Friday, August 27, 2010

`Glows Forever in This Poetry'

One of the joys of reading First Known When Lost is marveling at Steve Pentz’s gift for salvaging poems and poets previously unknown to me. From him I’ve learned of James Reeves, C. S. Calverley, Henry Newbolt and Bernard Spencer, among many others. For my money, using the internet to shares one’s enthusiasms, and by doing so educating and bringing pleasure to others, is worthy of canonization.

On Thursday, Steve shared his discovery of the word “euphrasy” in poems by Siegfried Sassoon and Walter de la Mare. The flower, better known as eye-bright, has been used for centuries as a folk remedy for infections of the eye. Even its etymology is lovely, from the Greek euphrasia, “gladness” or “good cheer.” I knew of euphrasy and, like Steve, first learned of it from an English poet – John Milton, who uses it in the herbalist sense in Book 11 of Paradise Lost:

“But to nobler sights
Michael from Adam's eyes the film removed
Which that false fruit that promised clearer sight
Had bred; then purged with euphrasy and rue
The visual nerve, for he had much to see,
And from the well of life three drops instilled.
So deep the power of these ingredients pierced,
Even to the inmost seat of mental sight,
That Adam, now enforced to close his eyes,
Sunk down, and all his spirits became intranced.”

This is powerfully moving -- the restoration of sight as described by a blind poet. “For he had much to see” echoes in my private theater with the naïveté of Miranda -- “O brave new world / That has such people in't!” -- answered by the gentle patience and understanding of her father: “`Tis new to thee.” Another blind poet, Borges, describes the convergence of Milton, blindness and a flower in “A Rose and Milton” (translated by Alistair Reid in Selected Poems, 1999):

“From all the generations of past roses,
Disintegrated in the depths of time,
I want one to be spared oblivion—
One unexceptional rose from all the things
That once existed. Destiny allows me
The privilege of choosing, this first time,
That silent flower, the very final rose
That Milton held before his face, but could
Not see. O rose, vermilion or yellow
Or white, from some obliterated garden,
Your past existence magically lasts
And glows forever in this poetry,
Gold or blood-covered, ivory of shadowed,
As once in Milton’s hands, invisible rose.”

Milton writes in "Light":

“Thus with the Year
Seasons return, but not to me returns
Day, or the sweet approach of Ev'n or Morn,
Or sight of vernal bloom, or Summers Rose,
Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine…”

1 comment:

Stephen Pentz said...
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