Poetry and Special Effects

In honor of National Poetry Month, which always struck me as a very bizarre month (is poetry less essential in the other eleven months of the year? And why April?), I thought I'd post a selection of some poetry on brainy themes. Here, for instance, is the opening stanza of Franz Wright poem in the latest New Yorker, entitled "The World of the Senses":

What a day: I had some trouble
following the plotline; however,
the special effects were incredible.

I sometimes wonder if people have always had a sense of their senses being special effects, or if the modern age (and by modern I mean everything since the Enlightenment) is particularly conscious of the fact that, as Kant put it, "the imagination is a necessary ingredient of perception itself." I mean, Plato wrote about those flickering shadows on the cave wall, but that was more about Platonic forms than about the fallibility of our senses. And what about before Plato? Is there something about our sensory reality that makes us inherently suspicious? Or is that suspicion a by-product of modern skepticism and science? (I was surprised, the other day, to meet a first grader who knew all about visual illusions...His favorite was the dalmatian and the dots.) After all, we didn't always realize that our reality was merely an emanation of a trillion electrical neurons, which had been haphazardly engineered by natural selection. Perhaps we stopped trusting our senses when we stopped talking about the "soul"?

And here, because it's April, are the first and last stanzas of "You," one of my favorite Auden poems:

Really, must you,
Over-familiar
Dense companion,
Be there always?
The bond between us
Is chimerical surely:
Yet I cannot break it.

Oh, I know how you came by
A sinner's cranium,
How between two glaciers
The master-chronometer
Of an innocent primate
Altered its tempi:
That explains nothing.

Who tinkered and why?
Why am I certain,
Whatever your faults are,
The fault is mine,
Why is loneliness not
A chemical discomfort,
Nor Being a smell?

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Why April for National Poetry Month? That is mysterious--but here's an association. T.S. Elliot wrote that,

'APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers...'

"Love or perish" W. H. Auden

By OftenWrongTed (not verified) on 21 Apr 2008 #permalink

Before April slips away here's an offering from one mind to another, courtsey of the 15c. poet Gotsangpa. This is the first stanza of his poem the "Seven Delights":

When thoughts that there is something,
a perceived and a perceiver,
lure my mind away and distract,
I don't close my senses' gateways
and meditate without them,
But plunge straight into their essential point.
They're like clouds in the sky,
there's a shimmer as they fly,
Thoughts that rise for me ---
sheer delight!

(senses)

Snow - by Louis Macneice

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes -
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands -
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.