Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The music of poetry

The Self Knowledge Symposium is developing a track record for filling up Duke Chapel with unlikely events. Ten years ago we packed in a standing-room-only crowd to hear Father Francis Kline play "The Spiritual Bach" on Duke's renowned organ. And tonight, the echoes of that event were felt again, as over 700 people turned out to hear Dr. George Gopan read T.S. Eliot's "The Four Quartets."

How rare and wonderful when all the random factors align to make a perfect event. A string quartet played a Beethoven (Or was it Bach? Jeez, where did I put that program? . . .) piece to begin the evening. That was nice, but only nice . . . until Joanna Childers delivered an introduction that put the music in perfect perspective and connected the music to the poetry. A little "aha!" bubble quietly exploded in the audience's mind, and suddenly everyone was in the right place to listen to a very long, very demanding poem.

And, thankfully, George Gopan delivered the goods. He has been reading the poem aloud, once a month, for several decades. His scholarly understanding of the poem was impeccable and perhaps peerless . . . and made all the better because he was in love with the music of the poem. And you could tell that he was moved, to have an audience of that size. "I would say it's a pleasure to look at all your faces . . . but there are so many of you, going so far back, I can't even see all your faces."

And all that was perfect before we even listened to the poem. I was struck again by how many different lines of the poem had worked their way into the SKS theology and tradition:

A condition of complete simplicity
(costing not less than everything)
Humankind cannot bear very much reality
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Raids on the inarticulate
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.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive

Damn, but we've taken a lot out of these poems, over the years. I'm so glad we got the chance to share it, so well, with so many.

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