The world does not need words. It articulates itself

in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. The stones on the path

are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.

The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being.

The kiss is still itself though no words were spoken.”

From “Words” in Interrogations at Noon, by Dana Gioia

Whereas admission is about what we know, submission is about what we don’t know.

Poetry seems to bring a level of obscurity to whatever is being portrayed. It is unlike exposition which attempts to bring clarity through directness. Poetry acknowledges and accepts the power that mystery holds over human existence.

Perhaps this spirit of poetry is the reason Jesus of Nazareth taught in the form of parable so often (Matthew 13). His obtuseness was purposeful so that those who would get it would actually get it, could; whereas those who would not, could not get the point of the teaching. There was a level of mental work needed to figure out the mystery of Jesus’ teaching and he knew that those who would do that work would respond to his teaching.

Poetry communicates through this same process and is therefore a better way to address life’s mysteries. It is perhaps the Modern world’s arrogance to think that all information we don’t know about this world and reality is just waiting for us to go out and discover it, that complete knowledge is within our grasp. A simple illustration I have often used to describe the limits of our knowledge begins by drawing a circle on a piece of paper. I then say to whomever I am talking to, suppose the circle represented all that exists – all Truth, all knowledge, etc. I then ask them to mark inside the circle how much of that knowledge do they know. Inevitably the marks I have seen made inside the circle are barely larger then the dot a ball-point pen. The mistake would be to think that the rest of the knowledge inside that circle is attainable.

Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot

name them, or read the mute syllables graven in silica.

To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper –

metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa

carved as arrowheads. To name is to know and remember.”

From “Words” in Interrogations at Noon, by Dana Gioia

Poetry humbly reminds me that I have limitations and I need to embrace them to live a more human life. When I read or write poetry I am resting on what I do and can know about this world and respecting what I don’t or can’t know about this world. At the same time I am also waiting for more of the mystery of life to be revealed to me through my experiences, my reading, my relationships, and my own reasoning out all these things. Mystery not only tells me that I may not be able to know some things, but it also invites me to explore more things. Poetry gives me a “table”, so to speak, upon which I can spread all my encounters with mystery to look at them and invite others also to share in them.

If you have read poems at the end of which you have thought, “What?” Don’t despair. I am in my fifth or sixth intensive reading through T.S. Eliot’s, Four Quartets and I think I am only just now beginning to grasp small bites of those 20 vignettes.

But isn’t this human experience? Living life within the bounds of what we know, trying to incorporate into it the things we don’t – even things beyond our understanding? This is why I enjoy poetry, and why you should too.