Sunday, April 26, 2009

Poetry: Further Reflections from the Milton List

Yesterday, I speculated that if one takes prose and puts it into recognizably poetic form, then it takes on the quality of poetry. James Rovira on the Milton List took my suggestion to parodic lengths:
One last bit about the poetic nature of the Tractatus. I said earlier that Wittgenstein's "drawing of a cube [in proposition] 5.5423 deserves special attention." I realize now that if you were to take this drawing of a cube and give it line breaks consistent with modern poetry:
you'd have a poem roughly akin to most of Billy Collins's or Charles Bukowski's work, though lacking some of their charm.

Thanks very much for you indulgence. I think I'll stop now as I don't believe it's possible to get any more ridiculous than this.
More ridiculous? Probably not, since Rovira's example lacks words, but it nevertheless led me to some further reflections, which I posted to the list, and which I now post here (accompanied by an image borrowed from the CRS Archives):
Yes, Jim, that would take your counterexamples to their 'logical' absurdity. But poetic form is hardly recognizeable here since words are absent. All that I see are "fill-in-the-blanks" awaiting words, possibly a grocery list. No reason even to assume that a poem is lurking there in its Platonic form, ready to shape words toward an ideal.

But your parody nevertheless raises a question for me: Can a real image be an essential part of a poem? Consider John Updike's "Shipbored," which includes an eight-line drawing to which it refers:

That line is the horizon line. (1)
The blue above it is divine. (2)

The blue below it is marine. (3)
Sometimes the blue below is green. (4)

Sometimes the blue above is gray,
Betokening a cloudy day. (5)

Sometimes the blue below is white,
Foreshadowing a windy night. (6)

Sometimes a drifting coconut
Or albatross adds color, but (7)

The blue above is mostly blue.
The blue below and I are, too. (8)
Is the image part of the poem? It's not a poem by itself, but it seems to be part of the poem, drawn by the author to illustrate and clarify in such a way that it becomes the first reference of the poetic lines, thereby drawing our attention on to the scene at sea.

By analogy, Wittgenstein's "cube" would need to retain its cubic form and accompany words in poetic form, which the cube would serve to illustrate and clarify. The cube could then be an essential part of the poem but not if abstracted from the words -- as little a poem as Updike's drawing abstracted from the words.
And there the discussion now stands.

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