Eliot and Wordsworth

by | Aug 18, 2010 | 0 comments

In my very first writing, I looked to Wordsworth for guidance as I began to write from this place of fresh grief, quoting his definition of poetry: “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”   I was looking to temper my raw emotion with thoughtfulness.  I’m not sure if I’ve accomplished this entirely because many times, I’ve just written what was on my mind.  Yet, other times, for larger ideas, I’ve jotted down notes and chewed and digested the ideas for a number of days or even weeks before setting them down in words.  

Now I have been turning my thoughts to T.S. Eliot- who very much reacted to the romantic view of poetry of those like Wordsworth.  For Eliot, the poetic process was more about organization than inspiration.  His explanation of the job of a poet from “The Metaphysical Poets” has always been one of my favorites, “When a poet’s mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating disparate experiences; the ordinary man’s experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary.”  

Funny story- I once used this very quote at a job interview in the lounge of the Algonquin hotel in midtown Manhattan for a position at a very snooty literary magazine.  The woman interviewing me asked why I’d be good at the job or something and I blanked and replied that I was “constantly amalgamating disparate experiences.”  I didn’t get the job.  

But I think I’ve always liked this description because it feels like what I spend a lot of my time doing- looking for signs and symbols and art in everyday life.  And here in grief, I find myself doing this more than ever.  My mind is working overtime now to piece together something coherent, something unified from all of this- my daily experiences now, our experiences together prior to his death, the words I find from the past.  The emotional and rational are working together to try to produce something, dare I say, of beauty?  But then again, perhaps it is all just a means of throwing the weight of the grief onto paper in the hopes that I can gain the space to inhale and exhale.  And perhaps it is a desperate attempt to believe in order and organization.

I’m not sure why all of these poetic concepts are finding their way into my grief, but I’m thinking that maybe it’s not that I’m trying to create poetry here with my words, but that grief itself is a form of poetry: concentrated, powerful, multi-layered, and full of meaning for those willing to do a little excavation.  

JAC

August 18, 2010
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