Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What really matters

Let me share here a few lines by my friend the poet Tom O'Grady. They are from a poem called "Close to Death," in his collection What Really Matters:
By that gray pool, I thought, that windowpane
on the deep, deep heavens -- in that last breath

before light plunges through the murky depth
(as if Reason's lucid reach could explain

what lurks beneath the surface of our night) --
solace might emerge with the rhythmic flick,

of an angler's wrist or the pulse-quick
fluttering of the day's first flock in flight.
Let's not be too concerned for the moment with meaning; I think you might intuit something of that easily enough. No, let's think about language, and how the language of the poet differs from that of the scientist. Read the excerpt aloud. And think of all the ways the poet uses sound and image -- sound and image that are mutually reinforcing -- to convey a meaning that harbors in Mystery somewhere beyond that windowpane.

I wrote the other day about engineering drawings and the creative artist's sketch. The first might be skillfully done and have a elegance of line, but it is ultimately anonymous and strives for unambiguous meaning. The second belongs uniquely to the artist herself, and while striving for clarity, hints at far more than it unambiguously expresses. Something of the same could be said for the languages of the scientist and the poet.

In another poem, "How a Poem Begins," Tom speaks of "the plain made strange, the odd matter-of-fact." In that, at least, science and poetry are in consonance. In their separate ways, and in their separate languages, both science and poetry reveal the rich complexity of the commonplace, and the ordinariness of the seemingly miraculous.

(Taking a day off tomorrow. In transit to Ireland. Never know what we'll find there on our hill in Kerry for an internet connection. Hope to see you Thursday.)