension of life, earth & reality. The song of the poet is analogous in this sense to the "bride" or "bridegroom" (as symbolized in the Book of Revelation).

I think it can be said that the two great (unmatched, unmatching) towers of Western poetry, Shakespeare & Dante, share one central concern : to delineate the nature of love, to measure its whole scale of motives & effects - from blind self-regard to the patient kindness of other-centered agape (rooted fundamentally in the joy & gratitude of life).

These are "soul" matters : not so conducive to scientific analysis or determinate calculation. But that's why poetry happens, anyway : because "there are more things in heaven and earth than are met with in your philosophy, Horatio."

LOVE is anterior to life,
Posterior to death,
Initial of creation, and
The exponent of breath.

- E. Dickinson

I want to mention one further consequence of the state of affairs I am trying to evoke here. It seems to me that, if the life of poetry consists in a kind of soul-courtship, or in Mandelstam's terms, a "playful hide-&-seek with the Father", then maybe we have to try to set aside some of the more pedantic, deterministic, superficial, in-house, or otherwise quantified & utilitarian critical approaches to literary reception. Just as the poet's creative labor is subject to the mysterious impulse of the "muse" of soul-searching love - so the reader's reception of the fruits of that labor will echo these deeper dimensions or concerns. & these things are difficult to judge & quantify. The relationship between a poet and his/her culture is analogous to the unpredictable and dramatic dance of courtship. For every culture, this can result in a very long "crane dance" - over centuries, even - at the gate of a very complex labyrinth.

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