Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wednesday Poetry: "The Makers," by Howard Nemerov

We can never find that initial thing that got us going, that initial inspiration that transcends generations. That's something that Howard Nemerov explores in his poem "The Makers," which attempts to look back at poetry's genealogy with the ultimate conclusion that what really matters is this: that all of those physical, tangible sensations get passed down throughout history via poetic tropes and images. It doesn't matter who those first poets were, nor does it matter what precise tree or rock or star was originally described. The fact that we can share these descriptions and bond over them--that's what matters most. The repetition of these sensory details tells us something essential about the human experience.

(I could into a long tangent about how we can read this poem through the lens of Jacques Derrida's idea of différance, how we have these words that pay homage to an original that we can never actually observe, but I won't do that to all of you.)

"The Makers"
Who can remember back to the first poets,
The greatest ones, greater even than Orpheus?
No one has remembered that far back
Or now considers, among the artifacts,
And bones and cantilevered inference
The past is made of, those first and greatest poets,
So lofty and disdainful of renown
They left us not a name to know them by.

They were the ones that in whatever tongue
Worded the world, that were the first to say
Star, water, stone, that said the visible
And made it bring invisibles to view
In wind and time and change, and in the mind
Itself that minded the hitherto idiot world
And spoke the speechless world and sang the towers
Of the city into the astonished sky.

They were the first great listeners, attuned
To interval, relationship, and scale,
The first to say above, beneath, beyond,
Conjurors with love, death, sleep, with bread and wine,
Who having uttered vanished from the world
Leaving no memory but the marvelous
Magical elements, the breathing shapes
And stops of breath we build our Babels of.

For an added treat, listen to Hillary Rodham Clinton reading "The Makers" when she was First Lady! The video is part of the Favorite Poem Project, and HRC follows it with a brief explanation of why she picked this poem.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, please do go into it! Seriously!