Friday, March 17, 2006

Sun Comes Out for Birthday Celebrations

Our fickle West Coast weather has done another stunning turn, from snow and hail and lots of rain into sun and Bay Area warmth. Who knows what the next few days will bring, but at least we're getting the cosmic nod for now! A lot of thin people rushing around ... everyone quietly sparkling.

I'm still hunting for poems about kindness, generosity and self-sacrifice. Anyone know of such? I did find Naomi Shihab Nye's stunning poem Kindness, but I continue to search. All ideas appreciated!

This winter I've discovered Harryette Mullen (a recommendation of Naomi's). It's intoxicating, recursive and word-wild stuff. Reading Mullen alongside Alice Fulton's intense verbal pyrotechnics is enough to make me believe Wallace Stevens is alive and being channeled through these poets. I can imagine either Mullen or Fulton having written these Stevens lines:

After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
No was the night. Yes is this present sun.

Though I think no one writing right now reminds me of one of my favorite Stevens poems, "Sea Surface Full of Clouds" -- no poet I know matches the sheer visual spectacle and verbal and philosophical reach of lines like these, from Part 1:

Paradisal green
Gave suavity to the perplexed machine

Of ocean, which like limpid water lay.
Who, then, in that ambrosial latitude
Out of the light evolved the morning blooms,

Who, then, evolved the sea-blooms from the clouds
Diffusing balm in that Pacific calm?
C’était mon enfant, mon bijou, mon âme.

And these lines, from Part 2 of "Sea Surface":

And a sham-like green
Capped summer-seeming on the tense machine

Of ocean, which in sinister flatness lay.
Who, then, beheld the rising of the clouds
That strode submerged in that malevolent sheen,

Who saw the mortal massives of the blooms
Of water moving on the water-floor?
C’était mon frère du ciel, ma vie, mon or.


  1. Rachel,

    How nice to see you post some of Stevens. His poems crossed my path about 3 years ago. Crude Foyer was the first; so I bought one of those l cheapo used collections of his verse, and was a-mazed.

  2. Rachel,
    a lovely reminder of the peculiar beauties of Stevens (whom I must spend more time with at some point).

    Your question about poetries of kindness set me on a mini-quest. Here are just a couple of items, perhaps I'll seek out more later.

    In his poem Good People, W.S. Merwin begins from recollection of his parents' kindness, to trace a sense of implied bewilderment at the seeming absence of this quality among many well-educated persons. The poem leaves much unstated. The central thread of kindness is to be noted.

    Incidentally, Sylvia Plath wrote a poem entitled Kindness. It involves an imaginative musing on things including kindness, though the sense of the poem seems surreal, ironic, painful, self-absorbed -- or can be read in terms of those various qualities.

    W.B. Yeats similarly has a deeply ironic, though quite lyrical poem mentioning kindness -- he first describes his beloved: Like the moon her kindness is, but then equivocates considerably on the meaning of the word.

    In his poem The Excesses of God, Robinson Jeffers proposes there to be an "extravagant kindness," a "great humaneness at the heart of things" -- and allows that all people both recognize this and also desire to reflect the same quality in their own behavior -- if they but had the ability to do so. The last thought is expressed more poetically,
    If power and desire were perch-mates.

    So that's from a bit of idle googling. There's more such to be found, I feel sure. I was also thinking of Ray Carver's poem entitled "Pure Gravy," but didn't find it online. But in general, qualities of gratitude pervade most of his poetry.


  3. Rachel,

    bit more on your theme. This is from prose rather than poetry, but bears quoting:
    Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.
    -- Henry James

    Also to note is this 2-line poem from Tagore :
    Let me be a flower, dear God, in your kindness,
    a flower that opens, not a needle that pierces!

    Also of passing note is the origin (in Shakespeare) of the phrase "the milk of human kindness".

    a mini-harvest,

  4. Ann - Amazing is a good word for Stevens. I remain amazed by his poetry. I keep discovering it!