Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
—T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton,” Four Quartets
Time present and time past
Hast ‘ou seen the rose in the steel dust
(or swansdown ever?)
so light is the urging, so ordered the dark petals of iron
we who have passed over Lethe.
—Ezra Pound, The Pisan Cantos 74:839-42
Essentially poetry, if it is poetry, does not lend itself to simple readings, to oversimplifications — though people may try to read it that way. It seems to me that the essential nature of a poem is that there is ambivalence and ambiguity quivering underneath.
Fanatics have their dreams, wherewith they weave
A paradise for a sect; the savage, too,
From forth the loftiest fashion of his sleep
Guesses at Heaven: pity these have not
Trac’d upon vellum or wild Indian leaf
The shadows of melodious utterance.
But bare of laurel they live, dream, and die;
For Poesy alone can tell her dreams,
With the fine spell of words can save
Imagination from the sable charm
And dumb enchantment. Who alive can say,
‘Thou art no Poet; may’st not tell thy dreams?’
Since every man whose soul is not a clod
Hath visions, and would speak, if he had lov’d
And been well nurtured in his mother tongue.
Whether the dream now purposed to rehearse
Be Poet’s or Fanatic’s will be known
When this warm scribe, my hand, is in the grave.
—John Keats, “The Fall of Hyperion,” 1819
“Poetry might be defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings.”
― W.H. Auden, New Year Letter
I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of Imagination—What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth—whether it existed before or not—for I have the same Idea of all our Passions as of Love; they are all in their sublime, creative of essential Beauty… . The Imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream—he awoke and found it truth.
"Desire, at some level, is the name we give to feelings that cannot easily be named, feelings that are, precisely, felt. When it must be articulated, desire tends to impress us impressionistically when it is partially descried, almost uncovered, simultaneously veiled and revealed by allegories, analogies, and images, by metaphors that border on tautologies, exposing at once the bridge and the void between word and world.”
—Ben Saunders, Desiring Donne: Poetry, Sexuality, Interpretation, 2006
"It is the scientist whose truth requires a language purged of every trace of paradox; apparently the truth which the poet utters can be approached only in terms of paradox… . T. S. Eliot has commented upon ‘that perpetual slight alteration of language, words perpetually juxtaposed in new and sudden combinations,’ which occurs in poetry. It is perpetual; it cannot be kept out of the poem; it can only be directed and controlled. The tendency of science is necessarily to stabilize terms, to freeze them into strict denotations; the poet’s tendency is by contrast disruptive. The terms are continually modifying each other, and thus violating their dictionary meanings.”
—Cleanth Brooks, “The Language of Paradox,” 1942
Happiness not in another place, but this place … not for another hour, but this hour
to hold on to you.”
-Henriikka Tavi, “Mourning Cloak”
Translation by David Hackston