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But what the poet is trying to accomplish is to discover relationships which give life. Mental physical and imaginative life the fullest and most electric sense of being one begins with the sensible world as well as Stevenson's the greatest poverty is not to live in a physical world. With a sensible world which in its entirety is a gift and a gift also in each of its parts. As far as I am concerned that is as good a definition as can be given of a poet. That he is one who feels the world as a gift. But there is a second gift that you give yourself based on the world's great gift our friend wonder how Adam felt all the earliest Mahon. When he closed his eyes and saw that the world was still there inside his head. That is the most miraculous thing in the whole of existence to me. Those
pictures of the world inside one inside one's head. Pictures made of the real world but pictures that one owns that one infuses with one's own personality. They are fragments of the world that live not with the worlds of life but with ours. But I'm not here so my announced subject tells me to talk about the image much as I would like to but to talk about comparisons of one thing to another. And about the part that language plays in the kinds of comparisons that we call poetic metaphor as are almost all metaphors begin with pictures in the here and now these pictures of these entities are first of all possessions of ours. We have paid nothing for them but we have them in the Magic Kingdom a scope of the mind. We have them because they are there and no one can banish them except ourselves. And even that is doubtful whether we can for when we attempt to banish them we may
very well simply be making them obsessive. If we are poets that is conscious poets we are interested in three things concerning these fragments of the world as they have come to us. First we wish to find threads of continuity running through them. Threads of consequence and meaning which may work out into a narrative or dramatic action or at least into a distinct relationship that the items have obtained not from their position and in a relationship in the real world but purely from us. The second thing we look for perhaps I should say I look for is a way to recombine these elements so that they undergo a fruitful interchange of quality is the transference of energies and informing of each other. The greatest poets have the greatest power to do this. As when Gerard Manley Hopkins compares the longest flame of a bonfire to a whip last peaks of thunder rolling its floors of sound. Without Hopkins there would have never have been any particular
but peculiarly illuminating connection between thunder and floors. But with Hopkins there was a startling connection. One sees and hears the justice of the comparison immediately though each apprehends it in his own way depending upon what funders and floors he has known. The third thing the poet tries to do is to introduce is vital necessary an incomparable element language into this thread discovering and connecting process that he is engaged in. And here the difficulties are very great and the excitement and sense of adventure a correspondingly intense for when the poet is as ws Graham beautifullest as trusted on the language he is both submitting to and consciously working with the medium he prefer as much as the partners in love making are both submitting to and working with each other. The poet is committing himself to making his discoveries in this way the way of words in a certain order and with a certain informing spirit which he hopes will be here is before if it is not
here as it is nothing. No one when things are compared linguistically they are never quite what they were in isolation from each other or in the non-verbal context of the world as we all know words are signs were things but they have at least two ranges of signification. When the poet says tree for example we all presumably see a tree somewhere in the head. But the second range of signification is not universal but personal and private. We don't all see the same tree. In fact none of us sees the same tree. This is the one thing about poetic imagery that has bothered some people for they wish to submit or reduce the poetic act to a condition based upon which scientific or universal judgments may be made about it and about the individual points that it produces. It has bothered some people but I don't believe it has ever bothered any real poet. First John Keats says. What shocks the virtuous philosopher delights the comedian poet. Poets
think it is a kind of double good fortune that they may I ask of each of their readers not to see the poetry but to supply one from his own life and to bring it as a gift into the poem. The making of poetic metaphors is an intrinsic process the continual process of transfiguring reality. For example having encountered Hopkins thunder the rolling of great floors of sound. I am neither in the presence exclusively of the founder or floors or sounds nor yet of ruling as isolated and it is our actions. I cease to experience the thunder alone of the real thunder thunder or mental thunder or the floors alone but I enter into a kind of magical secondary state and in return to reality made possible by the conjunction of these items by the comparison with thunder floors sounds and rolling r so to speak together in a new kinship made possible by a special use of language but having also a kind of kinship in the mind which seems to
me to be extra linguistic as well having to do only with the things themselves. When I have apprehended this new relationship I have brought my own funders and my own floors to it. My mind then roams around about this new relationship in a different world than one I can open my eyes and see or unstuffed my ears and hear. And all this is qualified and amplified by the pleasure I take in the newness and happiness of Hopkins's figure of speech and the feeling of extension that it provokes in me. It is another emotional dimension that I have been given a present and my main attitude toward it is simple gratitude. For these reasons and many others the ways of making comparisons and metaphors figures of speech and so on are subject to none but the very broadest of rules and even these must be liberally interpreted. If we could codify the metaphor making process we would all be able to write like Hopkins or indeed anybody else that we wanted to. It is because of the utter
impossibility of codifying and making generally available and authentically poetic way of comparing of making genuinely original metaphors that poetry is and will always be entirely different from science. Again the aura of association about specific words differs greatly from person to person. The particular kind of getting together of things that I characterize as poetic results in a variety of insight that is though not scientific never none the less of a very great value to those a quip to receive it. I don't want to turn this evening into a defense of Poesie but poetry can defend itself quite well enough. But I would like to lay down the few generalizations about metaphor that I have been able to glean from the years. First the terms of a metaphor are almost always concrete and one of them is always concrete. That is the terms are part of the given world. The correspondence is established between already created things. Second this correspondence carries an emotional charge or rather
two of them a general one which any one might be expected to respond to and another one to which any individual in his particular life situation is free to respond. Out of those specific conditions which have resulted in his being who he is. Third the true metaphor orients the mind toward freedom and novelty. It encourages the mind to be daring and at the same time the metaphor furnishes the mind with at least the illusion of a new kind of relational necessity as well as giving it the joy the pure joy of employing faculties that are not much used in conceptual language. If I may go a little farther into abstraction I would also say that metaphor permits one to experience at the same time the perpetual and the instantaneous the paired opposite objects both in the world they came from and in their linguistic relationship in the point. But it is not really my purpose to generalize in the manner of the seminar room about a
subject so mysterious as metaphor. I had rather soon to talk about a very great delight in making metaphorical metaphorical relationships at any level at all and delighted as that is why poets don't want to go to heaven. They are already there that the day they are born as earthly creatures. I remember with affection the words of the all but forgotten American painter Charles Burchfield who was asked a few months before he died how he felt about eternal life you see the reporter knew he was going to die and ask him Did you mention and ask Burchfield how he felt about eternal life and he said I don't know anything about it but I hope there is painting there. As for poets I don't believe it's possible for men to conceive or for God to conceive of a better universe for poets and poetry than the one we have. But the natural order is the natural order of
a river is not a stone and a tree is not a star nor is a woman a tigress. That is not literally. But poets believe with a high secret glee that big that precisely because God made these things as they are the star in the tree the woman because he made them so much themselves that they can be nothing but themselves. Someone else someone like a poet can come along and compare a star to a woman or two or three and accomplish something valuable by it. Poets believe that the things of this world are capable of making connections between each other that not God but men see and say so. Stars stones and trees have no emotional charge in themselves but a very powerful one for men to Matthew Arnold to the ancient Greeks are Judeans and to many other human beings. The sound of the sea on pebbles
brings as Arnold says in his great poem Dover Beach the eternal note of sadness in. And it is in the language of metaphor charged with specific emotions that the poet makes a statement and creates out of the world as it is the world that he must because of what he is bring to birth. Much has been written of the agonise of creation. But at least one poet It seems the most delightful exciting and natural act in the world a kind of perpetual and pure adventure of pure chance pure Hassen And when you strike it pure gold for the world without the play of the mind over it is a place indeed. After all rocks are only in art and matter. Trees are only a stolid wood that sways a little in the air according to the natural law of the wind. Stars are only burning chemicals. And a woman is only a collocation of animals was formed into the female human humanity
reproducing machine. It is the mind itself and its quick an intimate and original presence that turns the universe into a magical a RINO or as Keats called it a veil of soul making. If I had only one point to make this evening it would be in favor of imaginative participation in the cosmos as D.H. Lawrence says in Apocalypse. We have lost the cosmos. What I take this to mean is that Lars believes that we no longer have any vital relationship to the universe and He is very likely right. He thinks also that we can only possess the cosmos by an act of worship. This seems to me to be perfectly true and if we believe with Kafka that all writing is a form of prayer then we would have to agree that the poets have been praying the longest. Though maybe not the loudest. The poets
form of worship is both descriptive and relational. He imbues the cosmos so strongly with his own emotions that he believes that in return the cosmos allows him to recombine to its elements in his own way largely for the sheer delight of it for the adventure. As I said earlier it is lovely to engage in the relational relational adventure at any level from the serviceman's our fraternity boys search over a real one to describe sexual intercourse. Now there have been some good guys. Or from or from the home made all sex is eternal quest to find a truly adequate name from for the female sex organ which we have failed abjectly. Through the rather ordinary quips in Reader's Digest he had a face like an unmade bed. Up through the superhumanly brilliant epic similes and metaphors of Homer and Virgil and Lucretia and Dante and Milton. If I had
time I'd like to make for you a little and follow g of my favorite metaphors and tell you just what I like about them. Though of course I don't know completely in a given case why I like what I like. I can't do that of course but neither can I resist giving you a few of the best and my fondest hope is that you will begin collecting comparisons as I have done all my life or most of it and I hope also that you will never accept any but the best ones the ones that have it as the hip is for you. These are some that have it yet for me. When William strode who lived just after Shakespeare says no snow falling from the sky hovers in its virginity. He has made a connection between a fact of nature and humanity that counts. When Milton says of the angel ref you know that he is that he comes this way moving seems another mourner risen on Mid noon.
You have seen as Adam did an angel come to you. How could an angel come in any other way. At noon when Edgar Allan Poe. Yes even Edgar Allen Poe's. Refers to the sea as that wilderness of glass. Something has truly changed in your perception and experience of the sea and also in your perception and experience of glass and of wildernesses. When Tennyson a much maligned and misunderstood poet when Tennyson speaks of the sea into which the sea buried corpse is flung and says that the shotted body drops in its vast and wandering grave. You know something else again about the sea about the poor human body and about death. And from the great great arena of metaphor making folk music. When the blues sing a scrap of BLACKWELL
invite someone to put your arms around me like a circle around the sun. You never want to love in any of them any other way. I don't know much you went. Through. And I repeat that. OK. Put your arms around me like a circle around us. These are just a few instances of the individual aptness of perception having to do with parts of the world in a new relation made possible by seeing and seeing them in a particular way. Let me reiterate find your own metaphors or better still make your own. And if enough of you who knows enough of you do we might even affect a return as Auden thinks possible to a belief in the phenomenal world as a room of sacred knowledge is that would be good for a room of sacred analogies is what poets believe the world is
anyway. Our resident Kenneth Rexroth a poet I don't normally like as a poet poet is one who creates sacramental relationships that last always. Now just to get you started. Let me give you a problem to work on. See if you can find the combination of things in words objective and unobjective Corella tips to get this scene said. And I expect to get some mail on this icon do you. This is a kind of scene out of early adolescence. Mine. I was walking along a beach in South Georgia and for some reason or other I had half a loaf of stale bread in my hand. It was low tide. The sea was flat and low. A wilderness of glass in fact. This is an example of life imitating art
which it will do if it is good enough. There was a sand bar about 100 yards out from where I was and I walked out through the water toward it through schools of minnows. Now I don't know how all this grabs you. But it had hold of me for years especially lately for so obviously a dicky kind of subject. A large scene from nature all forms of alien light life are of a fish sun silence and a loaf of bread. Can you do anything with that. It's a dicky poem but Dicky can't seem to write it. Anyway I got out of the sand and I tore off a piece of the bread and gave it to a seagull. He rose and hovered and came back and for a while I kept throwing pieces of bread into the air he'd sweep by and catch them. Then he reproduced himself in mid-air. Maybe we could
use that. What I mean is that there were two of him then five then dozens of then hundreds one of. One of him hit me in the back of the head like a sledgehammer. I know we need a better comparison they all there must be one. And I suddenly realize that I've had it if I didn't do something to protect myself I'd be likely to lose an eye or two. At least I want to give up the rest of the bread. But I didn't. I stood there on the sandbar covered with the wings and beaks and kept pitching up the bread in smaller and smaller pieces until it was all gone and the birds were reluctantly slowly dispersed and I was there are there alone shook up and happy with a moderately bloody head. Now I've never been able to get any kind of metaphorical meaning out of this incident or indeed any kind of meaning that seemed to have poetical possibilities. But it strikes me now that it could be a metaphor for metaphor itself. The ghost me may be likened to fragments of the world which come at the poet from a poet from all
signs. The world is beautiful and dangerous gifts sometimes threatening him not in themselves caring for him but bearing their presences in on him just the same. The poet is the man with the bread that is with the means of attracting them to himself. The bread being the imagination that calls them and feeds them again. Maybe calling the gods was my way own way of writing on the air of writing my name on the air with the bread blood and wings and yet not satisfied with that quite. It's a little too pat too serviceable too one dimensional. As I say I'm not satisfied with it it's merely the best I've been able to do. And I expect that things will remain so in regard to this particular unwritten poem. That is until I hear from you. Thank you thank. You I've heard Jay Dickey a consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress speaking
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)
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Duration: 00:22:17
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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 October 23, 2021,
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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