Saturday, October 12, 2013

"The View From The Window"

R. S. Thomas's poems about windows in my previous post got me to thinking about another poem of his.  It is also a "window poem," but I am thinking as well of the image of the ever-changing World beyond the window.  As in these lines from "At the End":  "the tide's pendulum truth/that the heart that is low now/will be at the full tomorrow."  Or these from "The Small Window":  "in one day/You can witness the extent/Of the spectrum and grow rich/With looking."

     The View from the Window

Like a painting it is set before one,
But less brittle, ageless; these colours
Are renewed daily with variations
Of light and distance that no painter
Achieves or suggests.  Then there is movement,
Change, as slowly the cloud bruises
Are healed by sunlight, or snow caps
A black mood; but gold at evening
To cheer the heart.  All through history
The great brush has not rested,
Nor the paint dried; yet what eye,
Looking coolly, or, as we now,
Through the tears' lenses, ever saw
This work and it was not finished?

R. S. Thomas, Poetry for Supper (Rupert Hart-Davis 1958).

The thought embodied in the poem is lovely:  the World is forever unfinished, but, at any given moment, it is absolutely perfect.  Some may find this thought trite or simplistic.  It is neither.  I'd say it bids fair to be the secret of life.

Felicity Charlton, "Cineraria" (1964)

     Five Minutes at the Window

A boy, in loops and straights, skateboards
down the street.  In number 20
a tree with lights for flowers
says it's Christmas.

The pear tree across the road shivers
in a maidenly breeze.  I know
Blackford Pond will be
a candelabra of light.

A seagull tries over and over again
to pick up something on the road.
Oh, the motorcars.
And a white cat sits halfway up a tree.

Trivia.  What are trivia?
They've blown away my black mood.
I smile at the glass of freesias on the table.
My shelves of books say nothing
but I know what they mean.
I'm back in the world again
and am happy in spite of
its disasters, its horrors, its griefs.

Ewen McCaig (editor), The Poems of Norman MacCaig (Polygon 2009).

Andrew Nairn (1903-1993), "The Hill Road"

"Happy were he could finish forth his fate/In some unhaunted desert . . ."   I understand the feeling, as well as the longing that underlies the feeling. However, we do not need to find an unhaunted desert.  We are capable of happily finishing forth our fate at this moment by walking out into the World and looking around us.

But the looking is best done without thinking and without naming.  How difficult it is to simply look!

"The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way.  Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion, -- all in one."

John Ruskin, Modern Painters, Volume 3, Part IV, Chapter XVI, Section 28 (1856).

W. Floyd Nash, "Canonbury Tower" (1942)


Anonymous said...

When time has sifted through all the great Victorian prose writers, it will pronounce Ruskin superior to his coevals. The bit of Ruskin you quote, following once again, a beautiful poem by Thomas, demonstrates the importance the human imagination or sensibility in the creating of beauty and meaning. Ruskin says on a few of us can really see; that is, interpret experience or, if you will, the quotidian and find meaning and beauty most of us miss. It is what we miss that the artist reveals to us.

I wonder if Wallace Stevens is saying the same thing in his poem "The Idea of Order at Key West"? Would it be sensible to say that it is through the artifice of the artist, the "she' in the poem below, who creates the beauty of the natural world, by imposing on it the order of art, the power of the artist's singular imagination. We make the physical world numinous by the application of art to it.

The Idea of Order at Key West

She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.

The sea was not a mask. No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard,
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
It may be that in all her phrases stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind;
But it was she and not the sea we heard.

For she was the maker of the song she sang.
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew
It was the spirit that we sought and knew
That we should ask this often as she sang.

If it was only the dark voice of the sea
That rose, or even colored by many waves;
If it was only the outer voice of sky
And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled,
However clear, it would have been deep air,
The heaving speech of air, a summer sound
Repeated in a summer without end
And sound alone. But it was more than that,
More even than her voice, and ours, among
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres
Of sky and sea.
It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there was never a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As the night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of sea
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: I agree with you about Ruskin. I feel that I have barely scratched the surface with him. He is endlessly rewarding.

Thank you very much for Stevens's poem. Actually, I was thinking a bit of Stevens when I wrote the post. My thought was that he would probably say that we need to do more than look: we ought to apply the Imagination to the World. Which is what you appear to be getting at by providing the poem.

I am sympathetic to Stevens's view. However, I also think that doing nothing -- just looking -- can be enough. I am thinking, for instance, of haiku. Yes, a haiku is an exercise of the Imagination upon the World, but it is -- how shall I put it? -- more quiescent and receptive than the type of imaginative activity that Stevens usually has in mind. I say this as someone who loves Stevens's poetry.

Thanks again.