The Centrifugal Eye
November 2008 - Internal-eyes - Richardson
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INTERNAL-eyes: an essay
  by
Erik Richardson


                          Reflections on Woods Words Worlds



        One of my featured poems, Woods Words Worlds, which appears in this issue of The Centrifugal Eye, is probably my most ambitious piece in the number of things it tries to capture. Growing up I used to read a lot of fantasy writing, and the kind of thing that was always the most interesting to me was the idea that somehow there was a “true” language that had been used in creating the world, and that if we could recover the words of that language, we would somehow regain a kind of mystical power over rocks and streams and trees. As I grew older and learned more about philosophy and about religious faith, that idea was one that continued to resonate in me, and I saw it echoed in different places; “In the beginning was the Word” (New Testament) is a great example, but even more telling was the very beginning of the Bible itself: when God created the world, he did it by speaking — “Let there be light” (except, of course, not exactly in English).

        The poem begins:


                I.

                Here is how the story has always been:
                two young lovers hiking the green wide wood
                past the painful glare of day talking in voices of earth
                and stone, souls tangle together taking root
                time is free to circle past and future mastered by tense;
                speaking bends all distances, expanding twilight
                spreads imagination, moon, and stars
                while rising up from wells of myth and memory
                the murmuring creek speaks soft and strange
                words that can never be caught
                some few yet remain who know true words
                have to be spoken. Writing slows time
                holding the past still, distorts meaning,
                all around trees and wildflowers stand tip-toed
                sending leafy whispers up to silent listening stars.
                Lovers’ voices in time intertwined
                strangely now, as if always,
                rooted in this shared story,
                promise and promise they will hold onto all these things



        Perhaps even more amazing, though, was learning how much that same idea is woven into the fabric of almost all of the world’s religions and its mythologies, and not just in the western European traditions, but in places like the tribal beliefs of Native Americans too, some of my own ancestors included. This commonality seems to be even more the case the more you go back to the traditional forms of storytelling and oral literature. Over the course of my studies, I began to appreciate the hope that Heidegger had inherited from a thousand years of German tradition that if we could travel backward in the history of language, we could return closer and closer to the language that was used in creating the world; the “true” words for things that would bind them to us (and us to them), and — somehow — recover a lost connection to more than ourselves.

        Now of course, this is complicated — and made more interesting — in that one of the most powerful things language has ever done is to fiddle with our mental concept of time itself. The invention of verb tenses created the same illusion of discrete divisions of time that other areas of language have done in creating illusions about the division of self and other, and between your self and your personal history.


                II.

                Later in the story we find those two tangled souls
                struggling through days of pavement in harsh bright sunlight
                while words of making lie unspoken, visions fade unfed
                now time flows only forward
                onward leaving part of them behind
                like a children’s book we think we’ve long outgrown
                just so do stories disconnect with imagination forever
                sentenced in writing to “Once Upon Some Other Time”
                but the other world is always close enough to hear you whisper
                a burbling creek is always rising from deep stone-cooled springs
                on the echoes of its own voice. If we call to it speaking true
                the stream of time will turn once more
                to free the past and the storyteller
                moves us forward into a different future



        When you think of it that way, then, we are talking about traveling back in time along the trail of development of a device — language — the purpose of which has been to disconnect the stream of time and, as reflected in the “once upon a time” idea, to disconnect us from that stream of time. In Woods Words Worlds, then, I am attempting to show how we can use language to change around the flow of time and, in the process, reconnect with a more meaningful way of being and with our own past.

        So, all of those things are tied up together in this poem. Promising takes on a particular significance because, like a priest’s consecration of the host, the saying of the words “I promise” is an act which creates something intangible but nevertheless very real in the world. For many of us, the moment of a promise is the closest we come to reclaiming that mythic “language of making.”


                III.

                Here is how the story has always been:
                two lovers and their laughing child
                hiking the green wide wood past the painful glare of day
                this child’s bubbling laughter is heard but can never be written
                as it echoes and shifts all the while. In growing twilight
                three souls strangely, as if always,
                twined and tangled together from roots to leaftips
                rise up on voices to stretch tip-toed
                toward the silent listening moon
                and stars, full of promises they will hold onto all these things

                Be careful when you write this story down
                it might no longer be true



        It seems fitting to close on the ending lines of the poem, in which we can also see how the poem is my most ambitious, in that part of its goal is to express the fact that poetry, itself — written poetry — by its nature, can never quite express the things this poem is trying to express. Once it has been rendered static it is disconnected from the flow of time (as it can no longer change or grow) and it is, in the process, disconnected from what is real.




"Crystal Clear"
crystalballspotillus-30framed.jpg
E.A. Hanninen - 2008




Erik Richardson is this issue's Featured Poet.
Read more about Erik on his Poems page and in our Interview.



"Just as in earthly life lovers long for the moment when they are able to breathe forth their love for each other, to let their souls blend in a soft whisper, so the mystic longs for the moment when in prayer he can, as it were, creep into God."

                                                                        ~ Soren Kierkegaard, Balance Between Esthetic and Ethical (Vol. 2)





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