The need for poetry

In the world of labelling and naming, words have meanings and definition. They are consolidated and purposeful, resolute and practical, useful and easy to understand. But in the world of poetry, words are used to challenge all our assumptions, ideas and purposefulness so that we may be plunged into the forgotten waters of our own souls.

How often do we visit the realm of the unnameable, the ineffable, the essence behind meanings and the ground of our own selves? Music gets there. Silence gets there. Nature upholds it. Poetry allows it.

Consider the following:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.

Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds…

The poet (Shakespeare, Sonnet 118), points to the word ‘love’ but immediately takes away its authority as a word because the word has no real meaning without its essence – which is its unchanging ability to remain as something that cannot be altered. So the incongruous contradiction ‘love is not love’ is completely allowed and permissible because the poet is pointing to a depth in meaning that is often overlooked when the word ‘love’ is used in conventional terms (if there are, indeed, conventional ways to use the word ‘love’).

Or consider Emily Dickinson’s:

I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody too?

Using language to break the formalities of language to pieces by denying the naming and identification of a ‘person’.

So sensitive souls need poetry as much as plants need sunlight. Because language is far too structured in syntax and meaning, and its frailty is exposed through poetry alone. And maybe silence, if we can manage it.

 

 

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Jesus and Mary Magdalen, by Khalil Gibran

The following is an excerpt from Khalil Gibran’s work, Jesus the Son of Man… It recounts the first meeting between Jesus and Mary Magdalen, and it is written in the voice of Mary:

It was in the month of June when I saw Him for the first time. He was walking in the wheatfield when I passed by with my handmaidens, and He was alone. The rhythm of His steps was different from other men’s, and the movement of His body was like naught I had seen before. Men do not pace the earth in that manner. And even now I do not know whether He walked fast or slow. My handmaidens pointed their fingers at Him and spoke in shy whispers to one another. And I stayed my steps for a moment, and raised my hand to hail Him. But He did not turn His face, and He did not look at me. And I hated Him. I was swept back into myself, and I was as cold as if I had been in a snow-drift. And I shivered.

That night I beheld Him in my dreaming; and they told me afterward that I screamed in my sleep and was restless upon my bed.

It was in the month of August that I saw Him again, through my window. He was sitting in the shadow of the cypress tree across my garden, and He was still as if He had been carved out of stone, like the statues in Antioch and other cities of the North Country. And my slave, the Egyptian, came to me and said, “That man is here again. He is sitting there across your garden.” And I gazed at Him, and my soul quivered within me, for He was beautiful. His body was single and each part seemed to love every other part. Then I clothed myself with raiment of Damascus, and I left my house and walked towards Him.

Was it my aloneness, or was it His fragrance, that drew me to Him? Was it a hunger in my eyes that desired comeliness, or was it His beauty that sought the light of my eyes? Even now I do not know. I walked to Him with my scented garments and my golden sandals, the sandals the Roman captain had given me, even these sandals. And when I reached Him, I said, “Good-morrow to you.”

And He said, “Good-morrow to you, Miriam.” And He looked at me, and His night-eyes saw me as no man had seen me. And suddenly I was as if naked, and I was shy.

Yet He had only said, “Good-morrow to you.”

And then I said to Him, “Will you not come to my house?”

And He said, “Am I not already in your house?”

I did not know what He meant then, but I know now.

And I said, “Will you not have wine and bread with me?”

And He said, “Yes, Miriam, but not now.”

Not now, not now, He said. And the voice of the sea was in those two words, and the voice of the wind and the trees. And when He said them unto me, life spoke to death. For mind you, my friend, I was dead. I was a woman who had divorced her soul. I was living apart from this self which you now see. I belonged to all men, and to none. They called me harlot, and a woman possessed of seven devils. I was cursed, and I was envied. But when His dawn-eyes looked into my eyes all the stars of my night faded away, and I became Miriam, only Miriam, a woman lost to the earth she had known, and finding herself in new places.

And now again I said to Him, “Come into my house and share bread and wine with me.”

And He said, “Why do you bid me to be your guest?”

And I said, “I beg you to come into my house.” And it was all that was sod in me, and all that was sky in me calling unto Him.

Then He looked at me, and the noontide of His eyes was upon me, and He said, “You have many lovers, and yet I alone love you. Other men love themselves in your nearness. I love you in your self. Other men see a beauty in you that shall fade away sooner than their own years. But I see in you a beauty that shall not fade away, and in the autumn of your days that beauty shall not be afraid to gaze at itself in the mirror, and it shall not be offended. I alone love the unseen in you.”

Then He said in a low voice, “Go away now. If this cypress tree is yours and you would not have me sit in its shadow, I will walk my way.”

And I cried to Him and I said, “Master, come to my house. I have incense to burn for you, and a silver basin for your feet. You are a stranger and yet not a stranger. I entreat you, come to my house.”

Then He stood up and looked at me even as the seasons might look down upon the field, and He smiled. And He said again: “All men love you for themselves. I love you for yourself.”

And then He walked away.

But no other man ever walked the way He walked. Was it a breath born in my garden that moved to the east? Or was it a storm that would shake all things to their foundations?

I knew not, but on that day the sunset of His eyes slew the dragon in me, and I became a woman, I became Miriam, Miriam of Mijdel.