LYRIC COMPANIONS. Jaan Kaplinski “My Wife and Children”

from A Book of Luminous Things, Ed. Milosz

The issue of the earth is birthed with wise blood. The created child is creative and participates in a doubling back and forthcoming between itself and the fertile choice of its own origin. The medium is the flesh of imaginative conception. The medium is for the artist not a mere chunk of of resistant matter but a porous fluidity—malleable, lability, moving, hot to suggestion. It is a porous fluidity in which the passion and endeavor take form as significantly embodied. They are embodied as signs that are themselves the meaning and the communication ….These signs are incarnations. William Desmond The Intimate Universal, 297.

I had not read Kaplinski until recently. His combined interests, including Buddhism and ecology, and his mastery of lyric, make him something of a resource for my work in lyric archaeology. Once again, my following up on the poets included by Milosz in his anthology A Book of Luminous Things opens new chapters in my study of lyric form which dates from the late 60’s and reading Ancient Greek with Elroy Bundy and later Horace with Ralph Johnson at Berkeley.

I name those names as an act of memory. As Kaplinski says of his flowers, we cannot forget them. For me, Bundy and Johnson are always underfoot, an idle moment in the fertile void of detachment calls them out.

Kaplinski sets up his poem by sketching a random occasionin the universal impermanence which is the cultural space of modern life. While his family seeks the minor consolations of ice cream he is left by himself. He’s separated from the world of consumerist immediacy and is open to a deeper immanence.

See the texts by Desmond for phenomenological notes on the rich equivocity of the media of such a moment. Kaplinski’s poem follows the lyric narrative into the equivocity of the univocal, the rich suggestiveness of names. The poem describes the setting of these “incarnations” of overlooked value. Kaplinski’s attunement to this dimension of being has been awakened by his studies in Buddhism and ecology. But in the moment the names shine like stars.

As people walk by fulfilling their schedules in passing through time the names of familiar plants slow things down. The lyric slows down to focus on an old acquaintance. “We can never forget”: the lyric blossoms grammatically as its pronouns transfigured the voices from “I” and “You” to “We.”

Wife and Children give way to an earlier companionship of boy and Earth. The intensity of memory serves to connect him to the primal elements of the intimate universal: the gooseshit in the yard of his childhood becomes just that luminous thing.

The lyric narrative thus moves beyond the tenderly remembered facts into a Metaxy of agapeic being. The poem engages now the medium of flesh as not matter but “a porous fluidity—malleable, labile, moving, hot to suggestion. It is a porous fluidity in which the passion and the endeavor take form as significantly embodied. . . . These signs are incarnations.”

So: in our time of unimaginable chaos in society, trust to good verses. A poem like this is a saving one.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at and other sites.

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