Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"A Way Of Looking"

It is difficult to look at (or to see) the World without bringing yourself (or, your Self) into the activity.  There are two ways (at least) in which this interference takes place.  First, our minds are always abuzz with thoughts that have nothing to do with the object at hand.  Thus, while looking at a tree, one is liable to think:  "What should I have for dinner tonight?"

Second, we tend to impose preconceptions upon what we look at (or see). For instance:  "Ah, a cherry tree in blossom looking like what a cherry tree in blossom ought to look like.  Beautiful!  Loveliest of trees, the cherry now . . . and all that."

Howard Nemerov's "The Human Condition," which appeared in my previous post, touches upon this phenomenon to some extent:  "a picture of a picture," the idea that "world and thought" can "exactly meet," et cetera. The following poem by Elizabeth Jennings explores this territory as well.

                         Graham Arnold, "Lift Not the Painted Veil" (1977)

              A Way of Looking

It is the association after all
We seek, we would retrace our thoughts to find
The thought of which this landscape is the image,
Then pay the thought and not the landscape homage.
It is as if the tree and waterfall
Had their first roots and source within the mind.

But something plays a trick upon the scene:
A different kind of light, a stranger colour
Flows down on the appropriated view.
Nothing within the mind fits.  This is new.
Thought and reflection must begin again
To fit the image and to make it true.

Elizabeth Jennings, A Way of Looking (1955).

Looking (I mean really looking) is quite a task (speaking for myself). When I go out for a walk, I often remind myself to look, not think:  to see things as they are, without the intrusions and without the glosses.  The result, alas, is failure after failure.

                                 Harold Jones, "The Black Door" (c. 1935)


Merisi said...

Fascinating, thank you for this post!
I shall come back to ponder more about your thoughts and the poem.

I always feel enriched, after stopping by here.

Laxman said...

This reminds me of the philosophy of J.Krishnamurty.

"I wonder how you see things. Do you see them with your eyes, with your mind? Obviously, you see things with your eyes, but you see with the mind much more quickly than with the eye. You see the world much more quickly than the eye can perceive. You see with memory, with knowledge, and when you so see things, that is with the mind, you are seeing what has been, not what actually is.”
- J. Krishnamurty

bruce floyd said...

I would direct your attention to Keats's letter to Richard Woodhouse, written 27 October 1818, in which he says, "A poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no identity--he is continually in for--and filling some other Body--the Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and women who are creatures of impulse and have about them an unchangeable attribute--the poet has none; no identity--he is certainly the most unpoetical of God's creatures."

Note, too, his letter of December, 1817, to his brothers in which Keats speaks of "Negative Capability,"a phrase all of us have heard, perhaps, too much about, but it's germane to the point you make about the ego or reason encumbering an unbiased and fresh view of an object, hindering the poet's discovering that moment in which he or she finds "the sense of beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration."

Stephen Pentz said...

Merisi: I appreciate your kind words. As always, thank you for stopping by. I'm pleased that you liked the poem.

Stephen Pentz said...

Laxman: thank you very much for that passage. It is very apt, isn't it? I appreciate your sharing it.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Floyd: it is good to hear from you again. Thank you very much for those fine passages. They add another dimension to the idea of looking/seeing.

Browsing in his letters after reading your comment, I also noticed these phrases about the "poetical character" from the Woodhouse letter (which precede your quotations): "it is not itself -- it has no self -- it is every thing and nothing -- It has no character -- it enjoys light and shade." One way to look at it (perhaps) is that Keats seems to be describing some sort of pure looking or seeing, without any distractions or preconceptions. But that's just a quick (and probably incorrect!) thought.

Thanks again.