Rumpling the Sheets
After six weeks of hibernation, it takes some serious words artfully arranged to bring me into life again. As always, only poetry will do and by poetry I mean a deep plunging into a metaphorical reality that is not so easily summarized into neat categories of good and ill. It is like Osip Mandlestam once said when he suggested that if a poem can be paraphrased “then the sheets haven’t been rumpled and poetry hasn’t spent the night.”
I wish to rumple the sheets and spend the night with some poetry but not just any old rhyme will do. Clearly, to awake from this numbing hibernation, greater words must be summoned from the depths.
This brings me, naturally, to the Spanish metaphysical poets, all gone now but whose words can wake even the dead from their sleep. A dead man is more alive in Spain than anywhere else on earth, the great Lorca once said and he knew more about crossing the boundaries between the living and the dead than anyone else---possibly because he was Spanish---but more likely because he was a poet and could travel deep down into the heart of things.
Aside from Lorca, who could make even the grey Galician stones sing, there was Antonio Machado and Juan Ramón Jiménez, two Andalusian poets who lived during the same tumultuous times as Lorca did and suffered because of things out there which they could not control. If you don’t know their poems, you must become acquainted with them soon but only if you too wish to rumple the sheets and arise from the deep slumber that visits you when you fall prey to the inanities of this world.
It was Jiménez who wrote:
I am not I. I am this one walking beside me whom I do not see, whom at times I manage to visit, and whom at other times I forget; the one who remains silent while I talk, the one who forgives, sweet, when I hate, the one who takes a walk when I am indoors, the one who will remain standing when I die.
Antonio Machado drew from an equally deep well and wrote one of the saddest poems ever written in any language:
The wind, one brilliant day, called to my soul with an odor of jasmine.
"In return for the odor of my jasmine, I'd like all the odor of your roses."
"I have no roses; all the flowers in my garden are dead."
"Well then, I'll take the withered petals and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain."
the wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself: "What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?"
I think of this poem any time I am witness to the refusal to engage with life because of fear or lethargy, the two demons who sit facing us at the edge of the bed according to Carl Jung who knew plenty about demons and the shadow side of things. I know he was right because I have seen them there myself-- gnawing on the bedspread whenever I refuse to travel to the depths that Machado and Jiménez knew so well. Therein lie monsters, I think at those times, and then fall into the stupor that is part and parcel of refusing to go deep.
I leave you with this---the words of Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet who called poetry, “the bloodiest of all the arts”. Like Machado and Jimémez, Hikmet was not afraid to feel deeply, not afraid of being accused of sentimentality by the intellectuals in our midst. Here is what he wrote about living on this earth:
This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet--
I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space ...
You must grieve for this right now
--you have to feel this sorrow now--
for the world must be loved this much
if you're going to say "I lived" ...
Fine words with which to rumple the sheets, face the demons and arise from a deep sleep. Here is Robert Bly, one of my favourite poets, reading a poem from Rumi: