The lyric poem seeks to mesmerize time. It crosses frontiers and outwits the temporal. It seeks to defy death, coming to disturb and console you. (“These Songs are not meant to be understood, you understand,” John Berryman wrote in one of his last Dream Songs: “They are only meant to terrify & comfort.”) The poet is incited to create a work that can outdistance time and surmount distance, that can bridge the gulf—the chasm—between people otherwise unknown to each other. It can survive changes of language and in language, changes in social norms and customs, the ravages of history. Here is Robert Graves in The White Goddess:

True poetic practice implies a mind so miraculously attuned and illuminated that it can form words, by a chain of more-than-coincidences, into a living entity—a poem that goes about on its own (for centuries after the author’s death, perhaps) affecting readers with its stored magic.

I believe such stored magic can author in the reader an equivalent capacity for creative wonder, creative response to a living entity. (Graves means his statement literally.) The reader completes the poem, in the process bringing to it his or her own past experiences. You are reading poetry—I mean really reading it—when you feel encountered and changed by a poem, when you feel its seismic vibrations, the sounding of your depths. “There is no place that does not see you,” Rainer Maria Rilke writes at the earth-shattering conclusion of his poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo”: “You must change your life.”

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Originally Published: January 23rd, 2006

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...

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  1. April 2, 2007
     Chris Weisser

    I believe that a good poem will "bridge the chasm" between people that have never met before. I also believe that a good poem is ageless and that there isn't much that can stop it from being read in the future. The "magic" that these poems contain allow it to touch most people that read it. The poem changes an aspect of the reader's life and endears itself to that reader for as long as they live.

  2. April 2, 2007
     Jared

    I agree witht the statement by Robert Graves. He tells us that a good poem will always be a good poem. I also agree with his statement that:

    True poetic practice implies a mind so miraculously attuned and illuminated that it can form words, by a chain of more-thancoincidences, into a living entity



    It does take a great mind to take ordinary words and convert them into something more meaningful.

  3. May 26, 2007
     HONEY

    POETRY POETRY CATCHES THE HEART ALL THE TIME sealed love or love in a bottle is a ok way to let someone you love know you love and care for them.IT ALSO DEPENDS IF ITS THE RIGHT POETRY THAT CATCHES THERE HEART???????IN SAMES CASES MALES ARE UASALLY MORE INTREASTED IN POETRY THAN FEMALES BUT IF POETRY IS THE WAY TO SOMEONES HEART THEN GO FOR IT WHILE YOU HAVE THE CHANCE.BUT MAKE SURE ITS TO SOMEONE WHO YOU KNOW THAT LOVES AND APPRECIATES YOU FOR WHO YOU ARE

  4. November 6, 2008
     Chelsea

    Poetry does unravel its stored magic upon the reader. If coming upon a poem one person is open to the world and another person sheltered to the world the view and the magic upon the person will be complete opposites. How the person envisions that poem allows them the powerful magic of the hidden meaning. Poems have a powerful impact upon the reader that is magical in itself because the person could not possibly see the change before them.

  5. November 6, 2008
     Kristin

    I agree with Hirsch that poetry is magic in disguise. Poetry itself is not magical but the impact poetry has on others is magical. It unravels unexpected truths, it can trick readers, it can be a mysterious idea. This is similar to a magician's card tricks. No matter who the magician is, you will never know what card you get until it is handed to you. The same goes for poetry. You will never know what to expect until you go through, read line by line, and come to some conclusion. In this way, i find that poetry is absolutely extraordinary.

  6. November 6, 2008
     Candace

    The way Hirsch describes a poem as being magical is a very powerful statement. The magic is how it affects each reader differently. A poem can influence the thoughts of each reader in a different way and can impact their thoughts and feelings about a certain topic. When you truly read a poem you become mesmerized with its meaning and you will feel as if you are a part of it. This is why I love to read poems: the image it creates and how it welcomes me into the mind of the writer is magical, like no other writing. I have never thought of it like that before until I read Hirsch's comments. I completely agree with him on this statement. It would be very interesting to know other people's perceptions of different poems; the responses would be very inspiring and reflect the idea of the magic poetry may bring to life.

  7. November 6, 2008
     Maggie

    By discussing the eternity of poetry and thereby accentuating the ephemeral nature of the physical universe, this article affirms the realist belief that thoughts and other mental abstractions have substance and are perhaps more "real," cosmically speaking, than actual objects. The nature of poetry and literature in general is eternal: why should an author write unless they somehow, perhaps subconsciously, wish to be heard? Writing, at least on a literary level, is an attempt to gain immortality. The written word and, more importantly, the ideas behind it transcend time, as Hirsch says. However, this raises several interesting questions. For example, by asserting that ideas are not "real", is literary nominalism nothing but hypocrisy in its most extreme form? Or are there multiple definitions of the term "real"?

  8. November 7, 2008
     Jordan

    "You are reading poetry—I mean really reading it—when you feel encountered and changed by a poem, when you feel its seismic vibrations, the sounding of your depths." If this holds true, than I've unfortunately never read a poem. Sure I think poetry is nice, and can be philosophically revealing, however, it is an unfortuante circumstance that I have yet to come across a poem that has been able to do this for me. I almost feel chastised by Hirsch's essay, by the fact that I may just be a bad reader. I am not ignoring the ability and power a pome may be capable of, I am just stating that it isn't the poetry that is magic in itself. The magic lies within the reader, and apparently (I'm sad to say) I haven't found the magic within to be inspired by poetry in this way.

  9. November 7, 2008
     Emily

    Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickenson, and so many more; these are some names of writers who have long been deceased, yet in some way still impact our lives. Everyone would like to be remembered by the living when they die, and literature truly is the way to do it. People do great things everyday, and they will be remembered in history, but no other way than literature, can the personality of a person remain to be known. Babe Ruth was an amazing athlete, but his thoughts, personality, views are no longer present on the earth; Shakespeare's are.

  10. May 22, 2009
     Ivan Zimmer

    That being said, it wouldn't surprise any one if I told them: Rabrindranath Tagore disclosed to me my life's worth, work and function. But that raises a question: How does the poetry critic have context?

  11. November 5, 2010
     mya smith

    i liked this poem because it brings people together from far distances