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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Hard and precise

I'll never get along with people who think of poetry as fuzzy and diffuse when it is actually hard and precise. It's true that fuzzy and diffuse effects can ensue. Those are effects, and their creation is rigorous, involving every aspect of language from sound and typography to grammar and morphology. 

Take this absolutely luminous poem by Lorca:

Primera página

Fuente clara.
Cielo claro.

¡Oh, cómo se agrandan
los pájaros!

Cielo claro.
Fuente clara.

¡Oh, cómo relumbran
las naranjas!


¡Oh, cómo el trigo
es tierno!


¡Oh, cómo el trigo
es verde!

The poem is mysterious, even though the images are ones of clarity and light. The rhyme derives from the refrain, which is repeated four ways. Reversed, shortened, then reversed again: claro / pájaro // clara / naranja // cielo / tierno // fuente / verde. The versification is irregular, but it doesn't really matter given all the other parallelisms. It is rooted in the popular oral tradition, but really doesn't resemble an anonymous poem. 

You don't need to interpret the poem, just feel its images. The symbols aren't there to represent other things, but just because, as Christopher Maurer has argued with respect to Lorca's later poetry.    

[clear fountain clear sky how the birds grow big how the oranges shine how the wheat is tender how the wheat is green]  


Leslie B. said...

This is gorgeous and here is an idea: it is because it is hard and precise that people do not like poetry.

The computer science, engineering and physics faculty all always say I seem like them and that they were surprised to find out I was not in one of the other two of the three aforementioned departments. That, I always say, is because I know foreign languages, not a foreign language, and I am interested in poetry and poetics, not bulky narrative.

Somehow I think that all of this explains a whole, whole lot. It also explains the other comment people make about at least my nature: they are divided upon whether I am a feeling enough person, or whether on the other hand I feel too deeply. "You care, yet you are stoical," they complain. The ones who feel the appropriate things in the appropriate amount are those who like historical, psychological, political fiction, Gloria Anzaldúa, Mary Oliver, and a host of other things one should like.

Poetry is not fuzzy but it is complex and these two reasons together are why people do not like it.

Jonathan said...

Yes. I am like that too. There is a poetic / mathematical / musical mind and a fuzzy humanities mind. I like fuzzy diffuse harmonies but I like to know what they are and put them together exactly the way I want to. I am not good at math but that was just because I made a kind of dumb mistake not to slog through some of the late high school stuff. Because my friends were fairly brilliant at it I thought I wasn't and egotistically decided it wasn't for me.

Leslie B. said...

I am pretty sure my mother had the math mind and was not expected to have, which is why she was considered less intelligent. I wonder if my father has it too -- he did the same thing as you with math in high school, had to go into humanities because of this, and lamented not having had a choice. It is interesting. I wonder how many humanities people actually have the math mind, and if the ones I am interested in fact those.