The Word is Psyche

If it were possible to graph the trajectory of the emergence of new poetry - which is, actually, an impossible abstraction, but if it were possible - it would look less like a straight line or rising curve, and more like a sort of back-&-forth : an alternating current, a dance. A give-&-take between younger generations - Stevens' "ephebes" - & the classics, the achieved works of older generations, the past.

This is not just a matter of nostalgia or conservatism. The older poetry of past times & foreign places has gone through a certain cycle, which for the new, is ahead - still inchoate, still not yet. This cycle actually reveals itself only after the present has become the past : it's an effect of history, you might say. What I'm thinking of is a kind of "naturalization", of acculturation : the process by which a work of art, of poetry - produced by the artist in a state of great stress & anticipation - is finally received, absorbed, accepted, responded-to, and to some extent comprehended by the culture which called it forth in the first place & for which it was made. Until such a work is taken in this way, becomes a part of its surrounding culture, it remains somehow incomplete - it's an orphan, like a plaintive cricket calling out for its cricket family.

& what I'm thinking of (when I say poetic emergence is a kind of alternating back-&-forth, a dialectical dance) is the visceral, quickening (Eliot's term) impact that these "classics" - these fully-absorbed works from past & foreign places - have upon adolescent readers & young poets. The blissful shock these ephebes are registering is the full effect, the double impact, both of the work itself and of its naturalization - the way it shines through the adorable paper & binding & sweet-scented glue of the cherished paperback - which the young reader, much like a chipmunk, immediately runs off with - retreating to some private hideout, worthy of the poems' warm & secret inner glow.

Again, I would argue that this whole process can't be reduced to some sort of sentimental regression, nostalgia, or "classicism" for its own sake. As Mandelstam puts it, "the Word is Psyche." We might say the process of poetic reception is actually tripartite : there is (1) the poem itself; there are (2) the delicate reverberations of its cultural naturalization, as we have described; & finally there is (3) the psychological dimension, the readers' own ground of feeling. The harmony, the music, we respond to in "ancient" (say, 19th-cent., for just one example) poetry, is, ultimately, not an anachronistic property belonging to those old writers of another, better time. Rather, the poets themselves caught some elusive "affluence" (Stevens' term) - penetrating, permeating & transcending their own time & place - of natural harmony, beauty in general. Pushkin's glory for Russians, for example, has to do with the fact that he drew something out of the harmony that exists as a kind of promise everywhere, giving it a "local habitation and a name." So that poetry feeds on, & actually stems from, this future-oriented promise of joy & harmony - the potential of goodness - which we tend to think only visits us in childhood, briefly, not to return. On the contrary, what we experienced in childhood was a stronger "feeling-perception" or intuition of that same promise of a yet-unknown but overwhelming happiness. Childhood & adolescence are absorbed in this sense - this longing for the future. & the indirections of poetry - its "resistance to the intelligence" (Stevens), its elusive basis in feeling & emotion - its "telling it slant" (Dickinson) - are all involved with evoking this irrational life of feeling, flowing gradually beneath the turbid commotions we experience "on the surface" of clock-time & the day-to-day.