Sunday, March 15, 2015

Offending Language: On W.S. Graham's "I Leave This at Your Ear"

                 The poet, in W.S. Graham’s I Leave This at Your Ear, is imagined to be consciously sensitive of his every movement — walking towards his lover’s house deliberately late, remaining in there for a while to relish the presence of his sleeping muse, and then departing quickly to capture the entire experience in poetry. 
                    The poem, described as the “creature in its abstract cage asleep”, happens to be in the same sleeping state as his lover, whose dreams are thought to be blindfolding her from reality. Here, being asleep is privileged because it is in this natural state that one’s consciousness of the real world is suspended.
This state, where dreams cover our eyes from reality through “the light they make”, is relished by the poet; so he departs, allowing the poem to hover in his imagination and letting the woman dream. 
As soon however, as the poem is created and the woman is awake, everything around them becomes concrete: the poem is given shape through language; the woman becomes conscious of her physical surrounding. 
Language, for the poet, is thus used in an attempt to concretize his abstract thoughts – about language and poetry; about his unspoken affection for the woman and his deliberate action to let her dream. In other words, poetic language is used in an effort to give our rawest thoughts a form and to provide a place for it within the physical world. 
This is how W.S. Graham treats the language of poetry: it is merely an instrument in an effort to explicate what is abstract and unshaped within our realm of thoughts which, in its purest form, belong to another state of consciousness similar to when we dream. 
Because of this complexly abstract character of our consciousness and thoughts, poetic language is used to free it from its “abstract cage” and let it roam in the physical reality we inhabit.The poem, however, demonstrates the difficulty and complexity of this task; that is to say, it takes a laborious effort to convert our rawest feelings and thoughts readily into language, other than the language of poetry. 
It is at this point that W.S. Graham gravely offends language for the very reason that he suspends it through poetry. This act of suspension is captured by the poet’s dismissal of language at the sight of his sleeping lover.
Instead of readily tapping language, which commonly belongs to the real world, to promptly express his thoughts, the writer suspends the employment of it. He delays the expression of his emotions by completely dismissing the use of everyday language, and then leaving his lover asleep so she could stay in the world of dreams while he molds his “abstract creature” into poetry.
The creation of the poem is a grave offense against language’s basic function as a tool for communication because, as the poet demonstrates, the expression of our rawest thoughts is denied of its spontaneity and familiarity precisely because it is abstract and caged in the barely accessible world of human consciousness. 
In this case, W.H. Graham implies that consciousness of another world – specifically the world of dreams where light is found – can only be accessed through the employment of a specific form of language, which is the poetic language. As we know, the language of poetry is obscure, indirect, laborious, cerebral, and often inaccessible. 
Poetry offends our basic assumptions of language not only because it challenges its communicative function, but because – as the poem reveals – it dismisses language at the crucial and very moment of expression. And so, why do we need to defend this hesitant, delayed, untimed, and obscurantist character of poetry?
We must, in my view, guard poetry because another world – the inner reality where our dreams and inner thoughts reside – exists within us. The reality inside us is as real as the physical world we inhabit. Our inner world unfortunately however, defies the language commonly used in our physical existence. 
Thus poetry has always been, in my view, mankind’s futile attempt to access his inner reality wherein language is nonexistent; hence poems appear to be obscure and sometimes senseless because we attempt, in our dire and futile ways, to understand and concretize this other world devoid of language. 
But then, as experiencing beings, it is important to reside both in the inner and outer reality of existence: to acquire external perception from the physical world to our inner reality; and to take what we have internalized outside to make our existence a reflexive whole. 
With this, the poetic language becomes the necessary bridge that connects the process of externalization and internalization between the world of external experiences in the physical world and the inner reality, which we rarely access except for when we dream.  

[In writing this critique, I had in mind the following sources:]
Adams, Hazard. The Offense of Poetry University of Washington Press, 2007.
Gartenberg, Zachary. Review of Graham's The Offense of Poetry. MLN Vol. 124, No. 5, Comparative Literature Issue (Dec 2009), pp. 1211-1215 
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