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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Poetry and Metaphor

Poetry is so much older, and raises so many questions, that any attempt to write sensibly about poetry in English leads to the core question of what poetry is.

The first poems were prayers, from those grateful who felt the stirring of language within them, grateful to the Gods who gave them language. Words burst into the brain like a vision, an explosion of new consciousness, a prescient thought that suddenly was and could be recalled forever after, a thought that could be given a sound.

In Europe the Goddess who inspired language was called the Muse.

There are many prayers, those that are felt, those that are false, or hastily conceived. Some find their mark and change the course of events, in the future, or even reach back to change and transform the past.

Poetry, as with every action we make upon this earth, all deeds, even deeds set out in words, have the unique power to change reality, to change the future, and even the possibility and power to change the past. Poetry as a ritually conceived language, did not require time, to act in a particular direction. I'll soon propose a thought experiment to prove this last point.

Here you cry 'Wait, Poetry ritually conceived? Didn't you just say that poetry began to stir in the minds of humans,  and they were grateful for that stirring?'

Yes. We must first realize what 'ritual' is. Ritual is a practiced, and disciplined action designed to capture or repeat some other act that we have no control over. A friend recently reminded me of C.G .Jung's great incite that, organized religion is a defense system against the spiritual.

Time for metaphor:

You're children, exploring lands behind your house. One day you and your friends venture further into the forest than you've ever come previously. There are some high cliffs, and into the base of those limestone cliffs, a deep cave.

Your first reaction, at least for most of you, is one of anxiety. You know in one instant that you will go there, but also that caves are dangerous. You remember what your parents have said, never go into a cave, but already you know you'll go into this one.

So the four of you set off into the cave. And you, being the oldest, are very nervous. You are nervous because you feel responsible. This is an 'event' you want to take charge of.

The light of consciousness seeks to illuminate that which is dark or unknown.

You venture further into the cave. There are some turns. Right, left, right. You make them, all of you repeating aloud the turns you have taken. Your fear level rises. It is very dark. Very soon you realize you won't be able to see if you go further.

You return home, after signing a blood pact. Nothing will be said to your parents. You discuss rules for further exploration.

This is precisely how the appearance of a new God occurs. He or she is kept secret. Pacts are signed. The parents, older Gods, mustn't realize there is some new spiritual activity taking place.

This is ritual. An effort to formalize, control, and thus repeat, an organized exploration of the unknown.

The next day you return.

You break out your sandwiches to eat, and then decide, before eating to make friends with whatever beings might live in the cave. You leave them something to eat. After all, if it's a bear or another frightening being, you want it to feel friendly.

This is an offering.

One of the little kids drops the flashlight into a puddle whilst marking the wall.

This is an omen.

You advise everyone to remain still. You fumble for the matches and the cedar. You light the torch. Suddenly the cave comes alive with the flicker of real fire. Whew! . . You're not too hard on little Ben. After all, he's just a kid. Perhaps the kids shouldn't be here.

That's ritual. Restrictive. Repeatable. It leads towards the numinous.

What's numinous here?

Suddenly something large and black powers out of the dark and runs past you. You run like devils for the light. You remember the four or five turns, and soon you're outside, hearts pounding, scared out of your minds.

scared = sacred

That's ritual. It leads towards the unknown. It leads towards what is dark, and powerful, towards what we cannot know otherwise, towards what is frightening.

Later that evening, you tighten up the rules. No more young kids. Too risky. They need to be indoctrinated slowly. This mystery of the big black furry thing is calling you back. But you want protection. Maybe three torches not one.

Soon there's a structure. It becomes an exercise in learning.


So how does a discipline such as poetry acquire this power?

The first stirrings of language are felt as strongly as that black animal that shot past you in the dark. You want that experience that moment again, but you want to control it. The first time it speaks it feels as if something short-circuited, or took over your mind.

Poetry. painting, song, all proceed from ritual. All are language. They leak out of the cave setting, out of ritual, into everyday life. Language enters the everyday, through the door of ritual, through learning, which is ritual.

You realize that the beast needs to be befriended.

Alas in time the kids, when they've all grown up, disagree about how the ritual should be performed. They separate, form different schools. After a while some of them stay in it just for the money.


Now, imagine the exact same sequence, but happening inside the mind. Out of the conscious flicker of food gathering, rushes a deep black voice! Language. This creature is powerful. It knocks one or two of you over it is so powerful.

We call it a God. But what gifts can we give to a God that is in our mind?

If you are the New Guinea cargo cult, you offer to the silver airplanes that bring cargo, a votive  twig airplane that is shaped in a similar way. That twig airplane is sculptural metaphor.

Poems are sound metaphors that approximate those early voices, in an effort to appease them, and to engage them in conversation.

Poems make offerings of metaphor.

The location of metaphor is different than meta-fire
One's with snow by the door, the other beneath a spire.

A furry thing can't be a friend of ours in the same way as you and I can, but nevertheless something must please it. If the furry thing is the sudden appearance of a conscious voice in the cave of of conscious mind, then what pleases it is sound. Imitative sound. Whatever sounds like it!


So we learn to appease, through imitation. Children do this. They appease adults by imitation. Ritual is the structure, sound is the offering. Those sounds, to a metaphoric mind, are the beginnings of all language, and the root of poetry which came before dialogue, before organized speech, before written words.

These metaphors have their basis in sound. All sounds, rather any particular sound or vibration, have the power to influence all things. A divine butterfly beating it's wings on a distant planet, may dramatically influence the course of events here on earth.

Metaphor is a term, grossly inadequate, to describe a source of synchronous energy which may be called upon after certain steps have been taken. Metaphor plucks a phenomena of physics which we on earth are still not understanding,  events of similar birth give off similar light, and have a similar fate. So with language. Metaphor is as inadequate as any other word when used technically, just as the word 'wave' does not adequately express all the power that is wave-like.

For metaphor to have power, it must be based more deeply than the poet him or herself is in his or her own life, and much more deeply rooted than the language that he or she uses. Poetry is not ultimately about the topics we assign it. When writing poetry be aware of this. It's not yours. The basis for for the roots of poetic language is sound, and a structure for language, all language. I am saying that the foundations of poetry are not in the language used to write it, but in vibration itself. Yet poetry is language. And humans do utter it.

Why do married couples wear rings instead of hats? Consider this.

So the distinction between a poem that 'rhymes' and one that seems not to, doesn't matter at all. What matters is that rhyme is one method of using sound and vibration to build frequencies that have the power to change events, perceptions, realities, colors, time, stop a rat's heart, or cause it to rain, all powers within a good poet's grasp.

Please don't confuse what I am saying with simile or alliteration. I am not speaking of a device used in writing English. Metaphor is not a device of language but the base for all language.

Metaphor came first. It is the carrier.

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