Perfect poem for your pocket: A Major Work by William Meredith

24th April, 2013 - Posted by Christine Perrin - No Comments

A Major Work

Poems are hard to read
Pictures are hard to see
Music is hard to hear
And people are hard to love

But whether from brute need
Or divine energy
At last mind eye and ear
And the great sloth heart will move.

William Meredith describes how difficult it is to TRULY read, see, hear, and love. It’s interesting that he shows the kinship between these activities and gives each its own laborious line. In this way we get the feeling of labor because each line is its own work building on top of the previous line. Also fascinating about this simple poem is the fact that he states the problem first–difficulty not only in skill but in the condition of our hearts. After stating the difficulty he breaks the stanza and we are left in the difficulty. “Yeah, true, people are hard to love,” and our heart takes a downward turn as we think of all the ways this is true in the world we live in–of our own making and beyond it.

This reminds us of Christ’s words when he talks about those who have eyes to see and ears to hear–suggesting that something beyond the physiological function is happening when we truly absorb reality with our senses and our minds. Meredith brings the issue into the realm of our hearts–they too are deficient. He gives us a shortlist of the speculation about what might make a heart move–need or even instinct, God and our participation with God, he won’t say which. Likely he means for them both to hang in the air. Regardless of why the list of difficulties accumulates beautifully here in a rush at the end without punctuation–mind/eye/ear/. Then we finally get an image with drippingly slow language–”the great sloth heart.”  Sloths are named for their slowness and Meredith gives us that slowness in the long vowel sound and plethora of words in a poem with such short terse unadorned lines.  The whole poem is unadorned–so few images, such simple language, not much pretty sound:  this is hard work, it is austere work.

We end, hopefully, on the word move, but it isn’t a word we have arrived at easily or quickly or with glibness.  Just as the work of observation is hard, love is too, it will cost us something.  It is also our major work, in making art we speak often of a writer or painter’s major work–the best, most significant thing he or she has made.  The suggestion here is that love, the work of the heart, is our major work and that somehow art making too is bound up with the work of the heart.  It is no accident that MOVE  is where we arrive in the poem–the pinnacle, the goal, the state toward which we are leaning.  Our whole lives we are moving toward ‘loving people’ and through the difficulty of this labor.  It takes a long time, perhaps, even for that to be the goal.

Wishing your great sloth heart movement on this April day of poetry month.  This is why we turn to poetry–it gives us our humanity, our purpose in a thumbnail and makes us reckon where we are in the world.

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