Essay

On Robert Hass’s “Meditation at Lagunitas”

by Pimone Triplett
We are at the dissolve. I am at the “dissolve.” It’s one of this poem’s strongest words at the crux. Tonight, as on a lot of nights, I go to the bookshelves after a long day of meetings and errands in which there was some useful work, some aimless chatter. The day has not engaged what I would call, for lack of a better word, the “soul,” and so I go to the books to get something I need.

Whatever you choose to call that thing which mere palaver erodes—soul, psyche, self, tranquility, or simply meaning“Meditation at Lagunitas” is one of the poems that can save you. The poet here is sick of words used as rhetoric, where “talking this way, everything dissolves,” watered down from passionate feeling, memory, desire, the senses.

In the second half of the poem, Robert Hass translates the word “blackberry” from rational to ritual. This begins in his recollection of a woman, which leads back to childhood and its specifics such as “pumpkinseed,” along with a powerful, almost talismanic sense of the immediacy of words to us as children.

From this return to childhood comes an inevitable casting out again into adulthood and its definitions: “It hardly had to do with her. Longing, we say, because desire has to do with endless distances.” The real discovery here is in how strangely our shared separateness also connects us.

The next turn, to the flesh-and-blood woman, in which he “remembers so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,” brings us far toward the bond between word and flesh, just as surely as any more traditional rite. The sacrament at hand—in your hand—is the act of the poem itself, and you complete the ceremony by reading it.

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies.
We talked about it late last night and in the voice
of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone
almost querulous. After a while I understood that,
talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,
pine, hair, woman, you
and I. There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.
Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.
But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,
the thing her father said that hurt her, what
she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous
as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.


Robert Hass, “Meditation at Lagunitas” from Praise. Copyright 1979 by Robert Hass. Reprinted with the permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Originally Published: October 12, 2006

COMMENTS (5)

On February 26, 2007 at 11:24am Karen wrote:
So many days, thoughts, memories become fuzzy, like a dream, punctuated with moments of crystal clarity. Hass reminds us.

On October 15, 2007 at 6:43pm Erik Yates wrote:
I'm curious about Hass's "new thinking" and

"old thinking." What, specifically, is he talking

about here? Poetical thinking? Spirtiual

thinking? All thinking in general?

On February 12, 2008 at 11:12am METIN SAHIN wrote:
I AM A FAMOUS TURKISH POET.CAN I SEND MY POEMS TO YOUR SITE

On December 30, 2008 at 4:10pm Julie G wrote:
To Erik's question: It's my understanding that "old thinking" refers to Platonic idealism, in which each particular (say a dog) is an imperfect representation of the abstract concept (say "dogness"). "New thinking" is a reference to the 20th centry linguistic philosophy of Jacques Lacan, which in part holds that there is a gap between a signifier (word) and its signified (concept). One example is to understand that your complex series of associations with the word "dog" will be very different from mine and anyone else's -- so that the word itself "dog" can be seen to be simultaneously devoid of specific meaning (hence Hass' reference to their "dissolving" under scrutiny) and invested with an inscrutable mystery and power (hence Hass' phrasing, "numinous as words").

On June 19, 2010 at 10:35pm Carol wrote:
"Moments of the good flesh continuing"... i
wonder if this is sort of an American
expression... or became an American
expression after the poem..

where does this come from... ??

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 Pimone  Triplett

Biography

Pimone Triplett is the author of The Price of Light (Four Way Books, 2005) and Ruining the Picture (Triquarterly / Northwestern, 1998). She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa. Currently, she teaches at the University of Washington and the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.

Continue reading this biography

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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