Posts Tagged ‘Kenneth Rexroth’

Poets Kooser, Rexroth, and Glück describe their experiences with telescopes looking at the stars

April 28, 2019

Poets have written about the night sky and how it’s transformed them. Pulitzer Prize winner (2005) and U.S. Poet Laureate (2004-2006) Ted Kooser read from his poetry before a standing-room only audience in Campbell Hall at UC Santa Barbara (August/2005). In his introduction to this poem, Telescope, Kooser describes how he wakes up early every morning to write. William Stafford used to do the same thing.

Telescope

This is the pipe that pierces the dam
that holds back the universe,

that takes off some of the pressure,
keeping the weight of the unknown

from breaking through
and washing us all down the valley.

Because of this small tube,
through which a cold light rushes

from the bottom of time,
the depth of the stars stays always constant

and we are able to sleep, at least for now,
beneath the straining wall of darkness.

Ted Kooser, Delights and Shadows, p. 6

As part of the Pulitzer Centennial Campfires Initiative, the South Dakota Humanities Council commissioned a series of essays about prize winners. Christine Stewart-Nuñez wrote about her poetry teacher: Ted Kooser: A poet of connection.

Kenneth Rexroth also wrote about the cosmos looking through a telescope and how it changed him in this poem, The Heart of Herakles.

My body is asleep. Only
My eyes and brain are awake.
The stars stand around me
Like gold eyes, I can no longer
Tell where I begin and leave off.

Louise Glück in her poem, Telescope, describes a similar loss of body awareness as she identifies with the enormity of the star-filled night sky.

You’ve been stopped being here in the world.
You’re in a different place,
a place where human life has no meaning.

You’re not a creature in a body.
You exist as the stars exist,
participating in their stillness, their immensity.

Poets Rumi and Octavio Paz also open our minds to a cosmic perspective. In The Essential Rumi, Coleman Barks translates his poem:

I am so small I can barely be seen.
How can this great love be inside me?

Look at your eyes. They are small,
but they see enormous things.

Paz’s poem, Brotherhood, translated with Eliot Weinberger, is an homage to the ancient astronomer, Claudius Ptolemy.

I am a man: little do I last
and the night is enormous.
But I look up:
the stars write.
Unknowing I understand:
I too am written,
and at this very moment
someone spells me out.

In that blog post I conclude with my haiku, Forest Flowers, and mention my poem As Above So Below. Both describe relationships between the individual and the universal. 

Poetry helps us imagine what it’s like to be human. ~ Mark Strand (1934–2014)

December 5, 2014

Mark Strand, former U.S. poet laureate (1990-1991) and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1999), felt strongly that writing and reading poetry could make us better human beings. “Poetry helps us imagine what it’s like to be human,” he said in an Inscape interview last year.

Percy Bysshe Shelley had famously said, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” When Mark Strand was asked what he thought the function of poetry was in today’s society, he replied: “It’s not going to change the world, but I believe if every head of state and every government official spent an hour a day reading poetry we’d live in a much more humane and decent world. Poetry has a humanizing influence. Poetry delivers an inner life that is articulated to the reader.”

Indeed, especially if they were as transformed by poetry as Mark Strand, who wanted to feel himself “suddenly larger . . . in touch with—or at least close to—what I deem magical, astonishing. I want to experience a kind of wonderment.”

Last week, one of my poet friends, Roger Pelizzari, emailed me about the passing of Mark Strand, and included a favorite poem of his, My Name. Roger included a link to an earlier Paris Review interview: Mark Strand, The Art of Poetry No. 77, with his friend Wallace Shawn, from which I’ve included interesting excerpts.

I was surprised and sorry to hear the news of Strand’s passing and checked the Paris Review for an update. I found Memoriam Mark Strand, 1934–2014, under The Daily by Dan Piepenbring, and sent it to Roger.

Media from around the world published Obituaries reviewing the Canadian-born, American poet’s accomplished literary career. The LA Times described Mark Strand as “a revelatory poet who addressed love and death in his poems, but in radically lyrical, revelatory ways.”

This poem is filled with the wonderment he sought, and seems a fitting memorial, prophetically written in the poet’s own magical words.

My Name

Once when the lawn was a golden green
and the marbled moonlit trees rose like fresh memorials
in the scented air, and the whole countryside pulsed
with the chirr and murmur of insects, I lay in the grass,
feeling the great distances open above me, and wondered
what I would become and where I would find myself,
and though I barely existed, I felt for an instant
that the vast star-clustered sky was mine, and I heard
my name as if for the first time, heard it the way
one hears the wind or the rain, but faint and far off
as though it belonged not to me but to the silence
from which it had come and to which it would go.

(more…)

Poets Kenneth Rexroth and William Wordsworth Experienced Transcendence and Self-Awareness

December 3, 2014

Transcendence and a self-referral awareness are described by great poets when they interact deeply with nature. In the process, they experience their own inner nature. Their poetic expressions describe a state similar to what practitioners of Transcendental Meditation experience, where the body is deeply restful, more than deep sleep, and the mind is highly alert, peaceful, unobstructed by thoughts, unbounded.

Kenneth Rexroth

Kenneth Rexroth describes this experience in his poem, The Heart of Herakles, (The Collected Shorter Poems of Kenneth Rexroth). Looking up into the night sky through a telescope, he sees the enormous constellations and soon loses his sense of self. “My body is asleep. Only my eyes and brain are awake. … I can no longer tell where I begin and leave off.” In this expanded state he becomes aware of different aspects of nature being collectively self-aware with an “eye that sees itself.”

The Heart of Herakles

Lying under the stars,
In the summer night,
Late, while the autumn
Constellations climb the sky,
As the Cluster of Hercules
Falls down the west
I put the telescope by
and watch Deneb
Move towards the zenith.
My body is asleep. Only
My eyes and brain are awake.
The stars stand around me
Like gold eyes, I can no longer
Tell where I begin and leave off.
The faint breeze in the dark pines,
And the invisible grass,
The tipping earth, the swarming stars
Have an eye that sees itself.

You can hear Kenneth Rexroth read The Heart of Herakles in this July 13, 1955 recording, from 27:36 to 28:13, posted by The Poetry Center.

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth describes a similar experience of an inner physical suspension along with a deep seeing and joyful knowing while recalling a transcendental experience in his poem, Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798. Here are some excerpts from that long poem.

That blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened: — that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on —
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul;
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

His initial experience of transcending within his own mind has matured as he recognizes that same transcendental essence throughout nature, thereby unifying his inner Self with the same Self of all conscious things.

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

(more…)


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