Wings of the Dove

Poetry is no more sacred-holy-divine than any other phenomena. Language is powerful, but communication - signs, semiosis - involves a wider range of verbal, non-verbal semaphor.

Nevertheless one dimension of a poet's intent might be to evoke, express, represent, or transmit a sense of the sacred : an intelligible model of reality under the aegis of what is holy. In this case poetry might serve as a medium for the fulfillment of such an intention.

Poets in past times have marked this distinction (between secular and sacred). There are, for example, John Donne's love lyrics, on the one hand, and his divine sonnets, on the other; there are his verse satires, and his verse meditations (on last things).

Recently while working on a book review of some recent poets, I had occasion to reconsider TS Eliot's famous theory of a "dissociation of sensibility" in literary style, which he claimed took place in the early 17th century. Some reading in literary historians Harold Fisch (Jerusalem & Albion) and Charles Nicholl (Chemical theatre) has confirmed my view that something like this dissociation did actually take place, and that it was part of a larger shift in Western thought : a disenchantment, a desacralization of Nature. To put it baldly : the new scientific rationalism excised "Spirit" from Nature. God was the remote machinist who turned on the switch, but that was the limit of his involvement in what followed, which was fully explainable and determined by mechanical, material causes.

It was a convenient intellectual move for the purposes of dissection. But then poetry, in this view, was lumped into the inevitable collateral damage : rendered obsolete, mythical : mere verbal mystification, sleight-of-hand : a marginal hobby, serving strictly sentimental ends.

Nevertheless, I like to think this preeminently modern worldview - this mechanistic rationalism - has not had the last word. Standing, I hope, as a writer who aims to instill an opposing perspective into poetry, I vote for spirit and consciousness over the discourses of materialism. In this I am not at all opposed to science per se, which I hold to be a spiritual vocation in its own right; but I hold for the over-arching presence of a mysterious spiritual reality, an intellectual architecture which frames and upholds the physical universe.

Poetry, in this view, is a kind of intellectual play, which is analogous to the play of Nature as a whole, in its character as Creation-from-nothing. It is the Sabbath rest of human thought - abiding in a sense of the mystery of life and human civilization shaped toward graceful, happy, and ultimately victorious ends.

This is not always an easy way-of-seeing to grasp and keep hold of : it can seem strange, otherworldly, or simply naive and ludicrous, to modern "realists". But as it happens I find it more realistic to believe in a cosmos which is spiritually grounded in consciousness, a form of universal "soul" or personhood, which manifests itself (a flowering) in multiple planetary histories as the Ur-Drama of compassionate self-sacrifice and graceful redemption. This is the "holy grail" and "philosopher's stone", the "light" in light of which all things take on a new and vital aspect. And it's the theme of many poems & songs. I'm trying to sketch out one version of a sense of never-ending Vitality - the source of a kind of unstoppable, unceasing spiritual joy, even hilarity. Death is not the end; death is that over which an infinite, eternal Spirit is victorious.

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