Monday, August 8, 2011

"What Syllable Are You Seeking, Vocalissimus, In The Distances Of Sleep?"

A few poems onward from "The Wind Shifts," Wallace Stevens again considers the wind in the poem that brings Harmonium to a close. Although the poem is brief, it encapsulates a recurring theme in Stevens's poetry: how do we make our way in a World (or, as Stevens preferred, in a Reality) that is beautiful, but mute?

     To the Roaring Wind

What syllable are you seeking,
In the distances of sleep?
Speak it.

Wallace Stevens, Harmonium (1923).

This brings to mind a poem by Robert Nye about the wind, and its words.

     Words on the Wind

I heard a voice calling
"Do not be afraid
For blessed is he
Who is what he was
Before he was made."

They came on the wind
Those singular words
And on the wind went.
Perhaps all it was
Was the calling of birds?

Perhaps all there is
Is the calling of birds
As they're blown on the wind
And we just mistake it
For singular words?

God knows I don't know
But now night is falling
I am what I was
Before I was made,
And this is my calling.

Robert Nye, The Rain and the Glass: 99 Poems, New and Selected (Greenwich Exchange 2005).

                         Eric Ravilious, "Two Women in a Garden" (1933)


Mary F. C. Pratt said...

This reminds me of one of my favorite bits by Annie Dillard. It isn't a poem, though it could be: At a certain point you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, the world, Now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening. After a time you hear it: there is nothing there. There is nothing but those things only, those created objects, discrete, growing or holding, or swaying, being rained on or raining, held, flooding or ebbing, standing, or spread. You feel the world’s word as a tension, a hum, a single chorused note everywhere the same. This is it: this hum is the silence.
The silence is all there is. It is the alpha and the omega. It is God’s brooding over the face of the waters; it is the blended note of the ten thousand things, the whine of wings. You take a step in the right direction to pray to this silence, and even to address the prayer to “World.” Distinctions blur. Quit your tents. Pray without ceasing.

~Annie Dillard
from Teaching a Stone to Talk

Stephen Pentz said...

Mary F. C. Pratt: Thank you very much -- that passage is a perfect fit for the two poems, isn't it? I appreciate your taking the time to post it.

As always, thank you for stopping by.