Alice Oswald is an eloquent witness to the poetics of the metaxy or Between. Her Oxford lectures document her field experiences of what William Desmond calls ‘the threshold between forming and form’ (Intimate Universal 458). (Readers of this blog will recognize our theme ‘form emerges.’) This early poem reflects a more conventional sense of the I/self compared to the selves of ‘Nobody,’ her latest collection before the Oxford lectures. Its rhetoric —- the center, Easternight—- would dissolve as her poetics develop. But the sense of the between becomes translucent for the appearing of ‘the intimate universal’ —- intimate as opposed to conceptually determined. The discourse of ‘moment’ would give way to the liquid flow say of music in what Desmond calls the creative ‘porosity.’
my mind like a wind falling on oak-trees on a mountain.” Sappho, Fr. 47 (Andrew M Miller)
Sappho’s energy — enargeia or vivid presence— awakens in me wonder at poetry and more specifically the things we call poems. How do they connect with our deepest desire to see and know the truth of things?
A poem is quite literally and essentially a space for wording the between, a sort of nothing, to use the terminology of William Desmond. Sappho’s fragments expose the flow of words into the defined empty space of the poem that pre-exists the act of communication. Meters and syntactic conventions are only two of the many structures whose interplay makes the poem real to us. Her metaphors may be traditional but they are often startling in their power to create strong feelings in readers by engaging them through analogy. All that glorious mental life is sponsored by the pregnant silence of her meters and stanzas as potential communication between subjects, both the axis of words and grammars and the axis of poet and audience.
We say, now THAT is beautiful!
What do we mean?
Well, we mean we are pointing at something that is beautiful. And we expect disagreement!
So, given ‘relativity,’ what is beauty? It’s obviously not some determinate thing.
Perhaps we should ask, what does ‘is’ mean here? As Desmond argues in The Gift of Beauty and the Passion of Being (Cascade, 2018), 118, there IS a ‘too muchness’ in beauty’s happening.
The roots of poetry are in the language. ‘The language’?
Well, that multidimensional object-medium that allows us a sense of ourselves and our world.
Language can be known in terms of being. William Desmond exhaustively defines four aspects: the univocal (the out there, rationally necessary), the equivocal (sense changing with context), the dialectical (the sense yielded by questions and answers), and the metaxological (the sense, fundamental to poetry, of the special open whole that draws on all the other senses and limits them by its sense of transcendence, of ongoing expanding relevance to what it is to be awake, mindful, in and through language).
Poems are true to ‘the language’ in varying degrees; so are poets; so are readers.