Thursday, June 12, 2014

Eye - Charles Wright

Insensitive or discreet
In it the passions move

Seeking an entrance
In it the seasons meet

Mosslike with blood
Blended in clouds

The future a certain map
When the lid shuts

It is a reflection
It is a drawplate

The left and the right

In honor of his announcement as the new US Poet Laureate, I've decided to feature a brilliant, insightful (get it?) little poem from Charles Wright.  A thorough examination of the eye, this poem presents to many images and metaphors for the eye, describing its function and its importance.

The first two stanzas deal with the eye as a place in which things happen.  "In" the eye, our passions move.  Our passions can be obvious ("insensitive") or subtle ("discreet"), but no matter how, our eyes are one of the main ways in which our passions are expressed.  After all, how telling can a glance be?  Just the slightest expression, as shown in the eye, can tell us everything about a person and what they are thinking.

In the second stanza, the eyes function as a meeting place for all the images which it takes in.  The seasons, "seeking an entrance" into our minds, enter through the eyes first, there meeting.  It reminds me of a famous line from Joyce's Ulysses, in which Stephen Dedalus says, "Thought through my eyes."  We do often first take in the world visually, images meet thoughts.

The next two stanzas are descriptions of the eye itself.  Criss-crossed with fine capillaries, our eyes are "mosslike with blood" and something of a cloudy aspect.  Those tiny blood pathways spreading like clouds, or moss on a round stone, form an unorthodox yet effective image of the detail of the eyeball's exterior.  Moving now to the first part of the exterior world the eye sees, the eyelid, acts as a reflection of inner thoughts, the future projected upon it.  This is, I think, a clever reference to our "mind's eye," that place we can go where we "see" future events unfolding, with eyes closed.

The metaphors now become more direct.  The eye is a reflection of the outside world and our own inner thoughts, and it is the drawplate upon which we draw conclusions about our surroundings.  Left and right are the same and separate.  To be honest, I'm not sure what function the last stanza serves other than to make sure we all know we're talking about a pair of eyes, and not just one, something which the title neglected to mention.

I really enjoyed this journey around the eyeball and its various functions, both metaphysical and physical, and hope that you did as well.  It's concise and crisp, two qualities that I value highly in poetry, and it makes its point with no more or fewer words than it needs.  It's not a pointed moral or a narrative, but just an exultation and reflection upon those two wondrous jewels in all of our heads.

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