The Silent Land is Our Homeland

We know that civilizations and empires are born, take shape and die. Such knowledge is part of being modern. We have Rome to refer to, the pyramids in Egypt, the collapse of the British Raj in India. Empires begin with a “discovery” of new values, the power of ideas and images newly appearing. The poet Francis Ponge offered that the new values are “always taken directly from the cosmos,” then magnified and distorted. “What follows is the elaboration ...dogmatization and refinement... then schisms arise, followed sooner or later by catastrophe.”

Whatever the originating values may be, they come to seem undeniable and monumental, presenting as a mono-theistic religion, a fixed secular ideology or a mixture of both. Something fixed and seemingly irrefutable compels belief and causes people to feel “chosen” by history or heritage or god.

It seems the nature of mankind and of history to repeat the cycle again and again; each empire prolonging the “classical” period of dogmatization and refinement as long as possible. Inevitably, the empire becomes “imperial,” the “One” standing over and against the many, a mono-culture in contrast to the raucous diversity and inferior confusion of the surrounding world, a unique entity standing against the multiplicity of the “world of things” and the confusion of nature. Meanwhile, catastrophes accumulate on the edges, while the originating values and principles decline within the ruling state.

Knowing that this pattern recurs is part of the cultural anxiety of modern people, an anxiety enhanced by the sense that time has speeded up and everything recycles faster.

Currently, America is the evident empire, democracy the dogma, “free trade” and capitalism the refinements. “We are Number One” goes the chant, the “only remaining super-power”; able to, even compelled to stand against the world, defy all limits and make history our own way. Within the empire, anxiety and the dull weight of collective guilt grow with each apparent victory, with each failure covered over.

The values so brazenly touted to the outside world become impossible to sustain within the boundaries of the state. Despair and emptiness grow within as dominion extends without. The rise and fall pattern flashes up as “dot com” phenomena that streak across the screen; in the sudden fall of seemingly entrenched politicians, in the rattling of all the institutions and the faltering of “the greatest economy in the history of the world.”

As inner resources appear to run out, the only hope seems to be to extend the dominion. The sense of superior values and god-given rights must be levered against the chaos, cowardice and confusion of the inferior peoples in the shadows beyond the empire. Increasingly, it becomes the One against the many, against the treacherous rabble, the envious evil-doers who would take the empire down.

In the classical period of empires, huge armies and armaments are required to keep the monolith alive and hold off the catastrophes growing at the edges of its influence. Increasingly, humanity gets overshadowed and the world itself seems diminished.

The functions of poetry and art are quite different. The role of poetry and imagination is to nourish the spirit of humanity... directly, “by giving ... the cosmos to suckle.” The cosmos is what survives rise and fall of each empire. The cosmos survives as does the spirit of humanity making poetry within it.

Seen poetically, each moment is a momentous birth, a taking shape and a dying off; each moment a mini-empire cresting on the wave of time and disappearing again. Each moment of life is a living genesis of ideas and images that remakes the world, even at the end of an empire or a world.

“In the beginning was the word,” in each beginning the word comes again; not the word carved in stone or fixed in a single book that brooks no free interpretations be it Bible or Torah or Koran or manifesto or Magna Carta or Constitution. In each beginning the word begins again to sound the voice at the bottom of the well of time.

People are diverse instruments of the living word of life just as certainly as willing or unwilling citizens of the empire of the moment. The deep language of life keeps forming in the “secret rivers of the earth” despite the harsh echoes of monoliths that demand a simplicity of belief and try to freeze time into an empire.

The tide of history swings back and forth between the One and the many. What truly opposes and balances the dominance of any one state or nation is the many; the multiple, many-minded, polytheistic, animistic, animated song of the world and the surprise of each soul in it.

Poets of all kinds have the function of singing and painting and carving the “meanings” which are imbedded into the humblest person and most common object. Each moment, each thing, each person imbued with meaning; each a poignant word on the lips of the cosmos.

Despite the busy broadcasting of the monolithic message, the otherworld of many meanings waits quietly nearby. The poet Ponge again: “We have only to lower our standard of dominating nature and raise our standard of participating in it in order to make the reconciliation take place.”

The poetic nature of man and of the world constantly offer hints of this reconciliation, moments with “little redemptions” that break the spells of dominance that distract the soul from its genuine work. Despite all messages to the contrary, redemption is not an aspect of the “after-life.” What we find here, we also find there. What we create here awaits us on the other side, only enhanced. A “little redemption” is always near as are the many meanings and the roots of knowledge that tunnel beyond the tree where good and evil fight in the monolithic struggle over a single apple from a lonely tree.

Genuine hope therefore lies “... in a poetry through which the world so invades the spirit of man that he becomes almost speechless and later reinvents a language.” Hope begins in a condition of speechlessness, in the knowledge of losses so profound that the only possibility becomes to begin again, to invent language again; to speak in such a way as to the break the spell of dominion and give the world voice again.

The role of poets is to remind that each person and thing is resonant with the meanings that sustain life. Poets weave the nets of art and language that can catch the images and ideas that alone can heal the ailments of the soul, the troubles of the age. Poetic speech is the universal language; the one foreign language that everyone must learn.

The function of poetry is not limited to the intricate concerns of human relationships, but also with the many-rooted connections to the cosmos... to the whole spinning, singing thing. Poets must get to the very bottom of the whole thing, where the fructifying waters continue to form new languages. Once there, we must find the necessary words and carry them back, across the fearful crossroads of the larynx and coin them again on the lip of time.

Poets must get to the very bottom, for “they are ambassadors of the silent world” sent to “stammer and murmur, they sink into the darkness of logos- until at last, they reach the level of ROOTS, where things and formulas are one...” where ideas and images are one, where the one and the many exchange and life renews itself and new shapes are born.

Beauty is the impossible being invented again and again; the meanings breaking into form, the branching of ideas, the dancing of trees, the bursting of fruits and falling of leaves in the reckless garden of darkness and light. The language of life is always trying to be born in the shadows of empires rising and falling. Each birth is attended by uncertainty and it must be so; life demands it, the presence of death requires it.

A poet already said it: “A false sense of security is the only kind there is.” There is no empire that lasts, there is no “homeland security”; no homeland at all except the ground where language reinvents itself and we join our ancestors trying to offer the living word again. Eternally unsettled in our thinking, “the silent land is our homeland. We make use of its possibilities according to the needs of the times.”

There is no alternative for the suffering soul, except such a renewal born of silence and despair and a root imagination taking hold again. This is the real battle, the battle for the beauty of the Real trying to break through the spells of the obvious. “Beauty is the impossible which lasts.”

© Michael Meade