I finished two books of poetry today. I read most of Wiman’s Every Riven Thing walking back from the library. He’s not difficult or inaccessible. There are several things to say about this book:
One is that there is a value in reading modern poetry when it is good: it helps us with living in modern times. In what way? In finding meaning in modern waiting rooms, clinical procedures, traffic and such. You can go through all these activities without any reflection, you can go through them with your own reflections, and you can go through them enriched not only by your own reflections but those of people who have searched for meaning in things = poets. I couldn’t help thinking that this book would be very valuable to readers in the future in wondering how life was like in our days and how it affected us. But more than that, there is an aspect of being conscious of how it affects us now, and responding well to that. I can’t say that I’d personally ever be inclined to describe the continual roar of the highway as an Om, but I understand why Wiman does, and now I hear that as well when I’m within range.
Another thing one might say about this book is that Wiman is a Christian, not only in name. I think reading his poetry is worth it for the sensibility he brings to devotional poetry. Here’s the title poem:
Every Riven Thing
God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why
God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into the stillness where
God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see
God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,
God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.
The other book of poetry I finished was The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrun, J.R.R. Tolkien’s adaptation of material from the sagas. He was apparently trying to teach himself to write according to the corresponding ancient poetic conventions of alliterative verse which are not as easy as one might think. He was of course a master of the texts from which he borrowed, and had thought both about the history and how the stories were told and retold by various traditions, what succeeded and what didn’t. When it comes to the feeling of old things, I’m no purist. My introduction to this world did not come so much from when I tried to read the sagas in translation but E.R. Eddison’s Styrbiorn the Strong, a re-telling imaginatively expanded and enhanced of a fragment found in some saga. That Tolkien should do the same seems to me to add to the living tradition in a reputable and reliable way. I don’t care if it is genuine, I can settle for Beowulf, or Tolkien.
It gives substance to what he says in “The Monsters and the Critics” about an age heroic and tragic. He makes the argument there that the southern gods were against men and for the monsters. He contrasts this with the northern gods who were for the heroes and against the monsters, but doomed. That’s exactly the thing, isn’t it? The gods of Greece are capricious, but the gods of Asgard are doomed. And it suggests the grandeur of Northern things that even though the gods are doomed, it is no refutation: heroes align themselves with right and honor when the world is torn apart by those to whom honor is not due.
The poetry of this volume shows that heroic northern age in strokes swift and tragic. Worth it just for what it gives of the North, worth it for the use of words, and also of value for someone trying to understand something of the creative process and story making considerations of the author of the Lord of the Rings.