In 2022, I began a series of mixed media works to better understand several poems on my radar. I started with T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets – an epic poem that held a personal mystery for me. After my mother’s death, I found a heavily annotated copy of his verse on her bedside table. I read and reread it and couldn’t understand the source of my mother’s fixation. So I approached the poem via mixed media. Something about the process of cutting out, arranging and gluing down images while listening to the poem on a loop yielded answers. Elliot challenges our attachment to linear timelines and finite conclusions. My mother did not relish her early exit and I think this poem offered her solace, as well as hope. Maybe her time wasn’t really up, but her departure a detour. Or maybe her reality was one of many–this poem complimented her fascination with quantum physics and these parallel universes.
It seems, as one becomes older,
That the past has another pattern,
and ceases to be a mere sequence—
Or even development: the latter a partial fallacy
Encouraged by superficial notions of evolution,
Which becomes, in the popular mind,
a means of disowning the past.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
The Second Coming
William Butler Yeats
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
Tell all the Truth but tell it Slant
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
Voices over Water
There are spirits that come back to us
when we have grown into another age
we recognize them just as they leave us
we remember them when we cannot hear them
some of them come from the bodies of birds
some arrive unnoticed like forgetting
they do not recall earlier lives
and there are distant voices still hoping to find us
Rainier Maria Rilke
The man who cannot quietly close his eyes
certain that there is vision after vision inside,
simply waiting for nighttime
to rise all around him in darkness-
it's all over for him, he's like an old man.
It is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
For me, a good poem illuminates new ways of thinking about the world and knocks aside stale perceptions. Great poetry is transcendent and never static, just like interesting works of visual art. Responding to verse through another medium was an invaluable way to dig deeper into overlooked passages or fainter innuendo.
I want to know what poems inspire you, stump you or delight you. So please share your favorites at email@example.com.