Friday, December 16, 2011

To the Oracle at Delphi (Ferlinghetti)

To the Oracle at Delphi

Haven't been reading much poetry lately. Poetry is the opposite of escapism - it doesn't let you get away from the world you're in, but rather makes you  more in that world, I think. Well, there are some exceptions, of course, but in general I think that when I read poetry I'm always comparing its truths to how I see the world, trying to measure how real it is. Not real in the sense of describing something that actually happened, but real in the sense of getting at something true underneath. Expressing in words the things that can't be expressed in words (to paraphrase LeGuin).

So, this poem. Not written so long ago (2001). The language of it is powerful, and probably a lot of people would say it was insightful. But I don't know. Are we in "the dusk of our civilization" now, any more than we were in the 60s or in the Depression? Are we more the metaphorical Roman Empire now than we were, say, 20 years ago? 40? I'm not sure. We're always on the verge of sliding back into the dark ages, or at least that rhetoric has been used before. Not that I think America is "too big to fail," but I think it's too big to fail with a bang. I think we're much more likely to go with a whimper, slowly, and we won't know it's happening until we've become something else.

There are parts of the poem, however, that do ring true for me. We want an oracle, someone to "tell us how to save us from ourselves / and how to survive our own rulers." I think it's a natural human urge to want that - to want to be able to hand off responsibility to someone who we can trust is wise. We think that if we just find the cave where the oracle is hiding then we can coax it out, make it tell us what we need to know.

The trouble is, there isn't any oracle. There's only us. We are responsible for our own dreams. If we want "new myths to live by," we have to create them ourselves. In some ways that's frightening, but in other ways I think it's liberating. We make our own future - it's only inscrutable because we don't yet have the tools to know it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Changing Light (Ferlinghetti)

The Changing Light

I like this one because it talks about quality of light, which is something that I've noticed before. There's a particular type of late-afternoon golden sunlight that's sort of my favorite, because it seems to make everything more intensely colored, more vibrant. Whereas morning light seems colder, crisper, thinner somehow. Reading this, I ended up thinking of that morning light as the "East Coast light" and the afternoon as the "island light" - it's the kind you get on vacation when you're someplace with long days that seem like they'll never end, when it's like a physical thing that's reaching out and oozing over you like honey.

The other thing I like about this poem is that Ferlinghetti is so clearly from there. There's an identity of place - when he talks about "your East Coast light" and "your pearly light of Paris" there's the implication that San Francisco light is his light. It's personal. I think I find that appealing because even though I'm not from here, I'm really enjoying being a Boston person. Boston is my home. It's sort of the same reason that people get attached to sports teams, only since I'm not really a sports person, my local attachments are to things like the tone of the light and the color of the leaves in autumn and the smell of the marshes on my favorite walking trail.