Haiku: “The dandelions” and Excess

the dandelions

in the field more numerous

than I remember
I write about meaningless things or rather the meaninglessness of things because in order to “represent” how such things appear to me I have to dislodge them from the hierarchies and grammars of the every day world. The lilies of the field . . . The fall of a sparrow . . Is this to see things in the “to be” of creation as opposed to the traditions of men?

It’s not to deny the archaeological or evolutionary narratives of things but to capture what is “excessive” in their appearance, their appearing, and we are used to think of this as Romantic or Mystical.

Put it this way: if all the discourses–the sciences — we have at our fingertips fail when we focus, say, on “the dandelions” in their bright numerousness, it may be that a certain degree of difficulty must be admitted, and the tropes or turns of phrase, the rhythmic patterns, of poetry may be resorted to in this crisis of representation. The other commonly resorted to strategy is simply to say that THAT is an illusion.

So why is all this bother worth it? I think it is a matter of our concerns about the “self.” Poetry in this case speaks to the “self” that has a double structure of self/other. In distinction from the self of deconstruction, this self does not disappear into the other, but knows its limits in terms of the other. The problem of representation we have been discussing would be no “problem” if it were possible to erase the self. At the same time, one may say that there’s something “excessive” about the self.

The poem gives voice to this excess. Rowan Williams writes (The Edge of Words 134): “The simplest poetic forms have the same purpose at their heart — the contemplating of what seems normal in order to uncover what “normal” perception screens out.”

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at tom.develyn@comcast.net. D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at http://tdevelyn.com and other sites.

2 thoughts on “Haiku: “The dandelions” and Excess”

  1. the dandelions
    in the field more numerous
    than I remember

    In Edmund Burke’s essay on the sublime, one of his examples of it is (as I recall) a field of flowers all of a kind stretching to the horizon, suddenly come upon. For Burke the awe, or astonishment, of the sublime resulted from fear, expressly that related to self-preservation, experienced in relative safety. Presumably the fear prompted by the multiplication of flowers was of the infinite; in other places it is of death, depicted in safe theatrical confines, as spectator experiences go easily vanquished, he delightedly exclaims, by a real one on the scaffold. He differs from Longinus for whom the sublime was a literary or oratorical effect, instantaneous, overwhelming and irrational, producing a feeling of transcendent in the subject, which by definition (irrational) defies literary experience. Burke, at 19 and weaned on Enlightenment elan despite customs and traditions, sought a seemingly more basic, quasi scientific, explanation of the sublime in human nature’s underside. The difference between the two is itself little short of sublime.
    The dandelions in the poem are not necessarily sublime; the poem is about appearance, which like the sublime has a sensory base; both are instantaneous and cannot be retained except as an afterglow or taste. They communicate this concrete aspect of themselves – far more fragile than abstractions telling us what they are – outside the senses even though it is through the senses (Blake’s we see through, not with, the eye) that we experience appearance.
    As always the relationship of the poem to the experience tells its own story The poem’s statement is a negative of a positive (than I remember and dandelions more numerous) which possibly may be an expression of the in-between state often referred to in this blog, metaxy, of which I have only the vaguest notion. The poem is minimal though syntactically more complex than rustic juxtaposition. The I in “than I remember” is elusive, pinned to a word, itself pinned to a negative that is only a half negative; the poet remembers the dandelions only as a numerosity greater than he remembers. The dandelions are numerous independently of the observer, but more numerous only in relation to his memory. The gap in memory exists only in relation to “dandelions in the field,” words in a poem, perhaps a train of thought in the poet’s mind ending in “more numerous,” whose reality is nothing more or less than the syntactical thrust of the poem, spontaneously, i.e., poetically, generated. This reality needs to be qualified by “as such” if it and the poem are more than verbal constructs.
    Given that “more numerous” has meaning only in relation to failed memory, and then illogically, it might, with some logic, be taken instead to mean more than merely numerous, an extraordinary aspect, depth or intensity of the experience to which “numerous” refers, hence exceeding memory. Being illogical, ultimately inexpressible, it is thereby absolute by definition, or nothing.
    The shadow of failed memory passes like a ray of oblique light between subject and object, uniting them, for the absolute is one; there is no second. Is this an extraordinary experience, or a poem? If the former, then the poem is a means to it, or a spin-off, literature in quotes. If the poem, then how?
    Having gone this far, is the reality in the subject? If not, then in the object: appearance communicating itself, as logos, of which there can only be one, to itself in eye of the subject. I don’t know whether to add “through the poem” because I don’t know what preceded the poem except no poem, and nothing of that. In any case, the poet remembers only that he cannot remember – the most concrete thing in the poem. I doubt that it existed outside the poem, or prior to it, in any conscious fashion. The negative is an expression of inadequacy in lieu of its object, like Dante before the Trinity, though surely different. Dante can only say that he cannot say. The undefinable by definition is tautological. The dandelion poem wants more, but cannot give more. A reflex rather than a language experience of sound and sense fused. Or…? –pv


  2. Very interesting! For me it was a concrete experience of excess — a sense of moreness which, I CAN say, is a “sense” I take in terms of metaxological thinking. Your review of modern approaches to this experience doesn’t quite frame the experience for me. What I’m hoping is that the project of writing these haiku almost everyday as part of my study of metaxological thinking in Desmond and others (see now http://readingthebetween.com) will supply enough context for each other than I won’t be found willfully obscure. My model in one sense is Robert Herrick’s Hesperides, written in a “shifting” time but recovering much of the old tradition as habits of being, perception, feeling etc. Desmond argues that while thought begins with wonder — as Aristotle noted — it also ends in wonder in light of the intimate universal. The process of going from that original wonder to the metaxological wonder is what I call inner form. When I knew you in Berkeley I had already discovered “inner form” in its positive version from Karl Popper! Now that I’m reading Wittgenstein, I know he took the same journey from positivism to . . .. ?


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