Head Lines

Baron Wormser

from April 23:

This coming weekend I was going to lead a group that would spend two days close-reading poems by Theodore Roethke. Due to the virus, this event wont happen, which makes me sad because I love his work and looked forward to sharing it. Roethke lived and wrote from two qualities that seem crucial now and at any time--wonder and empathy. If we don't wonder, in the sense of feeling awe about being on earth, the earth is wasted on us. The miracle of all this being here is reduced to the ego's wishes and purposes. "HURRY UP PLEASE IT'S TIME," as T.S. Eliot once bumptiously put it. Empathy goes with wonder, seeing and feeling one's way into all the being outside one's self, imagining, sympathizing with and feeling the actuality of what isn't you. Both these qualities are disparaged in the society-at-large as unproductive wastes of time. Knowingness lays waste to wonder every day and empathy is dismissed as idle and pointless. We get instead "new and improved," which is to say--conceit and mechanical bravado. That's our loss but poetry has been and is intent on going to the source. Here is "A Light Breather" by Theodore Roethke:

The spirit moves,
Yet stays:
Stirs as a blossom stirs,
Still wet from its bud-sheath,
Slowly unfolding,
Turning in the light with its tendrils;
Plays as a minnow plays,
Tethered to a limp weed, swinging,
Tail around, nosing in and out of the current,
Its shadows loose, a watery finger;
Moves, like the snail,
Still inward,
Taking and embracing its surroundings,
Never wishing itself away,
Unafraid of what it is,
A music in a hood,
A small thing,
Singing.

from April 24:

Posted earlier today about pride because it's been very on my mind. Picked up Roethke, about whom I posted yesterday and started reading in his "North American Sequence." First part, section two, second line: "O pride, thou are a plume upon whose head?" So there it is: poetry answering me. This has been going on for a lifetime for me. What I don't understand is how people live without poetry. There's that spirit quickness that really dwarfs time and space and creates every imaginable and unimaginable apprehension. And there it was again. Roethke was reduced to tears at times when he hit the spot in his writing. I'm reduced to tears by realizing just how thorough the correspondences are.

Baron Wormser is the author of 18 books.

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