Thoreau and the telegraph-harp:
In 1850 & 1851 returning to the deep cut where the telegraph wires had been erected, hearing a “supernal” hum or music in the air. Even the poles vibrated with the music, a “vermifuge” as Thoreau called it, forcing out of the wood any parasites in it. He hears in this wind-sung song an admonition, a reminder, that there are other planes of existence than this one. Those taut wires carry human voices, and in the deep cut it is only against those wires’ tension that the supernal music, this cosmic music, music of the spheres, can be heard.
A line in a poem is also a taut wire, and what the wire contains is a human voice.
To think of the work of writing a poem as to attend carefully to the work of each line (Emerson: “Every line of a poem must be a poem”), to draw each line to its utmost tension, not simply for the pleasure of line’s vascularity, nor for the deepening economy of sense, but rather so that in the tension of the lines—as with the telegraph-harp—one can hear a music blown across the wires of one’s own work. Every poem, in this sense, isn’t the result of the Aeolian harp’s music; every poem is itself an Aeolian harp. A poem too forceful in its intent toward meaning may undo the possibility of making perceptible that music whose existence it cannot control—that music which is in its nature a form of repair, a vermifuge, casting out not only the parasite in the wood (or Blake’s worm in the Rose), but changing our own parasitic nature. To write so as to hear that music is also to write the poem not as a method of intention, but as an offering—a medium across which the unheard voices again can speak.
Other mimicry inherent in the material of words. We find our own crisis replicated in the crisis of the word. The word seems substantive—grapheme on the page. The word has a body, and inside that body there is breath. Syllable as a soulish quality, wholeness or holiness of vowels carrying the breath, breath stopped by the teeth or lips, breath contained by the consonant boundaries. What the word contains is larger than the word itself. It keeps or cancels time within itself. So of soul within body. I might feel, and I do feel, that in order to write poetry seriously one must take seriously the reality of the soul. A word reflects us back to our own condition, a symbol. “Every word was once a poem.” A mirror with its thinking on the inside.
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Is it possible to have a mystic’s sense of language without the clouds mysticism puts around itself? Emerson’s sense that the mystic makes the mistake of nailing a symbol to one meaning only, denying the flux inherent in the symbol. A symbol shows one face, a kind of death-mask, below which the livid faces turn away. Eyes that don’t look out, but look in.
The Kabbalist’s saw the black ink of the word as a flame.
Chorus in Greek Tragedy—
Singular and plural at once, a singing and a movement that makes impossible the distinction between I and we. Their relation to event is witness not action. The chorus is cast to the periphery of action in order to witness that action, to speak of that which we (audience, readers) have not seen. We witness the witness. But here the witness has no identity, a many that is a one, a one that is a many. It is the effort to speak, to sing witness to us who are these others that may or may not exist, that expression forces the anonymous witness into some sort of identity. It isn’t the identity of the hero, singular and so tragic, though bright in such a way that we cannot turn our own eyes away. The chorus acts for us as our eyes, seeing for us what would blind us to see. We see not the chorus, but through the chorus. The song is the event in delay. They save us, in their way—but they do so at utmost risk to their own nature. For to speak risks moving from witness without identity to speech that cannot help but be individual. The great danger of representation . . . is it that it requires an ego to be formed, a basic ground, whose creation unleashes forces in the self the ego cannot control? Desire. Unconsciousness. Want. Impulse. Will.
To watch the chorus, to hear their song, is to find ourselves helplessly a chorus ourselves. That is: I find I am a chorus. I open on every side. It marks self as the grout around a tile marks a tile as one. Mosaic as the choral imprint. I sing this one song. I cannot see (or hear) the larger song in which it sings. I cannot see the whole.
Sometimes I am this series of events that has led up to me. A kind of architecture, ruinous but beautiful (maybe). I mean only I am this self I feel as if I’ve built. Other times, I am this field whose edges I cannot see. Anonymous. No marker that says me.
Lyric violence wants to shake the city back into a field. I am not what is precious—save where saying I refers not to me, but to anonymity.
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The long grass flattened where the deer had slept. & then there is also the snow.