Poetry relates to language as music relates to noise, writes John Carey. In his, A little history of poetry, he tells us that poetry is language made special, so that it will be remembered and valued. It comes from a time before writing, where stories and history were not recorded, but remembered, in the minds of the people. The rhythm and repetition, the music of poetry, made this task easier. Poetry, like song, stayed in the mind, it was easy to remember.
Owen Barfield noted that poems alter the way in which we see the world; it became a ‘profounder and more meaningful place when seen through eyes that had been reading poetry’. Poetry ‘had the power to change one’s consciousness a little’.
To think poetically, is to think in images, metaphor, analogy. Gary Lachman writes that metaphor is something that stands for, or takes the place, of something else; both are related, but not in an obvious way. A sign is something that points towards something else, but it does not add to our understanding of that thing. A metaphor points to what it stands for but it also brings forth or allows more meaning to emerge, a meaning that is in addition to the fata it provides. A sign has one meaning, while a metaphor is more like a symbol, which has multiple meanings. This way of thinking is a shift from left-brain ‘literalism’ into a more right-brain open, nuanced and ambiguous way of processing.
Poetry confounds the left-brain which simply doesn’t ‘get it’. The left hemisphere always tries to grasp, create certainty and cannot see the larger pattern, subtlety, and the implicit. Engaging with poetry and metaphor shifts us into the ‘right’ mode.
The following poem is rich with metaphor and the language of the ‘right’. Notice any shifts in your perception as read; notice if how you see the world afterwards is altered in any way.
I am the wind which breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave of the ocean,
I am the murmur of the billows,
I am the ox of the seven combats,
I am the vulture upon the rocks,
I am a beam of the sun,
I am the fairest of plants,
I am a wild boar in valor,
I am a salmon in the water,
I am a lake in the plain,
I am a word of science,
I am the point of the lance of battle,
I am the God who created in the head the fire.
Who is it who throws light into the meeting on the mountain?
Who announces the ages of the moon?
Who teaches the place where couches the sun?
(If not I)