Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Poetry: Sight or Sound?

Lee Chang-dong
(Image from Poetry: The Movie)

In yesterday's blog post, Dario Rivarossa and I briefly discussed the nature of poetry, partly sparked by a contrast that Dario sees between Dante and Milton, which he summarized:
Briefly: in Dante, words describe colors.

In Milton, words create them (so to speak).
Not knowing Italian, I can't judge about the validity of this contrast, here's how I stated my basic view:
Visionary poetry must be sounded to be poetry. Is there any poetry that is purely visual?

Some aspects are, of course . . . the shape of a poem on the page, which has even occasioned poems structured to look like butterflies, altars, and whatnot.

But poetry is fundamentally about sound, right?
After writing those words, I happened to read a New York Times movie review by Manohla Dargis of Lee Chang-dong's recent film Poetry: "Consider an Apple, Consider the World" (February 10, 2011). In this film, a teacher explains poetry to a classroom of aspiring poets: "he holds up an apple and talks about seeing":
The importance of seeing, seeing the world deeply, is at the heart of this quietly devastating, humanistic work from the South Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong. Throughout the story, the teacher, a bespectacled man with an easy manner, will guide the students as each struggles to write a single poem, searching memories and emotions for inspiration. "Up till now, you haven't seen an apple for real," he says in that first class, as the film cuts to a student, Mija (Yun Jung-hee), sliding into a seat. "To really know what an apple is, to be interested in it, to understand it," he adds, "that is really seeing it." From the way the camera settles on Mija it's evident that he could substitute the word apple for woman -- or life.
Isn't this serendipitous? Dario and I are discussing poetry in the context of Dante and Milton, whose two poems both stemmed from differing perspectives on a woman biting into an 'apple.' And the movie appears to speak for Dario's view, that poetry is basically about seeing . . . but I'll have to sound out the movie to see what I think about that. And more broadly, beyond poetry, about what it says concerning art:
At one point, Mija asks her poetry teacher with almost comic innocence, "When does a 'poetic inspiration' come?" It doesn't, he replies, you must beg for it. "Where must I go?" she persists. He says that she must wander around, seek it out, but that it's there, right where she stands. In truth, there is poetry everywhere, including in those who pass through her life, at times invisibly, like the handicapped retiree (Kim Hira) she cares for part time, a husk of a man whom she will at last also see clearly. The question that she doesn't ask is the why of art. She doesn't have to because the film -- itself an example of how art allows us to rise out of ourselves to feel for another through imaginative sympathy -- answers that question beautifully.
Is that what art is about? Aesthetics as the art of feeling for others through imaginative sympathy? Isn't that more to do with ethics? Or do the two intersect here?

Anyway, for those interested, the trailer for the film, along with relevant information about story and cast, is viewable here.

UPDATE: Dario informs me that I misread him, clarifying that his "view is that poetry is basically about sounds." Hence, he and I are closer than I had thought.

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At 6:39 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

Dario's view, that poetry is basically about seeing

Oh... No! Sounds like I did not succeed in letting you read my mind
Well, ok, it would have been a swift reading. You better read Swift.

Anyway, my view is that poetry is basically about sounds. Sounds conveying meanings; sounds conveying "waves" that "modulate" reality.
So, I think that Milton reaches better than Dante. The Medieval poet - exactly because he was a Medieval poet - tended to attach a greater importance to "things" existing "before" poetry: things which poetry received from outside and then tried to express.
Whereas Milton sort of builds the very things he deals with by means of the waves of his words, including multilingual structures, puns etc.

At 6:55 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dario, I see what you mean, for I've got better eyes than most . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:03 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

I have gladly read it.

Or, was it green?

At 7:33 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Neither the economic nor environmental left . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:48 AM, Anonymous David M said...

Surely poetry, like art in general, is about seeing in a metaphorical sense, but on a visceral level hearing is more important. I'm pretty sure Milton thought of his poetry as a kind of music (as evidenced by something he said about rhyme being a vulgar sort of music). That, and he obviously wrote Paradise Lost while blind, and if the cliche about blindness is true, he must have been extra-attuned to the sound of his poetry.

At 7:57 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, David, for the comment. I also still favor sound over sight, so far as poetry is concerned.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:38 AM, Blogger Poetry of the Day said...

poetry is like seeing

Poetry <3

At 8:46 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

But is seeing like hearing?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:00 PM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

It is sound, The architecture of sound. The synesthesia of sound produces patterns that resemble geometric spaces, lattices. If you bore down into the elements of sound you see the building blocks of these structures, the sup-particles of the atomic amalgamation we call reality. Fast for a couple of days in a dark room, you'll see it too.

Regard Dali's painting of the Madonna and Child portrayed in a tessellated ear.

This is why reading produces better pictures than watching a movie. Put another way, it is indeed impossible for cinema to be as "cinematic" as poetry. Film represents in two dimensions, while the third and fourth (duration) are illusion; poetry represents limitless dimensions. Of course add dialogue, music, and film takes off.

But true emanations must be articulated in sound, the sound of poetry.

Or in a Frank Zappa guitar solo.

At 2:11 PM, Blogger Roy Lofquist said...

OK, a heretic intrudes.

Bob Dylan is the preeminent poet of the 20th century. I know the names and have read and enjoyed them - Pound, Elliott, Frost. Dylan brought a new dimension to poetry - music. It enhanced both the sound and the imagery that is unique to music.

I frequently go to:

and select songs at random and read. Great poetry accompanied by remembered sounds.

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Carter, that sounds about right.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:19 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Roy, heretics are welcome here. But I love Dylan, too, so there's no heresy. I think his music complements and enhances his lyrics.

But he also has a good aesthetic eye, doesn't he . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:22 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

I just add that Dante described God as three circles in three colors --- but he did NOT say which colors. That makes him less naive than what my first post above could suggest.

At 3:32 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Was that a Trinitarian image?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:38 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

Of course. And, the second circle is shown as being round AND human-shaped at the same time, beyond the laws of our perception.

Pure light sculpting shapes.
Like the blessed souls' seats too.

At 3:47 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

So . . . "the second circle is shown as being round AND human-shaped at the same time."

A most excellent conception, let us not abhor it . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:23 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

Hence, he and I are closer than I had thought

Ha! That's good news!

Or... er... not?

[ meanwhile, the current Word verification is: Dantio! ]

At 4:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It makes us both right or both wrong together.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:35 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

Wrong, then.

"Those who are right" are boring.

At 4:45 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'm content to be boring . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:32 AM, Blogger A.H. said...

Did Milton make such distinctions between sound and sight? In Il Penseroso, which is am elaborate Hermetic sketch of the political poet, he sees sound and sight as joined in realising his vision (felt form) of Heaven. Pound loathed Milton, yet Milton, as much as Pound, realised that poetry is sight and sound in equal degrees--and also recognised that poetry is rooted in the logopoetic image. The vortex is about much more than sound.

At 5:44 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I continue to discover how little I know about Milton . . . and about poetry.

I still think that poetry is basically about sound, but Milton had a vision, and is a very visual poet.

I'll have to reflect on this -- and maybe see this movie.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:43 AM, Blogger A.H. said...

I have been reflecting on your thoughts about language and The Fall. They are fascinating of course--because they are so enmeshed with questions about Milton's view of poetical composition. I can't remember which critic it was who believed he had discovered mystical number patterns in Milton's blank verse. Of course, what he was hearing was the pulse of Milton's breathed lines, the music, the sound. If Milton is to believed that he composed by "involuntary numbers", passages expereinced in sleep, what was he writing down? He wasn't hearing passages sounded out. Was it a kind of silence? Critics have skipped over what Milton meant by "mute Silence" in Il Penseroso. A curious phrase. Of course, it might have been discussed on the Milton List, but I don't have my ear much to that. Good fortune with your speculations.

At 8:11 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I've been often impressed on the Milton List by how much some people know about Milton and poetry, especially the technical aspects concerning meter. I take it that Milton knew that stuff, too, but I wonder if he composed with meter in mind or if he wrote more intuitively than that.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:16 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

or if he wrote more intuitively than that

Intuitively, I think, according to what he writes in PL Book 3. On the other hand, to such poets as Ovid it was spontaneous to even speak "in meter".

And, the fact that Milton did not think to all those meanings while he was actually writing his poems, does not imply that they were lacking: our unconscious - as I quite often say - contains more things than our conscious, and can express them more swiftly.

At 3:36 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I suspect that all Milton's early education in languages, poetics, and rhetoric trained his ear and enabled him to write intuitively, by ear.

Of course, he could also stop and analyze consciously if need be.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:01 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

Milton's early education in (...) rhetoric

Isn't it interesting? that several great poets like Ovid, Dante, Ariosto, Milton had a training and/or a career in Politics and Law?? Not very poetical fields, in our opinion...

At 7:09 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Politics and Law used to require a different, humanistic education.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:58 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Milton says much of what we need to know in his opening note describing the verse.

He correctly (“correctly,” Kaplan said, good grief, LOL) drew a distinction between barbaric musical effects (rhyme, for instance) and true poetry.

One distinction that has to be drawn (re. Bob Dylan, et al.) is that poetry is one thing, song another. Bob Dylan is not a poet but a song writer.

Music is music, and the combination of music and poetry, like the combination of theology and myth, is to be viewed with a great deal of circumspection, in my opinion.

That is, music is inherently fraudulent and deceptive, and "illusional". I suppose related discussions here might be Hawthorne saying he likes Emerson as a poet, but wants nothing from him as a philosopher. Or C. S Lewis’s essay in which he asks “Is Theology Poetry?”

At 3:53 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Carter, if I recall, Plato objected to poetry for its appealing lies, but praised music (hope I've got that right!), so he and you would appear to be at opposite poles . . . though that's neither here nor there.

On a note more closely related to yours, I wonder what T. S. Eliot would make of the musical Cats.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:52 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

The opposition is not absolute, though. Dante had his poems set to music (not the Divine Comedy, anyway) by a musician called Casella, and he liked it much. See Purgatorio c. 2.

At 5:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Music of the spheres, dissonance of the circles . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:05 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

... what about a Chorus Line?

At 6:09 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

What about it? You want to square my circles?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:51 AM, Blogger A.H. said...

"Music is music, and the combination of music and poetry, like the combination of theology and myth, is to be viewed with a great deal of circumspection, in my opinion."

I guess, then, Milton will be viewed with "circumspection", not that he would have minded that: seeing the circumference of God.

The combination of music and poetry, and the prejudice against it, is merely a preference, nothing more. A distinction does not have to be drawn. Music and poetry was the ideal coupling in Provence and the Amor Cortois, love and music were the creation of feeling and aesthetics.

At 4:01 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good points, Eshuneutics.

Jeffery Hodges

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