23 August 2009

The Rapture of English Poetry; or, A Meeting of Souls

What I like best about the best of the English poets is this uncanny, almost mad impulse they have, of wanting to read and decipher the non-human natural world. Some of them, you'd almost swear, could immerse themselves in a water-meadow as if it were Oxford's Bodleian Library. Or better yet, as if they'd thought they could decode, in every one of that meadow's creatures, a series of inscriptions, monuments, friezes and sculptures - and these of a civilization not only lost and irrecoverable, but wholly unsurpassable by even the best we moderns could ever achieve. Not, of course, a civilization whole and entire, but ruins and fragments. And yet even the tiniest of these fragments suggesting a way of Life immeasurably superior to all the grandest of our future utopias - superior, at least, in all those things that matter most permanently: Kindness, quietness, solitude, patience, wonder, rapture, delight.

I can't be sure what exactly these better poets have found, or whether indeed they've found anything. I can only write about what I see as the passion of their search. The best of them seem to search the "nature" of their field of vision, and every visible thing in it, as it were archaeologically: as if there lay concealed everywhere in its folds - even amid its most unforgiving conflicts, even in the savagery of "tiny" bird preying upon worm - some imprint of a human Self we had long ago lost or discarded. Almost as if, say, my childhood enjoyment of an old and much-beloved tree - and that tree's own, in its measure, delighted response to my enjoyment - were all things that still lay hidden, like a secret treasure, among its leaves and its bark: hidden, and waiting, and perhaps even hopeful of a periodic reunion (of hidden tree and hidden self) through all the intervening ravages of sun, and wind, and fire, and Man.

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