Friday, June 03, 2011

Whyte, Murray, Words, Poetry

David Whyte is a poet I'm unfamiliar with (it's not hard to be unfamiliar with poets - there are so many of them!), but he was quoted as saying the following in a blog post I read today: “A poet’s work is all about creating a language that is big enough to represent both the world you inhabit and the next, larger world that awaits you."

I'm currently revising the poem, Poetry and Religion, by Les Murray. Revising as in re-committing it to memory, something I have to do every so often in order to remind my brain that I've once learnt something and expect it still to be there somewhere. (I'm using a little digital dictaphone I bought for another purpose recently to re-learn the poems and Scripture I've memorised previously: it's a different kind of challenge to learning from a page of words.)

Murray's poem discusses a similar idea to Whyte's statement, though perhaps from a more theological perspective. Like many of Murray's poems, it takes a bit of unpacking to get to the gist of things, especially as he can make use of ordinary words and give them additional meanings: 'concert', 'attracted', for instance. And the section where he uses the 'mirror' imagery is quite dense until you work over it a number of times....for me, anyway.

Here it is in full.

Religions are poems. They concert
our daylight and dreaming mind, our
emotions, instinct, breath and native gesture

into the only whole thinking: poetry.
Nothing's said till it's dreamed out in words
and nothing's true that figures in words only.

A poem, compared with an arrayed religion,
may be like a soldier's one short marriage night
to die and live by. But that is a small religion.

Full religion is the large poem in loving repetition;
like any poem, it must be inexhaustible and complete
with turns where we ask Now why did the poet do that?

You can't pray a lie, said Huckleberry Finn;
you can't poe one either. It is the same mirror;
mobile, glancing, we call it poetry,

fixed centrally, we call it religion,
and God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned. Caught as in a mirror

that he attracted, being in the world as poetry
is in the poem, a law against its closure.
There'll always be religion around while there is poetry

or a lack of it. Both are given, and intermittent,
as the action of those birds - crested pigeon, rosella parrot -
who fly with wings shut, then beating, and again shut.


I love those two lines:
Nothing's said till it's dreamed out in words
and nothing's true that figures in words only.

It seems like a simple couple of statements, yet it has a hidden depth like a pool that you think is shallow - you step into it, lose your footing and suddenly find yourself floundering.
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