Saturday, May 1, 2010


Arcimboldo: Autumn

Strangely, I keep bumping into autumn poems, "now that April's here" (or rather, it’s already May). The one I just found, in Bly's Morning Poems, made me meditate on the issue of plurality in modern poetry. There is more and more recognition that "we are large, we contain multitudes," if I may slightly adapt Whitman. There is no single self, but rather an orchestra of evolving sub-selves -- call them subpersonalities. I like to think of that inner crowd as many souls, since that goes back to those mythologies that also recognized that we have two or more souls. Just as we seem to be able to tolerate more reality without needing the solace of "your reward will be in heaven," so I think we can tolerate a lot more plurality than was usual in the past.

Here is Bly:


In late September many voices
Tell you you will die.
That leaf says it. That coolness.
All of them are right.

Our many souls – what
Can they do about it?
Nothing. They're already
Part of the invisible.

Our souls have been
Longing to go home
Anyway. "It's late," they say.
"Lock the door, let's go."

The body doesn't agree. It says,
"We buried a little iron
Ball under that tree.
Let's go get it."


The body is our faithful dog -- or, at any rate, a dear old animal with its own common sense, its sanity-preserving rhythms and sanity. The body keeps fetching the ball. But it's the idea of having many souls that delights me even more.

"Longing to go home" reminded me of Rumi's poems, especially this one:


It's late and starting to rain,
it's time to go home.
We've wandered long enough
in empty buildings.

I know it's tempting to stay
and meet those new people.
I know it's even more sensible
to spend the night here with them,

but I want to go home.
We've seen enough beautiful places
with signs on them saying
This is the House of God.
That's seeing the grain as the ants do,

without the work of harvesting.
Let's leave grazing to cows and go
where we know what everyone really intends,
where we can walk around without clothes on.

~ from Open Secret , translated by Coleman Barks

While Rumi means going home to God, a Liebes-Tod, union with the Beloved, I can also see a possible personal interpretation of going home as a metaphor for growing up, becoming fully adult. It's time to leave behind a life of sightseeing and partying, the masquerades, the grazing at this or that spiritual buffet. It's time to take up one's vocation, "the work of harvesting." It's time to join one's soulmates.

However, the charm of this poem, or rather this version of it by Barks, does not lie in whatever message we extract from it. It's rather the imagistic, lyrical opening:

It's late and starting to rain,
it's time to go home.
We've wandered long enough
in empty buildings.

There is also a sense of yearning that has a timeless appeal. We spend so much of our lives longing for something, great or small, and finally we realize that we live in longing, and that this longing has its own beauty, even if it's never fulfilled.


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