Kundalini Splendor

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Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Margaret Atwood--"The Poets Hang on"––poem 

The Poets Hang On

The poets hang on.
It’s hard to get rid of them,
though lord knows it’s been tried.
We pass them on the road
standing there with their begging bowls,
an ancient custom.
Nothing in those now
but dried flies and bad pennies.
They stare straight ahead.
Are they dead, or what?
Yet they have the irritating look
of those who know more than we do.

More of what?
What is it they claim to know?
Spit it out, we hiss at them.
Say it plain!
If you try for a simple answer,
that’s when they pretend to be crazy,
or else drunk, or else poor.
They put those costumes on
some time ago,
those black sweaters, those tatters;
now they can’t get them off.
And they’re having trouble with their teeth.
That’s one of their burdens.
They could use some dental work.

They’re having trouble with their wings, as well.
We’re not getting much from them
in the flight department these days.
No more soaring, no radiance,
no skylarking.
What the hell are they paid for?
(Suppose they are paid.)
They can’t get off the ground,
them and their muddy feathers.
If they fly, it’s downwards,
into the damp grey earth.

Go away, we say -
and take your boring sadness.
You’re not wanted here.
You’ve forgotten how to tell us
how sublime we are.
How love is the answer:
we always liked that one.
You’ve forgotten how to kiss up.
You’re not wise any more.
You’ve lost your splendor.

But the poets hang on.
They’re nothing if not tenacious.
They can’t sing, they can’t fly.
They only hop and croak
and bash themselves against the air
as if in cages,
and tell the odd tired joke.
When asked about it, they say
they speak what they must.
Cripes, they’re pretentious.

They know something, though.
They do know something.
Something they’re whispering,
something we can’t quite hear.
Is it about sex?
Is it about dust?
Is it about love?

-  Margaret Atwood

This sardonic poem by Margaret Atwood does, in fact, correctly describe--at least in part--the situation in contemporary poetry where often suffering and confusion reign, and the poetry of affirmation is only occasionally encountered.  Loneliness, sorrow, loss--these are the major themes of our time.  Yet––clearly there is a universal hunger for more than these--witness the great popularity of Rumi, Hafiz, and others from an earlier time who wholeheartedly gave of themselves to joy as well as deep felt connection to Source.  To write in a similar spirit today is to go against the grain--but to find a small but understanding audience of mostly non-poets.  Poets today tend to confine themselves to minor topics--personal experience, self rumination.  The Big Connections––the divine essence, the transcendent moments, the Beloved--are ruled out for safe subjects that do not require profound personal commitment to anything beyond the apparent.

It is not clear who the speaker in the poem is.  It could be a reader of Atwood's own poetry, for she often writes in a brilliant but ironic vein and eschews the "easy" answers such as transcendence, illumination, or God.  Or else, it could be the words of a serious reader complaining about the current failure of modern poetry (as well as art and music) to deal with significant issues and dwell on what is safe but ultimately less consequential,
such as social issues or the minutiae of daily life.

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