On Poetry, 2000

Introduction

…you are are the battleground where enemies are kin to each other; you are at home, a stranger, the border disputes have been settled the volley of shots have shattered the truce you are wounded, lost in action dead, fighting back…
– Gloria Anzaldúa from The Borderlands

In a world where experiences are our perception of life, we can come to recognize some inherent truths. Life is basically lived through each breath. We absorb our surroundings through what we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. We think logically and illogically, rationally and irrationally. We are human, yet we can call each other inhumane. The reality is we are always in constant struggle, struggle with nature, others, and ourselves. Some people strive to understand the questions about death, love, and the unknown, to unlock this universe’s most puzzling secrets. These problems that face our daily existence, whether realized or not, are very real and substantial struggles to overcome. In literature, poems shape these conflicts by releasing the stored emotions within us. Poems materialize these battles through the use of language, form, and content. This anthology tries to unveil the invisible clash, the necessary struggle to overcome our fears and frustrations, while also catering to each authors personal understanding of how they view the world.

Each author has his/her own experiences, culturally and personally, which add to the diversity of form, language, and style, but also speak universally on the human condition. In “The Debate Between a Man Tired of Life and His Soul,” the author’s Egyptian culture creates a backdrop for the poem, while the content speaks universally on the questions of death. The character, having an inner dialogue with his soul, speaks as if in prayer:

Hear me, O Re, my speaking, you who command the skyship…
Preserve, O gods, the quiet center of my being…

This prayer explicates the use of language and content to help secure the author’s troubled and unsettling voice. Throughout literature, some people have internal dialogues about death in which they struggle to understand. Hamlet is one example of the struggle to chose between life’s “mortal coil” and the chance to “sleep[,] to be or not to be” (Hamlet Act3: Scene1). The Egyptian culture embraced death, welcoming the afterlife, which is why this character is in conflict with his soul. The reference of Re* refers to the Egyptian god of the sun, who resurrects the “chosen ones.” The skyship refers to the journey into the afterlife. The character of this story battles with life, and wants to die in order to release his ka*, or spirit. He debates with his soul because he wishes to die, while his soul wants him alive to experience life and forget about dying. This prayer or chant is asking these gods to “make the West sweet for [him] now,” to make the afterlife pleasant when he kills himself. The character is saddened and distempered at life’s “troubled journey,” in which “even the trees decay and fall”. He to wants to die like everything else, just earlier, to be renewed in the afterlife, in “a circuit of the sun”. Contrary to the Egyptian’s embrace of death, most Americans try to prolong their life through medicine and hospital attention to dying patients. The Egyptian poem is a different view of the world constructed by the author’s cultural beliefs that puts the importance on gods and the afterlife.

While the Egyptian poet struggles with himself, there are also other important moments to uncover or delve deeper into. These moments are based on actions in life, because the social integration of humans allows a transformation to occur. People have communicated with each other for centuries, which have creating bonds between individuals that sometimes erupt in grief, sorrow, anger, love, hatred, confusion, and joy. Master Wŏlmyŏng’s “Requiem” is an example of a communication between people, where the author laments the death of a loved one. The use of style helps the reader to actively engage in the poet’s mind, feeling what he feels, seeing what he sees. We all in some ways relate to things uncontrollable “on the hard road of life and death”. The poet creates a lighter note on the sadness of death, by a personal belief that he will meet his “Sister…in the Pure Land”.

There is a connection with nature in most eastern writing, a tightly held bond that transcends the physical into the eternal. One way a poet does this is when he/she references nature, because it creates a connection with something larger than man, a more universal context in which to evolve, or lament with. The use of nature increases the reader’s feelings, making it embody a more dramatic content. In the poem “It must not be known,” Nijo Yoshimoto makes a connection with nature because “… there is a heart [which] now [lies] turbid like an agitated stream”. This connection with nature is embraced in many cultures of the east as well as the transcendentalists of the west. Yoshimoto uses an accepted form of the tanka, thirty-one-syllable verse divided into five sentences, to express a broken heart that the poet wants to hide. This Japanese poem expresses a unique depth of rhythm and nature to charge the reader with emotions that reach the heart and soul. Yoshimoto uses Japanese form and content to embrace the reader, in order to unlock the feeling of lamentation that stirs the human heart.

Poetry unlocks emotions, enabling man to reflect on himself, the world, and others. These poems mirror some of the views of eastern culture, like the thoughts of enlightenment or reincarnation. Each author does his or her part in relating their struggles and beliefs in order to transcend the boundaries placed upon the human mind and body. Poetry gives the reader a certain control over their life, allowing moments of reverie, contemplation, and enlightenment to occur. The knowledge bound in literature is vast and great, which is an important discovery to fully explore who we are as people. We are not eternal, but always search for the fixed, the stable, because it provides comfort in knowing that existence has a purpose. Through the passing of time some things may survive, while the struggle of man is the hardest and saddest of all to endure.

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