Ars Poetica?

Ars Poetica? 

I have always aspired to a more spacious form
that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose
and would let us understand each other without exposing
the author or reader to sublime agonies.

In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us,
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.

That’s why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion,
though its an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel.
It’s hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,
when so often they’re put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.

What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons,
who behave as if they were at home, speak in many tongues,
and who, not satisfied with stealing his lips or hand,
work at changing his destiny for their convenience?

It’s true that what is morbid is highly valued today,
and so you may think that I am only joking
or that I’ve devised just one more means
of praising Art with thehelp of irony.

There was a time when only wise books were read
helping us to bear our pain and misery.
This, after all, is not quite the same
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics.

And yet the world is different from what it seems to be
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
People therefore preserve silent integrity
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors.

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

What I’m saying here is not, I agree, poetry,
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,
under unbearable duress and only with the hope
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.

~Czeslaw Milosz

I was introduced to Milosz several years ago by Dr. Roger Lundin, in a class on “Modern Literature and the Question of Belief”. This class changed my life, not in the least part because of reading Milosz.

Milosz was a Lithuanian who grew up during World War II, and his experience of the ravaging war influenced his perception of the life, art, and love. His poetry was written in Polish, and translated into English by one of his students at Berkley. In all the deep questioning in all his work, Milosz had a great many things to say about humanity and our struggle find reason and purpose.

This poem less a contemplation of “what makes poetry,” and more an exploration of what effect the arts have on Man. What is the purpose of Art, in the wide scope of human action?

It is the “sublime agonies” of art – pushed away in the first stanza – that are at the heart of it’s substance and purpose. The self-revelation that comes as a surprise not only to the viewer, but to the artist.

And it is only hope and openness that Art can be made, and become something touch our mind, heart, and soul.

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One thought on “Ars Poetica?

  1. Pingback: Poets on Poetry | Egotist's Club

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