Tenderness toward Existence

the dream / of all poems and the text / of all loves --

Monday, November 14, 2005

Getting the news from poetry ...



This is a picture of asphodel, that greeny flower about which William Carlos Williams writes. It's from that poem -- "Asphodel, that Greeny Flower" -- that we get the oft-quoted lines about the urgency of poetry: "It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there."

These lines might be an appropriate epigraph for this blog, since I can see that two of my obsessions -- poetry and politics -- are already emerging as its dominant themes.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Of wars, wars, wars ...

It occurs to me that Kinnell's The Book of Nightmares -- an anti-war poem written in 1970, on what the poet calls his "sixteen-thousandth night of war and madness" -- is especially relevant to our own historical moment ... as Veterans Day 2005 passes and we recognize the death of the 2000th American soldier in Iraq, as the monthly body counts only continue to rise, and the way we got into this war becomes as uncertain as the way we're going to get out of it. Sound familiar? War and madness, indeed.

Tenderness toward Existence

The title is from Galway Kinnell's The Book of Nightmares, one of the most beautiful poems I know. It's a haunting and magical long poem, perfect for autumn. The "dream of all poems and the text of all loves," Kinnell offers, is "Tenderness toward Existence." I've been reading Robert Thurman on Tibetan Buddhism lately, and I'm struck by how clearly Kinnell's term for this essential spiritual truth mirrors the "mother recognition" Thurman discusses, a practice in which we develop compassion by meditating on the idea that, over the course of countless lifetimes, all beings have been our mother (and we, theirs).

Kinnell's suggestion that, ultimately, this -- compassion, connection, community; contact, as WCW would say) -- is what it's all about also very much reminds me of the end of The Waste Land, another long poem to which I like to return every few years. In it, Eliot explicitly draws on eastern philosophy to express a similar sentiment: "Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata. / Shantih shantih shantih," an allusion to the Upanishads that the poet translates as "Give. Sympathize. Control. / The Peace which passeth understanding. ... "

As the name of my blog, "Tenderness toward Existence" isn't so much a description of my current worldview as it is a statement of an approach to life that I admire in others and a way of being in the world to which I aspire.