“Sometimes I lie awake at night at and ask, Where have I gone wrong? Then a voice says to me, this is going to take more than one night.”—Charles Schulz, Peanuts.
Do you remember Peanuts’ “I love mankind—it’s people I can’t stand?” On March 18, 1958, Thomas Merton, former bad boy, play boy, earnest urban dude, despair of his guardian, and now Trappist monk, finds himself in a shopping center:
“I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race . . .there is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” Way! The poets have their ways of telling people precisely this. Merton called his realization an epiphany:
“I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts . . .the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could se each other that way all of the time.”’ If only . . . Leave it to the poet, holding a magic mirror that lets us see ourselves as we really are. Now you’re saying, oh no! Busted! Not my true self, please! But in the poet’s eyes, you are revealed as shining. “If they could all see themselves as they really are . . . “ Well: we can. Today we will hear how poets illuminate our lives, with this art of seeing our world with wonder, a redeeming gaze, a practice that invokes epiphany, the shining world within visible to the poet mind. This is how Emily Dickinson describes the poet in “This was a poet,” distilling “amazing sense/From ordinary Meanings.” The poet has slowed down to “arrest” the scene, paying attention to essence, an immensity of magnitude . . .
We are paying attention to epiphany today in honor of the historic time in which this date was the last of the feast days of Epiphany, and in celebration of Thomas Merton’s epiphany which is being advertised by the Thomas Merton Institute with an invitation to you to share your own personal epiphany stories. Go to their website and contact Vanessa, or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will forward it on behalf of our radio show, The Poetry Slow Down.
We will hear examples of poetry’s news of transformation, from T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets, which posits the epiphany of home as framework for a discussion of our attitudes towards home as strangers in a strange land, from Homer to E.T., Anne Tyler to baseball, McDonald’s and franchise culture to grocery products and marketing. We hear poems on shining reality and epiphany by James Wright, William Carlos Williams, Dana Levin, Zachary Schomburg, Allen Ginsberg, Walt Whitman, Robinson Jeffers; we hear thoughts about how we recognize home and the journey to belonging in our world by Anna Quindlen, J. R. R. Tolkien (happy birthday!), Ernest Hemingway, Bob Marley, Rilke, Billy Joel, Fazim Ali. We hear poetry by Liz Waldner and me on angels and other agencies of epiphany (in my case it was a mosquito and night train), Sara Miller, Henri Cole, Eliza Griswald . . . more thoughts by Carolyn Forche and G.C. Waldrep. We hear a set of poems by our own Charles Tripi (see his new Carlo and Sophia poems). We hear my chemistry poet colleague Joanie Mackowski’s “Epiphany,” Robert Frost, Rumi, Wendell Berry, each telling us that we are already here, where and who we need to be . . . . to speak our truth and be agencies to epiphany . . . and Emily Dickinson’s conception of the paradox posed by Eliot, how we can experience but not know the meaning, or the value. Dickinson contrasts the King, a legal owner to the land, who gets a little kick out of something like resurrection, and a Clown, who “ponders” the “tremendous scene,” “as if it were his own.” We discuss the poet’s perspective of claiming each other and our earth as our own, seeing ourselves at home, and what’s at stake for seeing our world in its shining realities. To our radio listening community—you—it’s not epiphany: I’ve known it all along, you are a shining element in my life, and I thank you for joining me on this journey of the poet’s news of our world, “without which men die miserably every day.” Not so you, faithful listener who slows down to ponder “this tremendous scene” and never take it for granted.
© Barbara Mossberg 2013