Sunday, April 13, 2003

In his latest comment on Wallace Stevens, David Hess stakes a claim for poetry, or the poetic imagination, as constituting a larger territory than "language": he celebrates those who celebrate "the imagination, the sensuality of the mind and perception." I'm deeply and ambivalently attracted to that point of view, inclined as I am to secretly reserve the territory of poetry for those who have placed it on the most visionary and hieratic of maps: Keats, Coleridge, Stevens, Rilke. If poetry isn't a language for talking about all that's signified by the forbidden words soul, heart, dark, life, love, death, nature, cruelty, hope, and justice, what's it good for? Answer no. 1: It's made of words, it's not any other art form than poetry, it needs to be words in new constellations around the concepts denoted by that list. Answer no. 2: It's made of words, it's a mode of listening and relistening to the conversation that precedes and exceeds every individual, "the language of men speaking to men," creating possibilities for change—as Hamlet loses or gains the name of action from overhearing his own language estranged from him in each soliloquy. Answer no. 3: It's made of words, it's a piece of the superstructure of its time leading infallibly to some vital infrastructure, and cannot be made meaningful without a dialectical understanding of that relationship. Words, words, words.

"What is the matter that you read, my lord?"

Just so.

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