Brief observations on two poems
( first, two poems--below)
I'd been traveling all day, driving north
—smaller and smaller roads, clapboard houses
startled awake by the new green around them—
when I saw three horses in a fenced field
by the narrow highway's edge: white horses,
two uniformly snowy, the other speckled
as though he'd been rolling in flakes of rust.
They were of graduated sizes—small, medium,
large—and two stood to watch while the smallest
waded up to his knees in a shallow pond,
tossing his head and taking
—it seemed unmistakable—
delight in the cool water
around his hooves and ankles.
I kept on driving, I went into town
to visit the bookstores and the coffee bar
and looked at the new novels
and the volumes of poetry, but all the time
it was horses I was thinking of,
and when I drove back to find them,
the three companions left off
whatever it was they were playing at
and came nearer the wire fence—
I'd pulled over onto the grassy shoulder
of the highway—to see what I'd brought them.
Experience is an intact fruit,
core and flesh and rind of it; once cut open,
entered, it can't be the same, can it?
Though that is the dream of the poem:
as if we could look out
through that moment's blushed skin.
They wandered toward the fence.
The tallest turned toward me;
I was moved by the verticality of her face,
elongated reach from the tips of her ears
down to white eyelids and lashes,
the pink articulation
of nostrils, wind stirring the strands
of her mane a little to frame the gaze
in which she fixed me. She was the bold one;
the others stood at a slight distance
while she held me in her attention.
Put your tongue to the green-flecked peel
of it, reader, and taste it
from the inside: would you believe me
if I said that beneath them a clear channel
ran from the three horses to the place
they'd come from, the cool womb
of nothing, cave at the heart
of the world, deep and resilient and firmly set
at the core of things? Not emptiness,
not negation, but a generous, cold nothing:
the breathing space out of which new shoots
are propelled to the grazing mouths,
out of which the horses themselves are tendered
into the new light. The poem wants the impossible;
the poem wants a name for the kind nothing
at the core of time, out of which the foals
come tumbling: curled, fetal, dreaming,
and into which the old crumple, fetlock
and skull breaking like waves of foaming milk....
Cold, bracing nothing that mothers forth
mud and mint, hoof and clover, root hair
and horsehair and the accordion bones
of the rust-spotted little one unfolding itself
into the afternoon. You too: you flare
and fall back into the necessary
open space. What could be better than that?
It was the beginning of May,
the black earth nearly steaming,
and a scatter of petals decked the mud
like pearls, everything warm with setting out,
and you could see beneath their hooves
the path they'd traveled up, the horse road
on which they trot into the world, eager for pleasure
and sunlight, and down which they descend,
in good time, into the source of spring.
Just off the Highway to Rochester, Minnesota
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
( Now, brief observations . . .)
I've deliberately left the names of the authors off the following poems, though some of you will undoubtedly recognize at least one of the poems immediately.
Both poems are representative of their author's work. Both poets are widely published and recognized.
I've chosen these two works because I think their subject matter, and to some extent, their imagery, is similar.
You may not agree with this assertion, and may find the poems entirely, or partly dissimilar. One of the reasons for this post is to provoke discussion about the writer's craft and the handling of a given theme.
What I feel is achieved by "A Blessing", however, is a kind of "magic"-- the force and effect Emily Dickinson spoke of when she said she knew she was in the presence of true poetry when she felt " so cold that no fire could ever warm me" and that "the top of my head is taken off" by the poem's strength and clarity-- in short, its art.
Robert Bly said a somewhat similar thing when he insisted that a poem is " a brief penetration into the unconscious . . ." and that "if it can do this freshly, several times, it is a poem of several lines. If it cannot do this at all, it is not a poem, regardless of its length . . ."
You may not accept these definitions of poetry. How do these two poems strike you?
My own impression is that " Source", while very accomplished and ingenious in its imagery, structure and thread of discourse, is rather prosy and lacks that "magical" quality Emily Dickinson spoke of. "A Blessing", it seems to me, containing fewer lines, evokes a kind of vision beyond our world, certainly beyond our expectation. While it keeps one foot in the world, its conclusion moves beyond the ordinary.
For me, "A Blessing" gets closer to the "Source" ( however you wish to define "source") than "Source" does.
What are your impressions?