Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Stuffing my head with poems

Well, I suppose the universe isn't going to just dump beauty on me without me making room for it in this head that is so crowded right now with troubles and worries and sadness from a variety of sources from the personal to the global. So, I'm trying to make a little room, move things around, clear a little space. I thought I would start with a poem that not only will start this process for me, but reminds me why I need it.

Robert Hayden wrote this poem not so long ago (1966), but I imagine that as true as it is for me, it would be for people of any time and place.

Monet's Waterlilies

Today as the news from Selma and Saigon
poisons the air like fallout,
I come again to see
the serene, great picture that I love.

Here space and time exist in light
the eye like the eye of faith believes.
The seen, the known
dissolve in iridescence, become
illusive flesh of light
that was not, was, forever is.

O light beheld as through refracting tears.
Here is the aura of that world
each of us has lost.
Here is the shadow of its joy.

I have loved this poem for years - it was the poem that led me to discover the rest of Hayden's amazing poetry and its lines ran through my head repeatedly in the months following 9/11, and whenever I turn to the arts for solace and sustenance.

I love the way Hayden describes Monet's painting and how he tried to capture light, preserve a light that "was not, was, forever is" - though when I read this poem I usually think of the haystack series, Monet moving down a line of canvases as the light changed. How "the eye like the eye of faith" believes it is seeing waterlilies from a distance, that up close dissolve. And the description of that dissolution as being like seeing through tears, the way you do look at a world you have lost, even as you can still see "the shadow of its joy" - meaning perhaps that the world is not entirely lost, is within reach, if removed for a time.

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