Have you ever had one of those moments when the fog lifts, the dust
settles, your best friend or your first love drives off at high
noon, and all of a sudden you are haunted by some old cliche, or a
line in an old sad song, which shimmers on the horizon in the midday
and you say to yourself: That's what they meant -- why
didn't they say so?
There are some experiences which can't be expressed, only entered
into. Zen koans try to come close to this -- there's a meaning which
can't be contained in words, and so you try to build a story as a
kind of little box, and if the person opens it just right, they
might catch the tail end of this meaning as it escapes.
Some of the best kind of poetry does this. There's a lot of terrible
poetry, because poetry tries to do something which is by its nature
difficult, and so most failures are pretentious as well as
disappointing. They stay trapped in the private experience of the
person who wrote them, like a discarded wrapper which contains none
of the glory of the original experience.
I was once told that there are three different scents which a glass
of cognac gives off: when you first pour it out, still raw; after
you've nursed it for awhile and warmed it up in your hands, the
scent of pure enjoyment; and the scent which lingers in the glass
the next morning when you come back into the room.
Most of the time, reading poetry can seem like someone else is
asking you to do their dishes. But keep in mind that it's also
trying to do something else. When it succeeds, it's moving in a way
language rarely is, because it is not simply language as a kind of
record, but as something still alive.
[Well, this is one opinion, for what it's worth. :-) ]
Wow. I like poetry even more after reading this. Beautiful illustration of entering into the meaning. If Althea really really has a question about what the joy of poetry is, this is a perfect and poetic answer.