Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The music of correspondences

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Denise Levertov

Reverence for life, if it is a necessary relationship to the world, must be so for all people, not only for poets. Yes; but it is the poet who has language in his care; the poet who more than others recognizes language as a form of life and a common resource to be cherished and served as we should serve and cherish earth and its waters, animal and vegetable life, and each other. The would-be poet who looks on language merely as something to be used, as the bad farmer or the rapacious industrialist looks on the soil or on rivers merely as things to be used, will not discover a deep poetry; he will only, according to the degree of his skill, construct a counterfeit more or less acceptable—a subpoetry, at best efficiently representative of his thought or feeling—a reference, not an incarnation. And he will be contributing, even if not in any immediately apparent way, to the erosion of language, just as the irresponsible, irreverent farmer and industrialist erode the land and pollute the rivers. All of our common resources, tangible or intangible, need to be given to, not exclusively taken from. They require the care that arises from intellectual love—from an understanding of their perfections.

Moreover, the poet’s love of language must, if language is to reward him with unlooked-for miracles, that is, with poetry, amount to a passion. The passion for things of the world and the passion for naming them must be in him indistinguishable. I think that Wordsworth’s intensity of feeling lay as much in his naming of the waterfall as in his physical apprehension of it, when he wrote:

…The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion…

The poet’s task is to hold in trust the knowledge that language, as Robert Duncan has declared, is not a set of counters to be manipulated, but a Power. And only in this knowledge does he arrive at music, at that quality of song within speech which is not the result of manipulations of euphonious parts but of an attention, at once to the organic relationships of experienced phenomena and to the latent harmony and counterpoint of language itself as it is identified with those phenomena. Writing poetry is a process of discovery, revealing inherent music, the music of correspondences, the music of inscape. It parallels what, in a person’s life, is called individuation: the evolution of consciousness toward wholeness, not an isolation of intellectual awareness but an awareness involving the whole self, a knowing (as man and woman ”know” one another), a touching, a “being in touch.”

Denise Levertov, “Origins of a Poem”

Written by nevalalee

June 26, 2016 at 7:30 am

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