Article for Teachers and Students

The Wave Always Returns

A poem moves like a wave, dissolving the literal, and we experience its flow as it moves from the eye to the ear.

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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  • 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...

Article for Teachers and Students

The Wave Always Returns

A poem moves like a wave, dissolving the literal, and we experience its flow as it moves from the eye to the ear.

Related

  • 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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