Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Poems for September 9

In tribute to Seamus Heaney.

"The Given Note", read at Seamus Heaney’s Funeral, September 2, 2013:

Passing – by Kwame Dawes, first of four poems written in tribute of Seamus Heaney, published in the WSJ.
The 4th one by Dawes is “after A Kite for Aibhín”. We will discuss the poem that inspired it,
"L'Aquilone" by Giovanni Pascoli, which Heaney translated, as well as Heaney's poem inspired by it:
A Kite for Aibhín
Knocks on the door by Maram Al-Massri (a very short poem appearing in "Poetry Not Written for Children that
Children Might Nevertheless Enjoy," by Lemony Snicket.
"Digging", by Heaney.

What is necessary to understand a poem? We discussed at length the different aspect
of “understanding” – how biographical information enhances meaning; how understanding what goes into a poem like “A Kite for Aibhin” based on Heaney’s translation of “Aquilone, a poem allows layers of meaning which the poems by themselves could not offer. A poem allows us several readings – line by line,
line as what is spooled out from title, gathered to linger in a final line that perhaps
already invites a departure to some new land. We read aloud “The Republic of Conscience” which I have slated for next week, and also “Picking Blackberries”
in addition to the discussion.

What a fitting tribute to Seamus Heaney to read aloud “The Given Note”. Singular,
unique, specific note, linked to the Irish islands where only Gaelic is spoken.
A hint of Shakespeare’s Tempest, and concurrent universes, a hint of an orchestra, where an oboe gives the A, or magic. The play on air, note, bow, the evocation of a musical spirit level communicating “this air” – drawn from “out of the night”, from “nowhere”,
The power of his gift – not of gab in the first definition of glib talk, but gift of
I was reading his “nobel prize acceptance speech, which has another idea of “air”.

“And yet the platform here feels more like a space station than a stepping stone, so that is why, for once in my life, I am permitting myself the luxury of walking on air.
I credit poetry for making this space-walk possible. I credit it immediately because of a line I wrote fairly recently instructing myself (and whoever else might be listening) to “walk on air against your better judgement”. But I credit it ultimately because poetry can make an order as true to the impact of external reality and as sensitive to the inner laws of the poet's being as the ripples that rippled in and rippled out across the water in that scullery bucket fifty years ago. ”
He quotes as well Archibald MacLeish, “... ‘A poem should be equal to/not true.’ As a defiant statement of poetry's gift for telling truth but telling it slant, this is both cogent and corrective. Yet there are times when a deeper need enters, when we want the poem to be not only pleasurably right but compellingly wise, not only a surprising variation played upon the world, but a re-tuning of the world itself. We want the surprise to be transitive like the impatient thump which unexpectedly restores the picture to the television set, or the electric shock which sets the fibrillating heart back to its proper rhythm. ”
So it felt reading his poems, that we were in the presence of music, clear and inspiring,
with a wisdom.

In the poem, “Passing” written in tribute to Heaney by Kwame Dawes, I could not find the source of the Heaney epigraph: The day he died, the day he didn’t need
To catch the horse since the horse had come to him
Where he sat beside a path -- Seamus Heaney

Poetry allows us to talk about death, as a universal, and yet glean the particulars of a culture, and how they shine a light on understanding. We felt Dawes was close to some of Emily Dickinson’s writing about death, and discussed at length the word “violent” –
as it pertains not to those who have died, but to us who remain, living.
to quote the context, “But death, sudden and violent, and by this/
I mean the halting of animation, the suspense/
that becomes the dying person’s last/
expression; to see that break in time/
is to kill something in us, again, each time.

In discussing both Heaney’s translation of “Aquilone” and his own poem, “A Kite for Aibhan”, we discussed at length the word “windfall” and the change of register in the translation:
“You who were lucky to have seen the fallen/
Only in the windfall of a kite.

It is as if the kite-flying were already coupled with the emotion of a young Heaney
at boarding school, learning about the violent death of his 4 year old brother in an accident, and the emotion of living in times of war...
For his little grand-daughter, the ending line flies with a sense of elation, freedom,
and yet also this sense of fate, of what falls, depending on how the wind blows...

“The kite takes off, itself alone, a windfall.”

Heaney’s final words, “Do not fear” (Noli Timere) address his conviction that a poet’s role is to write about our fears, identify, describe, as accurately as possible, not,
to quote Michael Enright, necessarily to assuage them, but so that we know what we are dealing with. CBC News Posted: Sep 6, 2013,
“Our poets act as the counter to our fears. Our poets don't change the world, but instead change the way we look at it. They provide a glimmer of something better.”

No comments: