Poetry Foundation: How globe-trotting poetries may not beat scrawls in a cave

January 6, 2010

By C.K. Williams

Poetry Media Service

All over the world, if not every day, then in every age, beautiful paintings and poems and pieces of music and buildings are generated: one can almost imagine little flaring lights on the surface of the earth, like those seen in photos from space, though they are much more sparse and scattered than the illuminating devices that bespeckle our globe. And then, over time, these embodiments of the beautiful are harvested, amassed, collected in books, in museums, in concert halls, to be distributed into the lives of individual human beings, to become crucial elements of their existence. Often, our experience of beauty will be the first hint of what each of us at some point will dare call our soul. For don’t those first stirrings of that eternally-uncertain, barely-grasped notion of something more than mere mind, mere thought, mere emotion, usually first come to us in the line of a poem, a passage of music, the unreal yet more-than-real image in a painting?

And isn’t it also the case after all that beauty is the one true thing we can count on in a world of insufferable uncertainty, of constant moral conflicts? I’ve wondered sometimes if humans invented gods to have something appropriately sensitive, grand and wise enough to appreciate these miraculous modes of beauty that are so different in material and quality from anything else in the world. Might gods have first been devised not to assuage our fears and hear our complaints and entreaties, but for there to be identities sufficiently sublime to understand what those first painters and sculptors—and surely, though the words and tunes have been lost, those poets and singers—had wrought?

Perhaps this is why those first great artworks were executed deep in caves, so as to be certain the divinities who were their audience wouldn’t be distracted by the wonder of the natural world, and so lose the concentration necessary to glory in, and be glorified by, these singular human creations that equaled and even surpassed what had been given by nature for meditation. And perhaps that’s why poets, who may half-remember such matters, go off into what can look to others like solitary caverns, shadowed with loneliness, but which surely aren’t.

C.K. Williams’s new book of poems, Wait, will be published in spring 2010. He will also publish a prose study, On Whitman, around the same time. He teaches in the creative writing program at Princeton University. Excerpted from “All Around the World the Same Song,” originally published in the March 2009 issue of Poetry magazine and available at www.poetryfoundation.org. Distributed by the Poetry Foundation.

© 2009 by C.K. Williams. All rights reserved.

From the Jan. 6-12, 2010 issue

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>