“The explorer finds little evidence for any of the way Homer describes Troy . . . Yet here, in the mind’s eye, stood an awe-inspiring city with soaring battlements dominating the plans. Homer and the bards were not deliberate liars, they were describing the place as poets. The magic of their words took a minor citadel and turned it into a stupendous stronghold immortalized in their descriptions. This is a credit to poetic imagination . . . [the poet] takes human figures and transmutes them into heroes. He inflates ordinary places so as to make them seem vast and impressive.” This, Poetry Slow Down, seems a great way to understand how epic poetry can inspire mere us to see our lives as heroic—no, not mere us—because what poets have their fingers on the pulse of, us, is the magnitude, I think, of our actual being; we are large to ourselves, our hungers, our pains, our fears, our hopes, our joys . . . the obstacles in the path, blocking our dreams, are huge to us—monsters, giants, huge forces . . . and every day, we confront and face them, and it requires bravery to be us, regular us, strength, resolve, resilience. . . When we read these poems describing the taking on of larger monstrous forces, it’s our inner life we are experiencing . . . a reality. Cervantes in the 1500s shows a man reading epic who transforms a dispiriting everyday life into something heroic. Paul Farmer, reading this literature, believes he can do something, be something . . . more . . . useful. To “shine in use,” as Tennyson says in “Ulysses.”
Poetry can give us a sense of ourselves, be a magic mirror of our true moral being we can become, as large as the challenges we face. That’s why, I think, in this week, of post Thanksgiving, post election, post Veterans’ Day, post Black Friday, family deaths, death of people important to us and cherished, beginning of the darkest days of the year, we send each other poems . . . because it’s our world . . . you and I . . .and we go there, then, we arise and go, and go . . . with our poets. They take us there, to certain half deserted streets, to Innisfree, to heights, and deep lows, but together.
And how John Legend says, aint nobody in our world but you and I, this truth that Emily Dickinson outed when she wrote, I’m Nobody, she took her idea of being nobody—a person of no importance—non existence—straight to us, in the carrier pigeon of a poem, she made matter of herself, made herself matter, inviting us in, in a shared vision of us, aint nobody in the world but you and I, she’s saying, are you Nobody too? Then there’s a pair of us? Don’t tell—they’d advertise—you know . .
So we are in this together, Poetry Slow Down, “No, Love, you’re not alone,” as Jacques Brel says; Virgil, the poets always, and now, have your back, are with you, and your eyes, your ears, sharing these poems, give rise to spirit, so we go on: “Come, my friends, tis not too late to seek a newer world.”
Our Poetry Slow Down, produced by Zappa Johns, for radiomonterey.com, with me, your grateful host, Professor Barbara Mossberg.
© Barbara Mossberg 2016
THE POETRY SLOW DOWN
November 27, 2016