For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its own making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.
–W. H. Auden, from “In Memory of W. B. Yeats
“Poetry makes nothing happen.” The words occur to me, again and again, as I sit in class, speculating and quibbling about what Romantic poetry did and did not do, as I read yards of literary criticism on the intricacies of Eliot’s verse. Wordsworth said that “true poetry” was experienced, not written; it was the famously “spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling”–“recollected in tranquillity” and written in hopes that there might be connection amongst those who experienced poetry. He hoped for the connection, but did he feel it? Or did he feel, as I feel, after class and after research, the vast exhaustion and futility of trying to make poetry do things. “Be still,” I want to say, “it need not do!”
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.
-T. S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday
But there are other ways of happening …
Rococo skies and greening fields my imagination peoples with gorgeously powdered and taffetaed ladies and gentlemen.
A single rubber boot lying in the center of the road.
Bartlett pear trees in bloom, looking exactly like a pointillism painting.
A brown calf frolicking around its mother.
Rain, and the growing green and bloom of the yard which may not always be mine to see.
But I chafe under the stillness sometimes, want to make things happen, and cannot.
Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.
From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee,
when my heart is overwhelmed:
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.