I have a masters in literature and that means I can read anything and find the “hidden meaning.” I was trained for that task and for a long time I thought it was a valuable skill.
Now I don’t. A friend recently looked at my little painting of the storm coming over the mountains and pronounced it a painting of “Melancholy.” I love her, but I wanted to slap her. It’s not a painting of melancholy. It’s a painting of a storm coming over the mountains. I HATE that gratuitous reading into works of art, especially mine. I have a “thing” about letting something be what it is.
Not that I’ll ever be superficial. That ship sailed a long time ago, but I have found as I’ve grown up, read more books and seen more art that the last thing that interests me is “philosophy” or “criticism,” but damn if I’m not stuck with poetry.
Back in grad school, in a seminar on William Butler Yeats, I disgusted my classmates, pleased my boyfriend-like-thing, and impressed my professor by recognizing, from the words (an IMAGE) in a poem, that the subject of the poem was riding a horse. I no longer remember the poem, but I remember being taken to task outside by a couple of classmates for “making things up.” I wasn’t making anything up. The poem was “about” a parade and Yeats said something about a thigh passing by. No mystery there, as far as I could see.
Sorry I can’t remember the poem. I’ve searched, but no luck.
After many many many years teaching Critical Thinking which asks (relentlessly) the fundamental question, “What’s real?” I stand by the fact that the thigh of a guy on a horse, passing by on a parade, is at eye level. It’s brilliant description of actual reality, not hidden meaning.
The true poem is life.
Reality is beautiful. Sometimes it hits me with the full force of its awful power. Years ago, in Denver, I helped a blind guy get to his bus. When he got up the bus’ steps he turned and said, “See you!”
I was lacerated. He would NEVER see me. We passed on the street several times after that and he never knew.
It happened again yesterday.
Bear and I have a new friend, a little boy of 5 or 6 who lives on the corner where we pass on our walk. Bear and he shared a moment yesterday (their second). We had a little conversation about the weather then Bear was ready to go on our walk. As we turned away, the boy said, “See you tomorrow!”
Bear and I went off to evaluate the snow on the golf course and safe in the moment (where all dog’s live) I didn’t appreciate the metaphor until later in the evening.
I’m 67. The little neighbor boy’s “tomorrow” will not have me in it. There’s every possibility (and I hope for the realization of this possibility) that someday HE will be 67 and some young kid will say, “See you tomorrow!” I hope my little neighbor doesn’t end up with my training and the habit of finding metaphors.
To write this post, I went into the spare bedroom and got my big book, Poems of W.B. Yeats. I really hoped to find the poem with the thigh and the parade, but no luck. Instead, as I thumbed through the pages, I was struck by the fact that this is the birthday of a great friend — now dead — who loved Yeats, too. We hung around together, sometimes in used bookstores, where we read poetry to each other and laughed at each other. Denis had a PhD from Notre Dame so he could do the poetry interpretation thing with way more flash than I could.
Denis died at 49, two days before his 50th birthday. That’s now a pretty long time ago.
“He, too, has been changed in his turn,William Butler Yeats, from “Easter, 1916”