CONTEXT Recall something of the Orphic theme here. The artist must go down under into Hades in search of his beloved to bring her back from the underground. Song gives pause even to the denizens of the underground, transfixed their hearts, and moves them. Orpheus does not succeed in bringing Eurydice to the surface, perhaps because of the break in patience when he looks back to behold her. One could say that the abyss,the chaos, is the promise of something intimately universal, in that everything comes to the surface of the earth from down under. FROM William Desmond, The Intimate Universal, 74.
Reconfiguration is foundational to lyric; it is always rewriting things. Anna Swir, among the most popular poets “rediscovered” for Americans in Luminous Things loves to turn things upside down, “stand on her head” as she says he finds impossible. She’s an ever fresh Metaphysical.
Her “tender-humorous” conversation with her body explores the porosity of soul and body. It requires no leap of the imagination, just an exercise routine which has become a staple of the contemporary lifestyle. Her writing is marked by the economy of standup comedy and the pathos of lyric. In reconfiguring the classical dualism of soul and body it moves smoothly through the lyric narrative.
First, it points nonaccusingly to the situation of soul and body as yes, dualistic, but friendly. The body is not the unruly source of sin and confusion of the Christian-Platonic tradition. The body is a talented colleague. It has a talent for concentrating energy on the task.
The next step of the narrative, moving through the steps of the poem, is the exploration of the equivocity of language implied by the opening . The spaces between soul and body are vast. Athletics, sainthood, yoga. The body participates in all three—gives access to all three disciplines to the soul.
Swir’s performance as poet here confirms and illustrates her witty argument. She sticks her routine with the Zen image of the gate: “a gate through which I will enter myself.” PERFECT score for reconfiguring the tradition.
I remember an afternoon in the 70s on the Berkeley campus. Talking to someone I had just met, Professor Nathan of the Rhetoric department. Usually as laconic as his poetry he was brimming with delight, his soft voice almost confessional as he told me about translating Anna Swir with Milosz. It would be years before I’d see the point of the story.
The poem moves into the final stage as it enters the doubled between of soul and body, but not before on more triumph. When we talk about philosophy in Hadot’s way—“spiritual exercise”— we mean the dialogic and conversational modes of the ancient schools, how they would learn wisdom by endless discussion. Swir’s figure throws new light on this ancient practice.
The disciplined body can become a gate, that is: “A plumb line to the center of the earth/and a cosmic ship to Jupiter.”Hyperbole and metaphor rise to the occasion in a burst of energy.
Now we are ready for the finishing touch. The poem explores the between of body and soul. It has an erotic dimension. But eros harnesses energies that can destroy. Swir’s reconfiguration goes to the bottom: Her unity of soul and body while not ignoring ambition caps it with friendship. Us. Not so much Eros as the uncontainable boundless energy of Agape.