One piece of prose floating from the fading memory I have from reading Czeslaw Milosz’s Visions from San Francisco Bay occasionally come back to haunt me in my still moments. It asks amidst a whole lot of other questions what the purpose of words are beyond their ability to convey meanings. In one recent interview with Stephen Colbert, Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson compares the inconsequentiality of our presence on this planet to that of a billion (and some) bacteria living in the walls of our intestines whose number is equal to almost three times the number of all human life that ever existed and died. Like those bacteria, he suggests, who live without the mental capability of understanding the dimension of their inconsequentiality when compared to six billion other intestines walking the earth (with the multibillion units of bacteria they carry in them), we may not possess the mental flexibility to understand our insignificance (along with our equally possible random relevance as evidenced by our current existence).
Milosz asks as if to himself what makes it so that words, in their utmost insignificance beyond immediate use, lends themselves to entendres, rhyme and poetry. Did there exist on some magical plane a predestination for the word “apple” to become the symbol of ultimate taboo, pleasure and sin? In which realm of serendipity did “gain” and “pain” acquire the paradox of their rhyming complementarity. Sure computers may not write poems now (and I have no doubt that this is false), but the lexical matrix of today’s world endows us with a gazillion ways of expressing thoughts in inventive ways. The order in which I have written the last couple of sentences in this post (with almost a 100% certainty) is an order in which these words have never ever been arranged and never will anymore by anyone else. There is something to that. The process of writing poetry, for me, taps into the science of this randomness. The art resides in the chance of success – that moment when meaning, form, and words meet at the tip of the writer’s hands. See below:
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
from W.B. Yeats’ An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
This concise beauty, and an underlying deceptive simplicity that wows, has always defined for me one of writing’s unreachable bars; the place where science, art and meaning collide with the earnest needs of the present.