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RALPH GUSTAFSON New World Northern: Of Poetry and Identity I The constancy of surprise and wonder marks poetry, surprise that reality includes its own meaning, wonder that the significant discovery has not been known before. One afternoon last summer in the back of my house in North Hatley, Quebec, I sat in the sun. Birdsong was about. A midge on the plate of slate at my elbow drank needfully. It was Troy fallen or not. Truth was in dispraise of great happenings. What was happening was a thing of moment and momentous choice whether the midge succeed in swallowing something smaller than himself or should birdsong cease? Let Helen waddle down the street and be beautiful, Now I watch the cataclysmic gulp By midges made and conjugate What question lies in oriole song Oblivious of Agamemnon and a thousand ships. Everything in the world is wondrous however the priorities of importance fall. Degas wanted PissaITo to draw a cabbage; impoverished, he wrote to PissaITo pleading that he do so. For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground And talk of many things: Of shoes - and ships - and sealing waxOf cabbages - and kings What drama in sealing wax; what rhythm in cabbage; what grandeur in shoes! Was heaven where you thought? asks Wallace Stevens, in the light On bed-clothes, in an apple on a plate? Cezanne thought so. We do not need the giant, the philosopher, says Stevens, It feels good as it is without the giant, A thinker of the first idea. Perhaps The truth depends on a walk around a lake, 54 RALPH GUSTAFSON Acomposing as the body tires, a stop To see hepatica ... Perhaps there are moments of awakening, Extreme, fortuitous, personal, in which We more than awaken, sit on the edge of sleep, As on an elevation, and behold The academies like structures in a mist. In wonder and surprise we all know that we do not need the perhaps of it. The poetic sensibility, not only of the composer but of the man who has not let it be stifled, is certain of it. The poet grasps his symbols and through them reconciles the separated areas of fact and value. Henceforward the world is different, something happens, and poetry is of use. The experience is more than exposition. Reality, that which is not sustained by desire, is hard enough to recognize; getting to the reality ofa wing, of iron disulfide, of the science of an orange, is hard enough; when the surprise of each its own significance is achieved then there is poetry: of a bird, of fool's gold, of what Cezanne saw. Loss or enrichment happens and we live. This discovery of endowed reality comes about through instinctive poetry, the procedure that is irrational about reality. We have come to call the procedure by such names as inspiration, divination, rapture. The names are old-fashioned to us; they partly do well enough, the deepness of living is contained in the indications. The trouble with them is that they are not accurate enough; they imply the leaving hold of reality, the supersession of desire over fact, they imply frenzy, superstition. A sober ecstasy is required. Poetry is real, it is what is; Words in a poem come together Implacably as an apple tastes; Apond, a dog, three boys on skates; Someone singing or a death. Reality is not what dislocation assumes it should be. Nor is poetry that easy; it is not the quietus of what is difficult; it is confrontation, the direct challenge of what truth is. Nothing escapes poetry. Insignificance, bias, neutrality are overcome. Poetry is exalted pragmatism, the actuality interpreted by its own why, the diamond underground, the implied black hole, the neuron in impulse. A poem faces the world without make-up. Its truth is the white pebble played with all day by the child; the surprise and wonder later regretted by him Who thought little of cardinals and clothespins And now loves life, loves life. NEW WORLD NORTHERN 55 More wondrous still, poetry becomes what it releases meaning from; much as we become ourselves. Of a sensational nature, constituted of concrete words and the impulse which words...


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