Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Delphic Emphasis"

                         The sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, Greece 

“Delphic emphasis” – two words borrowed from John Keat’s poem Endymion.

I have taken these words out of their poetic context in an attempt to summarize what can be construed as the puzzling nature of the poetic art. 

On one hand, poetry carries within it a sense of oracular enigma, the type of utterance that might have been made by Pythia in the depths of the sanctuary of Apollo (the god of poetry, among others) at Delphi.

Such utterances bring us closer to events situated beyond the realm of reality, suspended in the rarefied atmosphere of a dream.

Just like a minor Pythia, someone who endeavors to write poetry attempts to convey a message of a far away and faceless god from the vague of the surrounding harmony.

The mechanics of the poetic art reside in the effort to sift through syllables, meaning and sensorial clues, in a haze of faint euphonies that can ultimately distill into a ‘narrative’:

"High on a windblown hedge. Ocarina earth.
Three listening posts up on a some hard-baked tier
Above the resonating atmosphere."

(From Squarings, by Seamus Heaney)

Aristotle once said that “from the point of view of poetry, the convincing impossible is preferable to the unconvincing possible” – where the word “convincing” takes us to the second attribute of poetry: emphasis.

After the protracted anxiety that goes with being on the prowl for the weird, disloyal and bizarre nucleus of a text - also known as ‘metaphor’ - the poetic art would have to assume the courage of emphasis.

Once persuaded of the “convincing impossible”, the reader/writer needs to hear the clearly articulated meaning of a poetic idea, a meaning which suddenly becomes for those who grasp it, the equivalent of a center of gravity.

A center of gravity, a potential center of the universe, as a reader that becomes captive to an idea may be oblivious to the external world, tightly wounding into a different dimension.

The uncertainty of Pythia’s message has turned into a clear statement, spoken on a distant scene, towards which our attention converges.

In ancient Greece, tradition situated the center of the world, known as ‘omphalos’ at Delphi.

Hence the thought that poetic emphasis can only be a “Delphic emphasis”.

                                                         Omphalos at Delphi.


Conrad DiDiodato said...


I can see that the nature of poetry (of the poetic experience) is Delphic in nature: namely, that there does seem to reside deep within the poetic utterance a god/goddess of speech that gives the first line as in "a dream".

My wife and I visited Delphi years ago, and I can recall feeling then that, though the gods have fled long ago, a sense of loss still pervades the place. It's this "loss" I've always been compelled to recreate in my poetry. The tragic sense that here there used to be real divinities, priestesses: that the beautiful Greek countryside stands even today as their temple.

It's this still present "absence" of poetic powers that I choose to "emphasize". This is the gift I've received from the Pythian oracle.

Thank you for the reflections and the memories of Delphi.

John Hayes said...

This is a wonderful examination of poetics--I'll return to this.

nothingprofound said...

Sometimes the enigma is all there is, as in Mallarme's poetry; and sometimes it's all emphasis, as in Pope. But great poetry, nonetheless.

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