Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Chet Raymo, "The Imperfect Is Our Paradise"

"The Imperfect Is Our Paradise"
by Chet Raymo

"'The Anecdote of the Jar" 

    "I placed a jar in Tennessee,
    And round it was, upon a hill.
    It made the slovenly wilderness
    Surround that hill.
    The wilderness rose up to it,
    And sprawled around, no longer wild.
    The jar was round upon the ground
    And tall and of a port in air.
    It took dominion every where.
    The jar was gray and bare.
    It did not give of bird or bush,
    Like nothing else in Tennessee."
- Wallace Stevens

It is reasonable to ask, why, in a cyberspace teeming with millions of blogs, I sit here in a quiet corner of the house each morning and compose these few words. I click "Post" and off they go to God knows where. I am grateful that they are read, but it is not to be read that I write. I write because I have reached that age - 82 years - when I look around me and see a slovenly tangle of a life, a serendipitous stumbling from A to B. I know where I am but I haven't a clue how I got here. I stand on such a summit as I have found and see no trace of a path. I remember briars, and mire, and sunny glades, and freshets, and deep pools. I recall meeting strangers. I don't recall map or compass.

Each of these posts is a jar of sorts, placed on a hill amidst the sprawl, in the deeply Catholic sacramental hope that it will assert a dominion, make order out of chaos. I'm looking for that single sentence that will summarize - something as glassy clear and shapely as those wide-mouthed jars that lined the shelves on my grandmother's back porch pantry in Tennessee, and which may have been the inspiration for Stevens' poem.

I go back to my dog-eared and well-thumbed "Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens," especially those poems like "The Idea of Order at Key West," "The Poems of our Climate," and "Add This To Rhetoric" that I discovered as a young man - scraps of paper in a trackless wilderness, covered with words, flawed words, stubborn sounds, but somehow full of promise, evidence that someone had gone that way before and perhaps, just perhaps, reached a place of repose. Here is what I learned from Stevens, the single sentence that will summarize: 

"There never was a world for her,
 Except the one she sang and, singing, made."

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