Monday, August 20, 2018

The Meaning

Read "The Meaning" at The Eldritch Dark:

As with "The Butterfly", which I discussed in my previous post, Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) included this poem in both The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912) and Selected Poems (1971).  

In many ways, this poem makes me think of John Keats' concept of Negative Capability, originally articulated in a letter to this brothers*:

I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason—Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge.

It seems to me that Keats was describing the ability to be open to an experience or a sensation without a constant need to identify and quantify the source of every such occurrence.  This would seem to be an essential trait of any artist, and key to the ability to render experience via poetry.

One could argue that CAS' "The Meaning" seeks after the very sort of the complete knowledge that Keats ascribes to Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the quote above, given lines such as these:

(Second stanza):
If we might only understand
The brooklet's cryptic murmuring!

(Last stanza):
And yet (who knows?) one little word
Learned from the language of the bird
Might make us lords of Fate and Change.

However, my own reading of "The Meaning" comes back to Keats' Negative Capability.  CAS opens the poem with these lines:

Alas, that we are deaf and blind
To meanings all about us hid!
What secrets lurk the woods amid?
What prophecies are on the wind?

I believe the "meanings" after which the poet seeks are really artistic interpretations, informed by the openness and the sensitivity needed to render experiences and sensations without needing to catalogue and dissect them.  

*Keats, John (1899). The Complete Poetical Works and Letters of John Keats, Cambridge Edition. Houghton, Mifflin and Company. p. 277. ISBN 978-1-146-96754-9.

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