Wednesday, October 16, 2019

'What New Knowledge, New Immanence'

In his loveliest poem, one I have almost memorized because I’ve read it so often, Fred Chappell reunites us with our stargazing forebears:

“First point of light and then another and another: the stars
come out, bright fishnet, lifting from the vastness those Hydras
and Lyres and Wagons and the broken many heroes: furniture
of the wild Hellenic novel we began to read the mind with.”
When Odysseus leaves Ogygia, the home of Calypso, he navigates by the stars as the nymph has instructed him. He watches the Pleiades and Boötes, and keeps the Great Bear to his left. Most of us know nothing of celestial navigation (though my middle son has studied it at the U.S. Naval Academy), but some of us still find wonder, if not direction, in the night sky. The poem is “Latencies” from Chappell’s Source: Poems (1985). Some form of the title word appears five times in the poem. The root is latēre, Latin for “to hide, to be hidden.”

Chappell nods knowingly to Ludwig Boltzmann, who identified the latent linkage between entropy and the statistical analysis of molecular motion. Which is the “true eternity”? The world is flux, not chaos. Another word for it is metamorphosis. As Guy Davenport translates Fragment 2 of Heraclitus (Herakleitos and Diogenes, 1979; included in 7 Greeks, 1995): “Everything flows; nothing remains. [Everything moves; nothing is still. Everything passes away; nothing lasts.]” Change is inevitable, whether destruction or growth.

“The woman stands by the window, strikes a posture
that suddenly recalls to me a decade of obliterate dreams.
The window is a latent religion. Thrust it open, and!
what new knowledge, new immanence, pours in upon us  . . .”

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