Should we begin with old books, tradition’s school?
Follow signs, steps, ‘til the unseen’s laid bare?
Fitting words to spirit is a task for fools.
Leap fresh from feeling, the Romantics’ gefühl?
Birth shimmering symbols—no splitting hairs?
But which is which? Not knowing galls, feels cruel.
Start anywhere—for light is one, particle
or wave? We’re the ones divided. Beware—
fitting words to spirit is a task that fools.
Does the letter polish the spirit’s jewels?
The spirit redeem the letter’s despair?
Which does which? Not knowing, we judge, grow cruel.
Spirit blows where it will, unmaking all rules.
Words play hide and seek, making holes to repair.
Fitting words to spirit is the task of fools.
Unknowing is the way. Stiff surety’s more cruel.
Today’s poem by Mary Lane Potter is a villanelle, a poem that repeats the first and third lines of the first stanza 3 times in its short 17-line form. In this poem, as in the best villanelles, the form fits the content, the difficult task of trying to convey spiritual experience within the limits of language. We hope you are enjoying our August poetry festival, wherein we are running a poem every Wednesday instead of alternating Wednesdays. We’ll be back to our regular schedule in September.