Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Poetry & Perspective



There is a poem I love by the great Pablo Neruda. I love it for a few reasons. It has an oceanic theme throughout that I appreciate. I have a deep love for the sea and always feel at peace when I’m near it. I love spending time in the poem. It helps me put things in perspective.

Enigmas - By Pablo Neruda Abridged

You ask me what the lobster is weaving there with
his golden feet?
I reply, the ocean knows this.

You say, what is the ascidia waiting for in its transparent
bell? What is it waiting for?
I tell you it is waiting for time, like you.

You ask me whom the Macrocystis alga hugs in its arms?
Study it, study it, at a certain hour, in a certain sea I know.

You question me about the wicked tusk of the narwhal,
and I reply by describing how the sea unicorn with the harpoon in it dies.

I want to tell you the ocean knows this,
that life
in its jewel boxes
is endless as the sand, impossible to count,
pure,
and among the blood-colored grapes time has made the
petal hard and shiny, filled the jellyfish with light, untied its knot,
letting its musical threads fall from a horn of plenty
made of infinite mother-of-pearl.

I am nothing but the empty net that has gone on ahead
of human eyes, dead in those darknesses,
of fingers accustomed to the triangle, longitudes
on the timid globe of an orange.

I was like you, investigating the endless star,
and in my net, during the night, I woke up naked,
the only thing caught, a fish trapped inside the wind.


Art that is done well should always be open to interpretation so I would like to take a moment and tell you what this poem means to me.

We are all inquisitive by nature, some more than others, but we all posses a general curiosity about life, the universe and everything. This poem is a discussion that takes place in a dream. It describes an abstract conversation between man and his perceptions. Neruda uses abstract thoughts to represent something deeper than the literal meaning. Taking a moment to consider the non-obvious nature of the world is difficult at times. You need to open yourself up and look at the world in a pragmatic way. I find comfort in the fact that the scope of our understanding of life is in no way diminished by our total lack of understanding of it. We need to first know what to ask. At times it seems we give ourselves so much credit for answering the wrong questions.

Neruda takes you to the beginning and attempts to help the reader realize that the answer to every question lies within our own perceptions. They are not shared as truths universally. And with that understanding, at least for me, it helped me to appreciate what I have and what inspires me to try to act accordingly.

Neruda suggests in his poem that the reader has asked a question.

“You ask me what the lobster is weaving there with his golden feet? I reply, the ocean knows this.”

Our unrealized perceptions find it quaint that we are curious. The answer given is a call to action. The search for the answer becomes the solution to the question.

“You question me about the wicked tusk of the narwhal, and I reply by describing to you how the sea unicorn with the harpoon in it dies.”

The narwal is an odd looking whale with a tusk that protrudes from its mouth. An animal feared and once thought to be a monster. The creature is used to describe how we make snap judgment. The answer is relative to the asker. People live within their own values and morals. In my view that is what Neruda touches on with this verse. We are all slaves to our experiences. A person who lives a peaceful life is affected by cruelty differently than a person who had never known a life without cruelty. It’s natural to see how difficult it is to make judgments on choices or what is right and wrong when the fact that all of us are so tightly wound in our experiences and fears that it makes highly improbable that any of us will ever see things the same. I have always felt that understanding people instead of vilifying them for believing differently is instrumental in the evolution of humanity.

“I want to tell you that the ocean knows this, that life in its jewel boxes is endless as the sand, impossible to count, pure, and among the blood-colored grapes time has made the petal hard and shiny, filled the jellyfish with light, untied its knot, letting its musical threads fall from a horn of plenty made of infinite mother-of-pearl.”

He starts these verses with “I want to tell you...” There is so much to be excited about in the discovery. I think here he is speaking of the need for fluidity with ideas. Time can shift mountains, heal wounds, build forests and ruin great empires, I’m pretty sure it has the ability to change an opinion or two. Life is ever changing and evolving. We may as well enjoy the ride and follow suit.

“I am nothing but the empty net that has gone on ahead of human eyes, dead in those darknesses, of fingers accustomed to the triangle, longitudes on the timid globe of an orange.”

Again the idea that we live in our own perceptions is humbling. We capture information and hold it from whatever place we are dwelling. The only thing we have to temper and form that information is our experiences and familiarities – things that are comfortable and safe, not necessarily the truth.

“I was like you, investigating the endless star, and in my net, during the night, I woke up naked, the only thing caught, a fish trapped inside the wind.”

I love this metaphor. We are always casting our nets out hoping to capture wisdom. We try to unlock the world’s mysteries, but at the end of the day we discover that the answers we capture in that net are just our own core beliefs and perceptions molded from our experiences and motivations. We judge the answers and only keep the acceptable parts that are comfortable to our existence.

Perception is everything. But being a little more thoughtful about our own perceptions might lend a bit of wisdom we never expected to find. The trick is to keeping fishing.