The metaxy or between originated in Plato’s myth Socrates tells about when he consulted about love in The Symposium. Love was the offspring of Plenty and Want. Love dwells in the between (metaxy), always subject to change, always longing for permanence.
Lyric embodies the truth of the metaxy. Though lyric depends on moments of contemplative fullness, erotic arrest, poetically realized in images that have a kind of halo, the flow of verse plunges ahead into the abyss of the between. The dialectic yields to a meta-vision of the ‘porosity’ (Desmond pulls this term from Plato’s myth of fullness and lack). This Rees-Jones calls her middle years.
This pattern, in which the ‘form’ of lyric (let’s call it metaxy or between) emerges from the dialectical narrative of the lyric’s ‘passage,’ is very common. Sort of the DNA of lyric. Deryn Rees-Jones, Erato (Seren).
The Orchards of Syon echos with the theme ‘life is a dream’ but as Rowan Williams observes (Geoffrey Hill: Essays on His Later Work 68), ‘Poesis is what makes the dream other than death, not just a repetition …’
I see in section XXXVI, an emergence of form that, more than bring ‘other than death’ testifies to the presence of ‘form’ itself. The large generic pattern of lyric’s unfoldment—- from the opening determination (the first line) through various qualifying descriptions of the equivocal time/space givens, to the moment I call metaxyturn (note the reference to Celan), and the ensuing reflexivities and confessions. The unfoldment of this sequence brings us to a standstill (tautology has its role in the hovering aporia). In this case, the sense of agapeic (Hell is empty) fuses the personal and the universal in a moment of that remains open to eschatological thought/dream. Return to beginning. The congestion typical of Hill’s late style is dialectic, the grammar of kenotic selving that concludes in festive plurivocity.
Are poems, taken as wholes, references to inner states of the poet, or something else? References ‘to’ something else, or just something else?
Maybe all three at different times? My own poems move between these positions. That’s why I find Wittgenstein’s remarks so bracing. In the end, for him it’s all a conversation. The human being is the best model of the mind (see Kerr, 140).
Poets struggle with the paradox of the present. Poetic language, as opposed to more simply univocal discourse, creates impressions of presence; poetry has an inclination to witness while it is describing. The status of a poem is always suspect with regards to what a given community of readers considers to be ‘the truth.’
Poetry is messy. To see why we can use Wittgenstein’s distinction between language that describes and language that develops means of description, the distinction between rules of description and descriptive propositions; and we should take note of his observation that the functions may ‘shade off’ in multiple directions — the language can change function in the text. You can’t tell one from the other by merely looking at them in isolation. What language does in context is what counts.
This dynamic helps ‘explain’ language that challenges belief, or paradoxes intended to create aporia. ‘Tao defined is not the constant Tao. / No name names its eternal name.’ Perhaps this works like a koan. The propositional form of the first sentence emphasizes the vanity of trying to name the ‘constant’ Tao. The second sentence adds insult to injury by applying the proposition to the situation created by attempts to name its eternal’ name (perhaps we can call it by temporary names. So the first sentence ‘describes’ Tao and the second develops means of description: we can go on by exploring the problem of naming and constancy.
My larger point is that even this rudimentary description produces in the reader s feel for the thing at hand, even though it is not a thing at hand. As we read the Tao Te Ching the Tao ‘thickens’ and expresses its unreal reality. Everything depends on Tao.
To take a more ‘poetic’ example. Yeats’s ‘Who Goes with Fergus’ opens with a question. ‘Who will go drive with Fergus now,/And pierce the deep wood’s woven shade…’ The distribution is clear: the first half-line suggests the proposition (the who who would entertain the myth of Fergus) and the rest describes the means of description. The poem tries to describe driving with Fergus by describing what it would be like (see below). The verb ‘drive’ introduces the resistance to accepting the proposition (the equivocity of the semantics is inescapable) Throughout the poem description and the means of description are subtly interwoven. The witness to the ‘eternal present’ of the myth draws on both functions.
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.’
Regarding ‘loop holes’ in theory —- say we are talking about the volta in sonnets and fail to mention a change of ‘tone’ or perspective. Since there are always areas untouched by some discussions of rules, assuming the doubleness should be part of the game of poetics. What is missing from our discussion of the rules is covered by our examples. The relevant rules are IN the examples. The big takeaway is that poetics proceeds dialectically ‘between’ rules and examples. Poetics is inherently dialogical. To speak metaxically, poetics is double. It happens BETWEEN rules and examples.