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National Educational radio takes pleasure in introducing one in a series of recorded lectures and readings from the Library of Congress in Washington. The lectures were given in cooperation with the Gertrude Clark with all poetry and literature in front of the library today. James Dickey a consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress who speak on metaphor as a pure adventure. It will be introduced by the director of the reference department at the library. Dr. Roy P. Bassler Good evening ladies and gentleman and welcome to the Library of Congress. It's my privilege this evening to introduce a speaker who needs no introduction he has been appearing more. Regularly on this platform. By a good deal than I have. James decade the consultant employed today at the Library of Congress. Has become. A very much anticipated and familiar performer here before our audiences. Who come
to hear the literary program the occasion this evening is his like here. His second lecture delivered as consultant the boy of three and I'm sure that many of you who are here are here because you remember with much pleasure his first lecture delivered last year. The title of which was spending the crystal ball. In which he took a look at the future of. Poetry in America. Tonight he's going to give us another professional kind of lecture professional in the sense that it is a poet talking about the poetry the title of it. Met her as pure adventure. It is both a writer's and a reader's lecture
which I am very happy to. Say I'm sure all of you will receive with a great deal of pleasure. That's James Dickey. It was. Thank you very much indeed. I didn't know there was this there were this was this many people in Washington in the Washington area interested in metaphor or adventure either. I have as the few remarks I liked in my not in a sense of any formal lecture on aesthetics or anything that saw it but just of a purely personal nature. The longer I continue to write. The more it seems to me that the most exciting thing about poetry is it's from the standpoint of the poet
is that sense of imminent and practical discovery. With this in mind and also in view of the fact that I'm the one giving the lecture this evening. It might be interesting to look at the kinds of discovery that poetry with luck makes possible and what happens when the poet asks part of the creation to get together not with the consent of the Almighty but simply because he asked them to. Let me begin with a passage from a favorite novel of mine and the time of Man by Elizabeth Madox Roberts. Really you must read that. This is the first paragraph of the book. Ellen wrote her name in the air with her finger. Ellen Chester. Leaning forward in writing on the horizontal plane beside her and the wagon her mother
huddled under an old shawl to keep us from the damp complain and we ought to be going on. Now this is a primitive look to me very moving away of self-definition and could stand for the kind of thing that every poet is attempting to do to write his name on the air. But in the case of poets the important thing is to notice that self definition is not a matter of formulaic or any other permanent kind of restrictive attitude but is rather a thing of the moment as though if one were to understand the self of the moment. One might thereby understand something of the essential self. One may never operate in the whole of the self as if the self might be uncovered in its entirety. Bit by bit as one strips the trivia away. The relation of poetry and of metaphor to the self is not like this at all.
It is a matter of moments and of the conjunctions that may be born of the moment and eliminate the moment and then come to stand for one of the ways in which the moment may strike to the heart of time itself. As William Blake said eternity is in love with the productions of time. The deliberate conjunction of disparate items which we call metaphor is not so much a way of understanding the world but a petulantly exciting way of recreating it from its own parts as though God who admitted it admittedly did it right the first time had by no means exhausted the possibilities. It's a way of causing the item's of the real world to act upon each other to recombine to suffer and learn from the mysterious value systems of value making systems of the individual both in his
socially conditioned and in his inmost wild untutored mind. It is a way of putting the world together according to rules which one never fully understands but which are as powerful a compelling as anything in the whole human makeup making metaphors is like operating according to dictates and even here I am reasoning by likes as one will do dictates which are imperatives but which are not fully comprehended but mainly fell out imperatives which simply present themselves not in the form of codify dicta but as modes of action in that particular context. That is to say a poet will sight himself put this word with that one rather than the other one. It is these two things that you want to compare and not those two. I can see poetry not so much as a matter of serene and descension disinterested choice
but of action and of the very heat of action. I think of the point as a kind of action in which if the poet can participate enough other poet cannot help notice a painting in as well. I am against oh more Morio closed to be contemplated kinds of poems and conceive of the point as a minute part of the Herrick Lieschen flux and of the object of the poem is not to slow or fix a limit to flux at all but to try as it can to preserve and implement the flux ness of the flow and show this moving through the poem coming in at the beginning and going back out after the end into the logical non-verbal universe whence it came. I am everywhere aware of relation and connection with the one object shedding a light a more or less strong a more or less interesting light on another. It is at least fairly interesting to say Well since I'm up here on the stage just to say stages Aust ages what
does that remind you of. Stages and mountains maybe plateaus. There's a certain similarity of form a tween stage and a plateau or even a mountain of people in the Bible always making speeches for mountains. There are lots of stage precedents and mountain precedents that one can if one isn't Eleatic traditionalist. But no that really is not very interesting is it. After all. But when one is carried away in this kind of vein is it best to heed the warning implicit in the great story of the Argentinian right. Berkus the handwriting of God and book I ask you to note that each single thing implies the whole universe. If you think of the Jaguar he says this is an animal rather than the automobile. You got to go see that to get his megaphone. If you think of the Jaguar You also imply the herds of deer on which the Jaguar
fed. And the grass that nourish those herd and the rain that fell on the grass. And finally the whole eternal process that caused the jaguar the single Jaguar to be the put it method of connecting things however cannot really be this broad to be satisfactory to the poet. A metaphor must connect items according to a more rigorous and profoundly personal way than mere arbitrary juxtaposition. The question is In what way. I have pondered this question for a good while because it interests me and because I thought that if maybe I clarified the issue somewhat in my own mind I could move with a less obvious way east than I do. One evening while pondering weak and weary over many a volume of forgotten theoretical lore. I came on the following statement by the contemporary French poet
Pierre de to the effect that this is more or less of a quote and so far as the juxtaposition of entities be separated by the greater distance and yet be just the metaphor will be there by stronger. Now that struck me as being something like what I feel about the metaphorical relationship something very like. If we could figure out and apply one word in this just sounding aphorism we would be a lot nearer knowing how the poetic metaphor lives. The word is is used just for apt. It is obvious that it is not awfully hard to tell when the two terms of the metaphor the two things that are being compared are asked to live together are far apart as the world or the ordinary man judges but it is not always easy to tell when the comparison between them is used. This is where we get back to imponderables and individual reactions for what may be just to me
they may very well be unjust all even absurd to you. I'm willing however to leave it at that because the individual sense of justice or poetic justice. Is it any in any given case the poetic sense itself or at least so far as a comparison or metaphor is concerned. I ought to state here more or less parent directly that I am not here concerned with textbook definitions of metaphor with metaphor as distinguished from simile or anything of that kind. I take metaphor in the broad sense as denoting any kind of comparison as a basis for the kind of illumination that we call poetic. It would require are a mind like Paul Valerie Wallace Stevens's to follow such questions as these into territories where they would begin to yield the results that they deserve to yield. And I must stress what you already know that I am not a philosopher or even a philosophical poet. My purpose here is simply to call attention
to the proclivity on the knee of the compulsion of the human mind to make comparisons. Partly as a way to real or fancied knowledge or control of the subjects involved and less as a kind of a primitive magic and personal science but also for the sheer sheer thrill of ingenuity. The puzzle making resolving an aesthetic excitement of the activity itself. One the sports writer Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times tells me for example that quarterback John Brody of the San Francisco 49ers is quote slower than fourth class male. I'm. I'm delighted beyond measure. Not not because I'm gloating over Mr. Brody's heaviness of foot. Which is very heavy. Heaven is afoot. But because the man that made the comparison delights me with this energy ingenuity and
quickness when a movie critic Sasol said years ago of Shirley Temples first husband the mercifully forgotten John Hagar. That. That. That he acts as though the idea of acting was not his in the first place. I am equally delighted and in an entirely different way dependent not so much on watching John Brody run on a Sunday afternoon TV is on watching old movies. Even later in the evening such as Mr Opus Rudd a crooked mile which I saw. As I say I take pleasure from the aptness of these examples because I have seen the principals act out each in his own way the metaphor. But but that would be good metaphors even without John Brody and Johnny Gar because there will
always be slow athletes and handsome inept actors Yann until the end of time. The masters of metaphor are not high of all. Sports writers and movie review was. But poets the greatest the most enduring metaphors have been made by them and it is fascinating in our age of investigation to see how various poets put the world together in their particular and idiosyncratic ways. There are many learned treatises on the fashions in which various poets do this. And one can go to the files in Syracuse University and Buffalo and Washington University in St. Louis and through the files of the Library of Congress and pore over the draft sheets and worksheets of poets to see how they have changed patched and shaded discarded be found. I
have searched the sources and dictionaries have compared and contrasted. I have called into play everything literally in the world to help them write their poem. Sometimes you can't make much of these worksheets which have survived the famous poets now indicating their working methods. UK sometimes you can't make much of these poets working habits being too private. But sometimes you can tell a good deal though never quite enough. Dylan Thomas will have say a selection of words one of which he may end up using in a law in a certain place and a line none of which he may use. And it's fun and instructive to arrive at various ways of agreeing with the poet. Well who would disagree with Dylan Thomas. Now whether his own work is concerned of agreeing with him as to why he chose this word and discarded the others. Yet the list of words itself is with Thomas the most mysterious and provocative
list ever. And is likely to be taken by the unwary for a Thomas poem in its own right. If we could tell why Thomas selected those words out of which to choose or not choose the product process at least in the case of Thomas would be a great deal clearer to us than it is now. But how the list came to Thomas's mind in the first place is not something that we shall ever know it part of the poetic mystery and I for one and glad that it is now despite the great area of the unknowable in which poems are born and live there are very few broad generalizations we can make about kinds of metaphor. There is surely a generic difference for example between the merely ingenious kind of conjunction and the kind of Lol that has both the strangeness and inevitability of poetry.
When Marshall McLuhan says that the electric light bulb is quote pure information and quote. We can see what he means but it's the kind of formulation in which the straining to be original is more apparent than the originality. Of course it's possible to look at the light bulb from the standpoint of its being pure information. But that's not at least in my my view a particularly enlightening one made by May I be forgiven. The comparison of the light bulb on information has the obviousness with a twist that we think of in every age is the mark of the minor talent. When Robert Duncan says something to the effect that the sky is not sure it is not an elephant. We feel the same sense of strain and would be about the figure.
But when D.H. Lawrence refers to a fish as a grey monotonous soul in the water. Well quite quite another thing happened. At first one is troubled by Lawrence's calling the fish a soul but remembers that this poet's way of looking at existence is essentially that of a kind of a personal animism and fish do look grey under water. But it is the monotonous that is the truly poetic word. There is that wavering of the fish through the water like a ghost and like a soul that seems almost on the point of disappearing. But it will not go and perhaps cannot go moving with perfect silence and his heavy half transparent purgatory. The mind of the reader dilates around the image of the fish when it is presented in this way. All kinds of imaginative imaginatively profitable and creative connections come in and as in the case of all good poetic figures there are the connections
that we all make in more or less the same ways and those that are utterly per person personal and private. But again as to what made Lawrence see the pike as a green monotonous soul in the water may be guessed at after the fact but never really known the ways in which the mind associates and the particular material mater out of which the associations come. The materia mater that is available to the mind in total really ought not to use Latin if you don't know the language. Well but you're going to anyway. And the mysterious way in which bits and pieces of this come up at a certain time as though there were an element of fate involved. We know almost nothing and can know but very little. If I were going to write about a fish for example what happens in my brain. Do all the fish I have ever seen in my life swim to the surface for possible use.
No at best only a few of them calm. Why those. I can't say beyond supposing that these must be the fish that impress me the most for one reason or another. But impress me and what why and for what reason. I simply must accept them as the most fishy fish the most archetype of fish I have in my mind. The Platonic fish that will have to stand for all the rest. That however is only the beginning. In my own case to cite an example closest to hand. The only point I ever devoted to a fish the one long one call the Sharks parlor is not about anything I have ever done know about and if actual fish I've ever seen or shark has been made out of a few hammerheads I have seen in the water those I have seen hanging up at docks and one i found dead on a beach. It's not quite that these sharks combined into one in my mind let the dead one on the shore drew him to himself as my strongest and largest mental hammerhead
all the other so that the others became him and contributed to him in my mind where I then attempted to place him in another kind of sea in a poem and cause him to live and act there. But my apprehension of my shark was conditioned as it must inevitably be. But what experiences including pictures and books and dreams I had have have had in other places and other times and perhaps other lives with sharks. The poem was also influenced in what ways it is hard for me to tell by a movie called The shark Fido's which started remember correctly a victim of Tula. Imagine him. No he was not the shark. But imagine something like that getting into the act. All of these things came together into the kind of a passionate and mysterious or of association that this kind of fish had for me. And from these mix sources I made a point about an imaginary incident. In the
in the poorer adventurousness of making metaphors and poems is a condition that must be felt to be believed. I remember for example how tremendously excited I was when I first formulated to myself. The proposition that the poet is not to be limited by the literal truth that he is not trying to tell the truth he is trying to make it. Therefore he is absolutely free in the sense of the definition of creativity as the capacity to act according to laws of one's own devising. When one grasps this the feeling of liberation and the attendant devotion to one's own vision are so exciting that the dedication of a life to following these things wherever they may lead seems a small enough and the least that one can do.
Library of Congress lectures II
Episode Number
Episode 3 of 9
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WUOM (Radio station : Ann Arbor, Mich.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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For series info, see Item 3701. This prog.: Metaphor as Pure Adventure is the topic for Library of Congress Poetry Consultant James Dickey.
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Producer: Library of Congress
Producing Organization: WUOM (Radio station : Ann Arbor, Mich.)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-40-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:23:46
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Chicago: “Library of Congress lectures II; Episode 3 of 9,” 1968-09-23, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 21, 2024,
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APA: Library of Congress lectures II; Episode 3 of 9. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from