Friday, October 14, 2011

Day three: The Wilderness

The Wilderness
W. S. Merwyn

Remoteness is its own secret. Not holiness,
Though, nor the huge spirit miraculously avoiding
The way's dissemblings, and undue distraction or drowning
At the watercourse, has found us this place.

But merely surviving all that is not here,
Till the moment that looks up, almost by chance, and sees
Perhaps hand, feet, but not ourselves; a few stunted juniper trees
And the horizon's virginity. We are where we always were.

The secret becomes no less itself for our presence
In the midst of it; as the lizard's gold-eyed
Mystery is no more lucid for being near.

And famine is all about us, but not here;
For from the very hunger to look, we feed
Unawares, as at the beaks of ravens.

Today's poem is a departure from the last two, a more "poetic" poem. In some ways it's a lot harder to find something to say about this - the previous two poems are both fairly popular even with people who don't 'do' poetry, they're more conversational, whereas Merwyn isn't like that at all. This is a poem of words and images.

What do I like about it? I like that the sentences don't necessarily lead you, grammatically, where the feeling of them takes you. "the moment that looks up, almost by chance" - how does a moment look? (Old joke: my dog's got no nose.) And yet if you let the words roll over you, you can feel what's happening there. There are bits of images, fragments that thread together in a way that's sort of deceptive. Or, not deceptive, but organic as opposed to formally correct. This poem feels like wilderness to me, like the words make wild shapes on the page, and they make sense to themselves but maybe not to us unless we take them apart down to the atomic level and see how they work. Or we can just go visit the wilderness of the poem and take it as it is, enjoy the view.

I like the phrase "the hunger to look." I started thinking about whether I felt that, and the answer is I'm not sure. On the one hand, I love to find beauty in things (not just nature, but I do find it a lot in nature). I find myself searching for beautiful sights. But then when I find them, it's hard for me to just look. I think my brain just can't be that still for too long; I have to start thinking about something. Sometimes I tell myself a story about what I'm seeing, I imagine myself as a character in that landscape and then think about why I'd be there. Sometimes I write blog entries in my head, trying to find a good way to describe what I'm seeing. But I can't turn off the narrative part of my brain. So I guess in some ways it is like hunger in the wanting.

And maybe that's what Merwyn is getting at there. From the very hunger to look, we feed - the act of searching gives us what we're searching for, though we may not realize it. We look for the mystery of the wilderness and don't find it, and the mystery is in the fact that we don't find it. The more precisely and hungrily we look, the less we expose the mystery. Hmm. Maybe.

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