Outward Bound Ideas

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

65. Robert Graves - Oxford Address On Poetry

The vocabulary of Islam contains an important and power word: BARAKA..... Baraka means lightening.
Since lightning is a phenomenon everywhere attributed to the gods, baraka means the sudden divine rapture which overcomes either a prophet or a group of fervent devotees...... it can therefore stand for the blessedness acquired by holy shrines and other places where the spirit of God has been plainly manifested.....
This religious metaphor invites lay uses. If a family has settled down peacefully in a house of their own choosing, every room acquires a domestic, rather than an ecstatic, baraka, which spells "home". An Arab village woman will prize the dented brass cooking pot that has done service for a generation or more, as having baraka and producing far tastier food than the brightest spun-aluminium sauce pan.
Baraka in literature and the creative arts is of the utmost importance........
But though the formalities of printing a poem invite readers to fall under its spell, poems so rarely have baraka that the eye grows suspicious and seldom succumbs. Myself, I have come to dread the sight of a new book of poems. Too often the spell vanishes after I have read a few lines, and my prose mind reasserts itself. The poem's holy circle has been broken by some extraneous element: whether experimental affectation, or Classical convention, or incoherence, or banality, or didacticism. How to create and preserve the spell must remain a mystery. But one can say, at least, that the words must, as it were, grow together, entranced by the poet's personal rhythm; and that they cannot do so unless unchallengeably his own, the familiar furniture of his mind. All attempts to borrow from the alien languages of science and philosphy will be futile; they have no emotional depth.....
But I am old-fashioned enough to demand baraka, an inspirational gift not yet extinct, which defies critical analysis.......
I shall leave you to find your own apt instances of baraka in art, architecture or music. In poetry it can cast an immortal spell on the simplest combination of words.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

64. From Poetry and the Age by Randall Jarrell

Selections from: Poetry and the Age by Randall Jarrell

Page 12.
When you begin to read a poem you are entering a foreign country whose laws and language and life are a kind of translation of your own; but to accept it because its stews taste exactly like your old mother's hash, or to reject it because the owl-headed goddess of wisdom in its temple is fatter than the Statue of Liberty, is an equal mark of that want of imagination, that inaccessibility to experience, of which each of us who dies a natural death will die.

Page 22.
Art matters not merely because it is the most magnificent ornament and the most nearly unfailing occupation of our lives, but because it is life itself. From Christ to Freud we have believed that, if we know the truth, the truth will set us free: art is indispensable because so much of this truth can be leaned through works of art and through works of art alone––for which of us could have learned for himself what Proust and Chekhov, Hardy and Yeats and Rilke, Shakespeare and Homer learned for us? and in what other way could they have made us see the truths which they themselves saw, those differing and contradictory truths which seem nevertheless, to the mind which contains them, in some sense a single truth? And all these things, by their very nature, demand to be shared; if we are satisfied to know these things ourselves, and to look with superiority or indifference at those who do not have that knowledge, we have made a refusal that corrupts us as surely as anything can.

Page 70.
The common reader does not know that it is an age of criticism, and for him it is not. He reads (seldomer and seldomer now) historical novels, the memoirs of generals, whatever is successful; good books, sometimes––good books too are successful. He cannot tell the book editor of the Chicago Tribune from Samuel Johnson, and is neither helped nor hindered by criticism––to him a critic is a bestseller list, only less so. Such a reader lives in a pleasant, anarchic, oblivious world, a world as democratic, almost, as the warm dark depth below, where nobody reads anything but newspapers and drugstore-books and comic books and the Reader's Digest at the dentist's. This common reader knows what he likes, but is uncomfortable when other people do not read it or do not like it––for what people read and like is good: that is what good means.