Thursday, September 04, 2014

he wishes for the cloths of heaven

I'd never given poetry much thought before. Despite my voracious appetite for words, poetry always felt so unattainable. So easily misinterpreted. I always had this idea that I was supposed to feel something, to respond, to grasp this obscure meaning. And the fact that I was generally left scratching my head made me feel incredibly vacuous, and hence I avoided poetry. Until now. 

Because, recently I was asked, by my uni lecturer, to decipher the meaning of The Red Wheelbarrow - a poem by American modernist William Carlos Williams. I crashed headfirst into my lifelong avoidance of poetry and felt frustrated by what was in Williams' work that I could not wrap my head around. 

And then just last week at the Melbourne Writers Festival I was lucky enough to attend a session with English poet Simon Armitage (I bought one of his books so expect more talk about him). Listening to him talk about his poetry and read some of his work aloud was an experience I won't soon forget. It had me casting about for something solid in poetry that I could grasp and make sense of and pull meaning from. Something that was attainable, or at least felt like it. And then I discovered Yeats. That's him above. 

We were born on the same day. Just about a hundred and fifty years apart, an immaterial detail in my opinion. I like to think that's why I seem to have a strange affinity with his work. And one piece in particular.

He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven
Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths,
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

I'm not sure what it is, but I understand these words in ways I've never understood poetry before. Here I am, if I had everything I would give it to you. But I do not, instead I can only lay my dreams under your feet. And all I ask is that you tread softly, so as not to destroy those dreams. If that's not a declaration of love, if that's not passion, what is?  

Surely trusting someone so much as to lay yourself, with all your dreams, down for them to cushion themselves against the harshness of the real world is akin to the both the craziest and most beautiful thing you would ever do?

Maybe poetry is not so unattainable after all. 

kb xx