“There is a magic made by melody,” say Elizabeth Bishop, and I imagine that such magic is especially potent on Mondays, as we face the workweek and make plans to perform meaningful work—for ourselves and those we care for. A little poetic soundtrack for this week’s road–trip, so to speak.
As I understand it, the poets help us to rediscover the meaning that is “there before us; there before we look / Or fail to look; there to be seen or not / By us, as by the bee’s twelve thousand eyes, / According to our means and purposes.” So says Richard Wilbur in “Lying,” his delightfully playful poem that explores the quest for meaning. Wilbur sees in the hidden recesses of the lexicon the ways words work, touching upon shades of meaning that are close but not quite, near and yet far, “lying” among themselves about the things and the phenomena of the world, as they attempt to make sense of reality, albeit imperfectly—perhaps even deceptively.
But, such imperfection of language and thought should not surprise. There’s more there than meets the eye, as we say. The world is too much for us to take in, and so we must reduce it to manageable bits, measurable portions, and graspable parts. The whole is simply too much.
Enter Howard Nemerov’s poetry, which is nothing if not a search for the nature of reality, given the limitations of language. In his “Painting a Mountain Stream,” Nemerov touches on the perennial challenge of Heraclitus: the fact that “no man ever steps in the same river twice”—for the movements of the river and the development (or decay) of man over time changes everything.
Nemerov opens the poem with the assertion that “Running and standing still at once / is the whole truth.” For the “pulse” and “running down” of river, of man, and even the cosmos is the constant change for our consideration, a movement or cadence with which we must contend. “Study this rhythm, not this thing,” commands the poet, else you’ll fail to grasp the truth of a world pulsing with movements of life and meaning. Sounds right, if I can figure out how to do both/and.
In any case, enjoy the music of Bishop, Wilbur, and Nemerov. And, find the meaning in the week that awaits you!