Articles for Teachers & Students

The Wave Always Returns

by Edward Hirsch

Renewal is the “pivot of lyricism,” as the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva says, comparing the lyrical element to the waves of the sea. “The wave always returns, and always returns as a different wave,” she writes in her essay “Poets with History and Poets without History”:

The same water—a different wave.
What matters is that it is a wave.
What matters is that the wave will return.
What matters is that it will always return different.
What matters most of all: however different the returning wave, it will always return as a wave of the sea.
What is a wave? Composition and muscle. The same goes for lyric poetry.

The poem is a muscular and composed thing. It moves like a wave and dissolves literalizations. We participate in its flow; we flow in its participation. We give ourselves up to its rhythm, to the process of individuation, the process of merging. When Tsvetaeva compares the lyrical element to the waves of the sea, I think of “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” I think of Wallace Stevens’s seashore lyric “The Idea of Order at Key West,” which leads to Elizabeth Bishop’s “The End of March,” Mark Strand’s “The Idea,” and Allen Grossman’s “The Woman on the Bridge over the Chicago River.” I think of Heraclitus’s idea, expanded upon by Jung, that “It is delight . . . to souls to become wet.” James Hillman explains in The Dream and the Underworld that “Water is the special element of reverie, the element of reflective images and their ceaseless, ungraspable flow. Moistening in dreams refers to the soul’s delight in death, its delight in sinking away from fixations in literalized concerns.”

The poem moves from the eye to the ear, to the inner ear, the inner eye. It drenches us in the particulars of our senses, it moves us through the articulations of touch, taste, and scent. It actualizes our senses until we start to feel an animal alertness opening up within us. It guides our reflections. It actualizes an intuition flowing deeper than intellect. (“Beneath my incredulity / All at once is flowing / Joy . . . Intuition weightless and ongoing / Like stanzas in a book / Or golden scales in the melodic brook.”—James Merrill, Scripts for the Pageant.) We use our senses in poetry, but it is a mistake to try to use our senses everywhere. The poem plunges us from the visible to the invisible, it plunges us into the domain of psyche, of soul. It takes us into the realm of the demonic. Goethe notes:

In poetry, especially in that which is unconscious, before which reason and understanding fall short, and which, therefore, produces effects so far surpassing all conception, there is always something of the Demoniacal.
(Tuesday, March 8, 1831)



We discover in poetry that we are participating in something which cannot be explained or apprehended by reason or understanding alone. We participate in the imaginary. We create a space for fantasy, we enter our dream life, dream time. We deepen our breathing, our mindfulness to being, our spiritual alertness.

Poetry is an animating force. It comes alive when the poet magically inscribes a wave and thereby creates a new thing, when the text immobilizes it, when the individual poem becomes part of the great sea, when the bottle washes ashore and the wanderer happens upon it, when the reader experiences its inexhaustible depths. . . .

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Originally Published: January 23, 2006

COMMENTS (7)

On November 19, 2008 at 1:31pm Chelsea wrote:
The metaphor Hirsh uses of a poem to waves is honorable because he supports his metaphor through the entire article. The examples Hirsh uses are relatable based on the lyric poem but not all lyric poems are capable of involving the reader enough to send our different senses flowing. There are poets who are able to take words and send rushes of emotion and sensations through a reader allowing them to place themselves in the situation feeling, touching and smell the surrounding area.

On November 19, 2008 at 4:58pm kristin wrote:
Hirsch explains, "The poem moves from the eye to the ear, to the inner ear, the inner eye. It drenches us in the particulars of our senses, it moves us through the articulations of touch, taste, and scent."

Although I have never thought of the path a poem takes as it enters into one's body, I can imagine it being similar to this. However, I believe that a poem enters from the eye-where one sees the beatiful words on a page. From the eye, I believe it enters into the ear where one's brain interprets it. From the brain's interpretation, I think that it then enters into one's soul or heart where it inspires or comforts an individual in their life.

On November 19, 2008 at 5:05pm Jordan Dodderer wrote:
"What matters is that it is a wave.

What matters is that the wave will return.

What matters is that it will always return different. "

We are obsessed with comparing things to the vast oceans of our Earth. They are so vast that we mya think we know what our oceans contain, however, we can not truly ever know what could be hiding in the depths of the sea. Just like hte sea, we as humanity can never truly know all the answers. It is impossible to scavenge the great depths of the Universe. All we have is the water: our ideas. I believe what we are presenting here is that we do not ever truly have new ideas, but rather variations or a rebirth of ideas that have been lost at sea. The lyrics poem may not be presenting any new information, however, it is shedding a new light on the sibject. It gives us new perspective and helps the mind re-imagine the forgotten.

On November 19, 2008 at 9:38pm Maggie wrote:
In these articles, Hirsch himself demonstrates that "the wave always returns, and always returns as a different wave.” In these last few articles, Hirsch has returned to some of the poetic devices that he had only mentioned in passing, expounding upon them and presenting them in a slightly different, and perhaps brighter, light. Therefore, I think that it is disappointing that Hirsch still limits his truly beautiful observations to poetry only. His idea that everything returns renewed to its place of origin does not simply apply to poetry, but to life in general. There are so many aspects of poetry that parallel life, and I am astounded that Hirsch has not yet addressed this relationship. Poetry is life; life is poetry. At the moment, however, Hirsch is simply writing under the impression that poetry is poetry, which, frankly, I could have figured out on my own.

On November 19, 2008 at 10:02pm Candace Elaine wrote:
"The poem is a muscular and composed thing. It moves like a wave and dissolves literalizations. We participate in its flow; we flow in its participation. We give ourselves up to its rhythm, to the process of individuation, the process of merging."-- I really like this quote- it reaches the explanation of a poem to new boundaries. The face that we give ourselves up to its rythm is powerful, even though rythm has been spoken about for the past couple essays. It is inevitable to be touched by a poem's rhythm, so when we do sense the beat we give our thoughts and speech up to it. We mold ourselves into the poem and become one with it as we speak the rhythm allowed- we merge with it. Just as Hirsch said, when we read a poem it moves from the eye to the ear, to the inner ear. We use as many senses as we can to feel the poem, giving us a better and more sufficient understanding of it.

On November 19, 2008 at 10:19pm Emily wrote:
"What matters is that it will always return different." I think of this quote as an explanation to the thought process when reading a poem. The first time the words 'enter' your body, they may not have meaning, or maybe you don't understand. The next time you realize some significances. The third time you may feel a different theme. Each time the wave returns with the same appearance, yet drenches you into a whole new concept. The same words read over and over may have different meanings each time, even to the same reader.

On July 3, 2011 at 8:58am Tim Dyson wrote:
The beauty and mystery of poetry is that it thrives among those to whom the world pays no attention. The really important Whitman is the Sampler full of earthly delights. Hopefully, no poem will ever taste as sweet.

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 Edward  Hirsch

Biography

Poet and author Edward Hirsch has built a reputation as an attentive and elegant writer and reader of poetry. Over the course of eight collections of poetry, four books of criticism, and the long-running  “Poet’s Choice” column in the Washington Post, Hirsch has transformed the quotidian into poetry in his own work, as well as demonstrated his adeptness at explicating the nuances and shades of feeling, tradition, and craft at . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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