Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Duke Altum's Poem of the Week #38

What's amazing about this very famous poem is its articulation of the ineffable. Somehow Johann Wolfgang von Goethe found it in himself to express that yearning, part of every soul no matter how much clutter has been built up around it, for transcendence and communion with Something higher than oneself. It's the same thing Pascal was shooting for with his description of the "God-shaped vacuum" inside every human heart, and C. S. Lewis as well with his descriptions of sehnsucht in Surprised by Joy. And of course, Saint Augustine before either of them with his immortal words, "our hearts are ever restless until they find themselves in You."

I love the practical wisdom of the first two lines, especially for anyone who possesses the artistic temperament, or at least, impulse... Tell a wise person, or else keep silent/because the mass man will mock it right away. Ever feel this way when thinking about telling a work colleague or someone about your writing project, Mutt? :)

The best literature always, in one way or another, taps into this "holy longing," this "silent candle burning" in the soul... this is The Secret Thread.

(P.S. TST old-timers and veterans might recall that this is the poem I referenced in my posting on Breece Pancake's fiction a year or so ago...)


The Holy Longing

Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
because the mass man will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive,
what longs to be burned to death.

In the calm water of the love-nights,
where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
a strange feeling comes over you,
when you see the silent candle burning.

Now you are no longer caught in the obsession with darkness,
and a desire for higher love-making sweeps you upward.

Distance does not make you falter.
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.
And so long as you haven't experienced this:
to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.

1 comment:

Mutt Ploughman said...

The POTW series here comes roaring back!!!

Duke, this is excellent stuff. First of all your first introductory paragraph in itself is practically a clinic on the Western canon. It shows your wide reading experience!

This poem is great. I do remember the reference in your post on Breece Pancake, which of course I would not have been able to place. But this guy did capture pretty much what all artists are trying to get at, and perhaps all people in one way or another. It sure gets the juices flowing for one who is venturing ever-further into the dark wood of a long writing project.

I applaud this series' forceful resurgence and direct to you my spirited salute.