Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I've recently discovered a poet whose work I enjoy, and he's the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. His name is Dana Gioia, and I like this poem of his. It's called, "Words":

The world does not need words. It articulates itself
in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. The stones on the path
are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.
The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being.
The kiss is still fully itself though no words were spoken.

And one word transforms it into something less or other—
illicit, chaste, perfunctory, conjugal, covert.
Even calling it a kiss betrays the fluster of hands
glancing the skin or gripping a shoulder, the slow
arching of neck or knee, the silent touching of tongues.

Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot
name them, or read the mute syllables graven in silica.
To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper—
metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa
carved as arrowheads. To name is to know and remember.

The sunlight needs no praise piercing the rainclouds,
painting the rocks and leaves with light, then dissolving
each lucent droplet back into the clouds that engendered it.
The daylight needs no praise, and so we praise it always—
greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon.

To affirm the goodness of the created world and the created order, that necessarily means pushing back against gnostic tendencies. If it is true that "stones remain less real to those who cannot/name them," then naming the creation around us (like Adam) is part of what it means to live rightly. To be able to name a tree, to know where its native habitat is, to know what animals feed off its fruit, to know what its cut wood smells like, and to identify its leaves is to know that tree more fully - to love it and to love the place in which one lives.

Conversely, to live in a nameless place, made up of objects that can barely be described, is to live in an unnoticed place - really, no place at all. It's to live the life of a tourist and to fulfill the words of that horrible hymn, "This world is not my home, I'm just passing through." This is gnosticism, and it must be uprooted.


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