You can't read the same poem twice

February 12, 2016

#thisweekinpoetry: Every week I look back at the past few days and try to find a poetic quote to match. Or maybe the other way around, I find good poetry and try to match the week with it. Whichever works.

 

February 6 - 12

 

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.

 

from 'Burnt Norton,' by T.S. Eliot

 

About 20 years ago I first read this poem. I was into myth (when am I ever not?) and I was struck by Eliot's evocative power. My mind conjured up an image of a mountaintop on which an ancient ritual was performed, something to connect the forces without and within, the sacred and the profane. These lines may even have inspired a poem of my own, a poem that would be part of my first collection, a collection with a sand-coloured cover and a picture of an old building.

 

Input is output

Now I read the same poem with different eyes. I no longer think of mountaintops. Instead I am awed of how Eliot managed to describe that which precedes, unites and embodies all oppositions. That which the Chinese call 'Tao'. About which I have been reading a lot recently, so this just goes to show that you take as much out of a poem as you bring into it.

 

Big Bang and all

Through the weird power of assocation, (and granted, Joseph Campbell, whose work I am reading - when am I ever not?) this particular fragment also made me think of the Big Bang. It seems like a perfect way of describing it, that moment and place when all that would come to be was present and yet was not. That still point before time, that contained all.

 

Morgan Freeman's earring

And then I tried to go down the wormhole with Morgan Freeman. I watched this episode about dark matter because I am stuck with a childhood fascination of all things astronomical.  But speculation of dark matter forming shadow universes that, while only interacting with themselves, could still bump into our stuff....  It dazzled me. Maybe I was just too distracted by what looked like an earring in Morgan's ear.  Or maybe this show, like poetry, gives you what you bring into it. Which in my case is is still a fascination for shiny things, but jewelry instead of stars.

 

Another still point
Anyway, this week wasn't all philosophy, Big Bang-theories and gravitational waves. The Dutch copies of my first English chapbook arrived. The cover is sand-coloured and depicts an old building. The poems are no longer inspired by T.S. Eliot but by my stay in Virginia City, Nevada. One thing never changes though: the thrill of holding your own book and reading your own words on paper. Vanity, perhaps, but also, in its own way, is a still point where things come together.

 

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