The poem doesn’t “make a world.” It makes a non-world. The world exists as a series of demands on one’s body. One’s body must respond to its own needs, to the needs of others, to spatial arrangements and to sensory experiences. But the poem exists only as marks on a page. What then does the poem make? Dickinson says, “we live by the quaffing / bee and I.” “Where the bee sucks, there suck I,” says Ariel. But if the poet is a bee, she is—as Rilke said—a bee of the invisible. “We perpetually gather the honey of the visible world in order to store it in the great goldenhive of the invisible one.” Poets gather from the visible world to make something that does not resemble that world at all. (And I would extend that adjective “visible” to something broader, “tangible,” “felt,” “known” so as to include not just what is before the eyes, but also what intrudes on the mind through the other senses, through memory, through reading and absorbing the ideas of others.) Language is beholden only to itself.
Mallarme: the poet “yields the initiative to words, through the clash of their ordered inequalities; they light each other up through reciprocal reflections like a virtual swooping of fire across precious stones.”
And yet, in the end, it is that very clash of inequalities, that movement of light, that draws us back into our attention to the source, which is the world itself. Here is Williams:
“Look / for the nul // that’s past all / seeing // the death of all / that’s past // all being.” If the poem is that “null,” that realm beyond the visible, it nonetheless rhymes with the “all,” is its twin.
“Singing first the solemn, imaginary / world of brilliant error / recognized / as twin to the paradise / against which day breaks.” In that difficult twinning, of language and world, of null and all, foam and wheat: that’s where the poem is most alive.