These new songs that I sing
Were islands in the sea
That never missed a spring,
No, nor a century.
A starry voyager,
I to these islands come
Knowing not by what star
I am at last come home.
Andrew Young, in Edward Lowbury and Alison Young (editors), The Poetical Works of Andrew Young (Secker & Warburg 1985). The poem was originally published in Thirty-One Poems (John G. Wilson 1922).
These moments of communication do not involve the use of words. Words are a merely human peculiarity -- a necessary and beautiful peculiarity. How else could we survive our short space of time here? But the feeling of arriving at the heart of the World is, alas and amen (to borrow from Walter de la Mare), beyond words.
William Bradley Lamond (1857-1924), "Forest Track"
Still, poets do their best to capture these rare moments with the tools that are available to humans. Failure is inevitable. But that is no reason for the poets to stop trying. Or for us to cavil when their efforts fall short. Words are not enough. We can only be grateful for the approximate manifestations of Beauty and Truth that the poets bring to us.
As a context for the work of poets, and, more broadly, for how we place ourselves in the World on a daily basis, consider this:
"Proposition 6.52. We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched. Of course there are then no questions left, and this itself is the answer.
"6.521. The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem.
"(Is not this the reason why those who have found after a long period of doubt that the sense of life became clear to them have then been unable to say what constituted that sense?)
"6.522. There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical."
Ludwig Wittgenstein (translated by David Pears and Brian McGuinness), Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921). The italics appear in the original text.
Wittgenstein's term "the sense of life" (in German, "der Sinn des Lebens") is a lovely way of describing what we may experience during one of those moments when the World communicates with us. And, although science-enamored, ironic moderns may not like it, "mystical" is an entirely appropriate word to use when contemplating the possibility of arriving at a place where "the sense of life" becomes clear to us.
In the meantime, the poets, on our behalf, do their best to articulate those "things that cannot be put into words."
This lonely hill was ever dear to me,
And this green hedge, that hides so large a part
Of the remote horizon from my view.
But as I sit and gaze, my mind conceives
Unending spaces, silences unearthly,
And deepest peace, wherein the heart almost
Draws nigh to fear. And as I hear the wind
Rustling among the branches, I compare
That everlasting silence with this sound:
Eternity is mine, and all past ages,
And this age living still, with all its noise.
So in immensity my thought is drowned,
And sweet it is to founder in this sea.
Giacomo Leopardi (translated by Iris Origo), in Iris Origo, The Vagabond Path (Chatto & Windus 1972), page 182.
Leopardi's "silences unearthly" and "everlasting silence" bring to mind Wittgenstein's final proposition in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence."
William Bradley Lamond, "A Coastal Village"
At times, there is nothing to be said. "There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words." As human beings who traffic in language, this is hard for us to imagine. But I would suggest that finding our way to the heart of the World requires the abandonment of certain things upon which we habitually rely. Words, for instance. Perhaps even more.
"Attachment to the self renders life more opaque. One moment of complete forgetting and all the screens, one behind the other, become transparent so that you can perceive clarity to its very depths, as far as the eye can see; and at the same time everything becomes weightless. Thus does the soul truly become a bird."
Philippe Jaccottet (translated by Tess Lewis), notebook entry in May of 1954, in Seedtime: Notebooks, 1954-1979 (Seagull Books 2013), page 1.
Easier said than done. I certainly would never claim to have attained the states of which Jaccottet and Wittgenstein speak. At the most, fleeting glimmers and glimpses. Inklings. But what they say rings true to me. I still hope to stumble upon the heart of the World. For now, the poets keep me headed in the right direction.
that you have been seeking
you come upon it
the village in the Welsh hills
with no road out
but the one you came in by.
A bird chimes
from a green tree
the hour that is no hour
you know. The river dawdles
to hold a mirror for you
where you may see yourself
as you are, a traveller
with the moon's halo
above him, who has arrived
after long journeying where he
began, catching this
one truth by surprise
that there is everything to look forward to.
R. S. Thomas, Later Poems (Macmillan 1983).
William Bradley Lamond, "Farm Scene"