Wednesday, June 18, 2008

e e cummings, and places beyond the heart

usually in the passage of miles along the distance i'll find myself reciting poetry. sometimes verbally, more often than not just internally.

a lot of it is the monotony of the miles, holding form along a swim, bike, or run course stretching over hours and hours trying to keep a metronome time. i find it difficult to maintain mental focus for that long, and i need something to help me concentrate. i use poetry seems to help. it's cheap (cost of a book or a short time on the internet for a review), it's lightweight (nothing more than words), and consumes no energy (other than just brain cells working memory). a perfect pace-setter for someone slaving their way forward with nothing but their own power to carry their own weight to places most people never dream of going.

i usually end up with poetry with an identifiable rhythm, either in syntax, structure, or rhyme. it helps me set a cadence, and a reference point for turnover rate that i can follow through all the buffeting and bumps and bruises of waves and pavement and potholes and cracks and competitors stumbling--intentionally or inadvertently--each other.

sometimes, however, the last thing i want help with is cadence. sometimes, the problem is not monotony of miles, but instead the insufferable monolith of misery.

endurance events, at some point, always bring the demons of the distance. despair, dejection, exhaustion, pain. supreme anguish. outright suffering. both mental and physical. it happens. sooner or later. eventually. ultimately. excruciatingly. it happens. and when it does, it can be overwhelming. at times like these the least of my problems is focusing on form. rather, it's just simply moving forward.

it's then that i find myself reciting poetry that has little to do with rhythm...or for that matter, any syntax, structure, or rhyme. poetry that runs free, and without form, beyond the confines of any cadence.

a major source of this (and recently, the only source for this) is e e cummings. i picked up a book of his complete poems recently, to refresh my memories of his writing, and i guess it's re-awakened my consciousness as to his work. he was a favorite--is a favorite--of mine, ever since i was in high school and first read his poems as part of a class curriculum. but i'd forgotten how much i loved his poems, and how much i'd missed them.

e e cummings' style was loose, open, uninhibited, unconventional. iconoclastic with so much of classic English poetry that had come before. and it didn't hurt that he lived an unabashed bohemian lifestyle without regard for conventions of his time. all of this appealed to the angst-driven rebel spirit of a teenage me seeking independence and longing to break out of the banality of suburban purgatory. e e cummings showed me that it was possible to be different, and not only possible, but also good...because it meant going beyond the mundane.

for all this, however, he was still rooted in his family's Unitarian upbringing, and maintained an avowed appreciation of the spiritual. it might seem paradoxical (some say even hypocritical) given his lifestyle, but to me it makes sense--he was trying to maximize his experience of life, as strange and magical as it is, and it meant pushing its boundaries, exploring its ends, learning its truths, as they could be found in both the sacred and the profane...and i think for him, they were both really the same, since human morality is so often a confusion (maybe even a perversion) of God's deeper truths.

and this is probably why i turn to him still, even though i am no longer the angst-driven rebel teen seeking something different. because he still speaks to me.

i like to recite most poetry because the rhythm, as much as it gives me a cadence by which i can concentrate on my course, also connects me to the greater rhythms of life and living: the movements of my body, the coursing of my blood, the beating of my heart, the breathing of my lungs, the pulsing of my skin. and in so doing, it connects me in time with the greater rhythms of existence: of the water, of the air, of the earth and sun and sky and moon and the expanse of all creation.

with e e cummings, however, with his lack of rhythm, or syntax or structure or rhyme, i find the poetry going beyond the confines of the cadence, above the form of any anguish, leaving me free to transcend the state of my own suffering.

you see, his words go beyond cadence, and in so doing beyond the rhythms of the self and even beyond the deeper rhythms of the universe. they go directly, fundamentally, simply, to the life's great truths. and because life's great truths are really a reflection of God's greater truths, they carry us beyond the confines of our current course and the confines of our mortal coil. to places beyond the reach of either, farther than even the endless horizons of the distance. to places that are beyond the yearnings of our heart. to places of our soul.

you can learn more about e e cummings at:

the collection of his poems that i've been reading is: e e cummings: Complete Poems 1904-1962

here's a selection of his poems that i've been thinking about lately:

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places
yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skilfully curled)
all worlds
--love is a place

it is at moments after i have dreamed
of the rare entertainment of your eyes,
when(being fool to fancy)i have deemed
with your peculiar mouth my heart made wise;
at moments when the glassy darkness holds
the genuine apparition of your smile
(it was through tears always)and silence moulds
such strangeness as was mine a little while;
moments when my once more illustrious arms
are filled with fascination,when my breast
wears the intolerant brightness of your charms:
one pierced moment whiter than the rest
-turning from the tremendous lie of sleep
i watch the roses of the day grow deep.
--it is after moments i have dreamed

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
--somewhere i have never travelled

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
--i carry your heart

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
wich is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
--i thank you God for this most amazing

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old
may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it's sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young
and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there's never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile
--may my heart always be open to little

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