Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Meditation at Lagunitas by Robert Hass

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies.
We talked about it late last night and in the voice
of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone
almost querulous. After a while I understood that,
talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,
pine, hair, woman, you and I. There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.
Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.
But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,
the thing her father said that hurt her, what
she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous
as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.

This is one of my favorite poems. I first read it when I was in college and was reading a lot of literary theory, and I really connected with the beginning of the poem, where it talks about "the new thinking" and how sad it is to understand everything in terms of an ideal of purity that is never reachable. I also really like the images in the poem, and the way it moves around from topic to topic, each one vividly rendered through concrete description: the tone of the voice, the little fish, the bread, the blackberries, all connected by the line of the speaker's thought and through the poem's conversational tone. The poem seems to me to affirm the value of the particular in the face of theories that tell us to think about everything as cold and abstract. I also really like the way that it makes this philosophical point in terms of a very human story, with characters, scenes, emotions, and sense-words. Obviously, this is only one of millions of ways to write a poem about an idea, but it is a way that works really well here because it uses specifics to make the idea personal and avoid cliches.

I'm going to make my responses a bit shorter than yours should be, in order to do a couple of examples.


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