Thursday, May 03, 2007

Wallace Stevens: The Plain Sense of Things

The Plain Sense of Things

After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.

It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as necessity requires.

As the previously posted poem by Nagarjuna (which, incidentally, is not a poem in the traditional way of thinking - rather like philosophical learning in the form of verse) is, by definition, Eastern in origin and form, this poem by Wallace Stevens seems to me to hold a reflection of the Eastern simplicity - within which is contained a profound complexity. It is rather revealing to the Western mind and way of expressing itself that this poem probably would have been put as a three-stanza haiku, had the author been, say, Japanese.

This way of expressing oneself, however, seems to be easier to grasp for our Eurocentric/westbent minds. As I myself belong to the Western camp, I couldn't really tell you the difference in the way of thinking between these two traditions. But I do believe that poems and written Eastern philosophy hints at how different the view of existence in different cultures can be.

At the same time: The direct experience of being human is something every person on this planet shares. So any difference in thinking, acting or organizing one's life and society will never be completely unintelligible. This is something more than one politician and other people of power might want to ponder. Before you go to war, of any kind, search within yourself to see whether there might be some understanding of the "opponent"'s point of view. Most of the time, you will find that there is.

Don't be afraid to look deeper into yourself that you normally allow yourself to do. Whatever you find will not be lethal to you. You might even find that you get to know a person that has longed to be recognized by you: Yourself.

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