October 26th, 2005

abstract butterfly

on facing the infinite

"Science classifies and coordinates laws and objects, seeking for a principle of unity in the universe. Poetry, however, neglects mere definition, mere catalogue, and seizes eagerly upon that mysterious something that constitutes the deep individuality of things. Science proceeds by the plodding steps of the understanding. Poetry sweeps onward by the swift flight of the imagination. To the scientist a tree has a trunk to be measured, has leaves to be classified, has sap to be analyzed. To the poet, the tree becomes the symbol of his joy and his grief, a medium of his sentiments, his emotions". --Edwin Markham, 1902

It always comes around, it seems to me, to that dilemma about meaning. One wishes to reach out and grasp meaning, to hold it in one's hand, as if it were a provable phenomenon. Yet the moment one's defined meaning is boxed and tied down, it becomes just one more parcel clanking about on top of some imaginary Wells Fargo wagon of the soul, heavy as the chains on Jacob Marley's ghost. Then, by contrast, it seems wiser to consider everything meaningful elusive, although ultimately the retreat into elusion (and illusion) leaves one seeing the road ahead shimmer, like a mirage. Neither approach works at all.

In the long run, the saving grace proves to be humility--the understanding that one experiences only so much of the total picture--and must revel in one's own slice of the images and truths. When one experiences awe, rather than defining it or assuming that it is indefinable, that seems to me a good first step.