A wonderful essay by Jane Hirshfield in the current issue of APR, "Poetry and Uncertainty." My take on it is that knowing and not-knowing, certainty and uncertainty, and the nexus between them, is where poetry grabs hold of us. That a good poem contains a kind of disruptive, lubricating force that can loosen up our rigid, stuck, or petrified selves, and open us up to the world again.
" . . . what the medieval alchemists called solutio — the process of making something workable and transformable by making it more fluid, whether in the physical or imaginative realm. A difficult thing is "hard" we say; a mathematical answer arrived at is "solved." A good poem, then, is a solvent, a kind of WD-40 for the soul. . . . Simply to feel oneself moved creates an increase of freedom . . ."
Later in the essay, she quotes one of my favorite Walt Whitman poems:
When I heard the learned astronomer
When I heard the learned astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wandered off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Looked up in perfect silence at the stars.
I love how this poem evokes the letting-go of fact and and accuracy, in favor of ecstatic clarity and vision. Epiphany, if you will. Thank you, Walt. You were a good man. I think I'll try to memorize this one.