Poetry revisited

By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 4 Jan 2022


The man who wrote Christmas Setdecorators.org  Bheret Nalluri.

I read a great deal of poetry in University and even more in the ten years after, sometimes all day long. My favorites are Spencer and Milton, Keats, Baudelaire and Rimbaud. But I’ve read through Shakespeare, Marlowe and Otway. Some of their phrases echo in my mind so often they come to me and seem to describe perfectly some mundane occurrence that has no obvious connection to them.

Milton’s ‘Lycidas’ is one of my favorites. If I read it another ten times I’ll have it memorized. But there’s two lines in it that have recurred to me a hundred times in construction work, or any presence of danger:

 

“But that two handed engine at the door,

‘Stood ready to strike once, and strike no more”.

 

I don't even know what it means. Perhaps it's a person with a double-sided axe standing behind a door ready to strike an enemy about to enter. But it conveys a sense of impending doom forcefully, the ambiguity even adding to the chilling fate.

Whenever I feel some vague remorse, like a memory of a lost girlfriend, I remember Virgil’s line for some inexplicable reason:

“Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit”.

He says: ‘Perhaps someday even these memories will bring relief’.

It has no distinct meaning, as his hero, Aeneas, says it to his men after recounting to them all their losses in the Trojan war and their uncertain future. With this line he finishes an almost depressing speech, as uncertain a line as everything in life. But it has poignancy, some vague, invisible glint of distant hope, some grasping attempt to repair loss, or maybe a memory that will someday please because they survived.

And just like the couplet from Milton, I can’t say exactly what it means but it seems to express some dark truth succinctly, some dim feeling deep down, that a bad fate awaits every evil deed while a life well led finds redemption.

We have a fairly clear consciousness of our daily reality, in sunlight focus. But our many-layered minds add to each scene, each thought, from a vault too dark to make out, full of shadows, vague feelings and associations, pieces of the remembered past, or a past tinged with dreams, sometimes mangled, sometimes enriched.

We all know that our perceptions have limits. The eyes can see so far and our minds can reason for a while along trains of thought, but not forever. These are the limits to our comprehension of the world. But we know those boundaries are certainly not the complete universe we inhabit. Science tells us this with each new telescope.

I believe we all have a sixth sense we can’t even describe. And what science and logic can’t describe it writes off as fantasy or ‘unreal’, giving it a very second class value. But it’s there, within us somewhere, in the heart or soul. We feel it in premonitions, gut feelings, or dreams full of faces and scenes that seem to relive some event in our life and give a new context to it, some love or loss. It’s the subconscious mind busy at work, day and night, and I know it plays a large role in our equilibrium, in our every mood, influencing far more than we acknowledge.

Poetry attempts to explore this dark continent, grasping at those invisibilities with many-meaninged words arranged and re-arranged on a page, trying to peer just a few feet further into the fog that enshrouds our lives. And sometimes they succeed in the flush of feelings that come over us. We can’t put our finger on exactly what it is, but it moves us and we are changed, forever. The best ones even make us tingle.

This is poetry’s realm, wider than reality, richer in ideas, a precious delight to us in our contemplative moments. It engages our imaginations directly with mesmerizing lines, melodic phrases, unforgettable words, like a pipeline to our own past experiences, capturing our attention and feelings, enthralling us with imaginary worlds we wished existed and would gladly inhabit.

It explores the land beyond logic, a faculty which can’t even begin to define ‘feelings’, or for that matter, ‘imagination’.

Just to verify my last statement I just looked up ‘feelings’ in my Oxford dictionary. I found the words ‘vague’ and ‘irrational’. I looked up ‘imagination’ and found, not surprisingly, ‘the part of the mind which imagines things’.

This bothers me, that the faculty we depend on to guide our lives and make our decisions falls so completely blind and unaware of another large part of us that completes our lives, our other half.

And the logical mind grows wearisome, telling us all day long what must and must not happen, what to do, how to behave, and the certainty of troubles, mistakes in our work, demands and reprimands we don’t want to hear. It can also remind us of a good dinner on its way, a good show to enjoy, the sweets of love, soft pillows and sleep, which puts it to sleep.

But our minds are twofold, and Spencer’s ‘Fairie Queene’ and a host of other great poems are a large part of my reality. Reading a good poem is a waking charm. It’s a break in the day, the antidote and balance to the logical mind. Some call it an escape. I call it sanity. And it never sleeps.

There are two worlds to live in. One has its trials and duties and discomforts and, I’ll concede, a few pleasures. The other is a gossamer world, the one the human imagination wanted so much it invented poetry.

Call it imaginary, not tangible, a dreamer’s land. But never claim it’s not real. It’s richer than what the narrow mind calls ‘reality’. And it fully complements and enriches that world. It co-exists.

It’s the world of books and poetry, of reading.

www.atlasobscura.com

John Keats was once asked if he did well in school. He answered honestly:

 

No, I was too busy counting the fairies dancing on the sunbeams coming through the curtains.

 

Despite his short life it was a very rich and enviable one.

 

 

 

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Diomedes
Diomedes

B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.


Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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