I’m going to ask for a little bit more of your time for this one, because I’d like you sit through a couple of videos. And if you can’t, you’re not going to get very much out of this blog. In which case, I’d like you to skip it.
I want to ask you to feel something.
And that’s a big thing to ask.
I’d like you to read these lyrics:
Mostly I never knew which way was out
Once it was on, it was on and that was that
The umbilicus was a faucet that fountained rabbit blood
And I spun on my wheel like a laboratory rat
I was an electrical storm on the bathroom floor, clutching the bowl
My blood was full of gags and other people’s diseases
My monstrous little memory had swallowed me whole
It was the year I officially became the bride of Jesus
In love, in love, in love you laugh
In love you move, I move
And one more time with feeling
For love, you love, I laugh, you love
Saw you in half
And the stars are splashed across the ceiling
And then I want you to maximize this video to full screen and watch the full thing with your full attention (not particularly to pay attention to the video, but to eliminate distraction):
And then I’d like you to do it again with this masterpiece by Taylor Mali.
Like Lily Like Wilson (please click through to the website to read the author’s poem on his own website)
It’s pretty, sure. But then listen to him deliver it.
The thing is, most poetry, most music, is only going to mean as much as you put into it.
When you read poetry on your own, often the issue is that you read the poetry and forget to take the time to allow yourself to feel something about it. It’s flat, dull, perhaps pretty words and nothing more. And, when the artist gets to deliver it, they get to tell you what they meant by it.
That shouldn’t, of course, be the case, but learning to feel poetry is a thing that takes time, mental space, and room to feel. That’s why music is a more accessible form of poetry, with all of its props and gimmicks of instruments and sound to prompt the emotions where the artist thinks they should flow.
Willi Carlisle’s “your heart is a big tent”, “seen the sparrows singing there, alight on branches in the air, and there’s no way they’re afraid of being thirty”
And everyone who’s ever been afraid of getting old, and that means everyone alive, feels that.
When Nick Cave sings, “They told us our god’s would outlive, they told us our dreams would outlive us, they told us our gods would outlive us, but they lied”
I’m the only person in the world who thinks about the specific little sister I lost and how she was supposed to. But I’m very far from the only person who attributes my own personal meaning to a piece of media.
You see, once an artist puts something out into the world, it’s there to be interpreted as you will, it’s there to mean whatever you want it to mean, whatever it needs to be for you.
And that’s what makes music and poetry meaningful.
Literature, in English, is a term that encompasses a genre of fiction writing which captures the human condition. Like The Grapes of Wrath which somehow manage to capture both the best and the worst of mankind in a scant 450 pages or Anna Karenina which captures the ceaseless struggle and the pettiness of humankind in 400 more. But Lady Gaga’s Angel Down does it in one.
Doesn’t everyone belong
In the arms of the sacred?
Poetry asks you to interpret your own meaning.
And that feeling can be anything you want to be.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas (Link)
But whatever meaning the artist tries to hand you, you’re always going to add your own, your own interpretation, your own experiences, your own everything. Poetry and music and literature don’t capture our little heartaches, our fear of death, our wonder at the sight of a bee or flower, they capture the author’s experience of it and you add your own.
The meta of the work, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, is that much of what we know and what we believe is based on an interpretation of another’s work.
Eco, a semiotician and historian, wrote his beloved semiotics into literature, creating a rich and detailed theory of written works as a symbol. A representation of a deeper category of meaning for the individual – and different for everyone.
If I had been God, I would have sired many sons, and I would not have suffered the Romans to kill even one of them.
“Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus“ translates as: “the rose of old remains only in its name; we possess [only] naked names.”
The rose is dead, we have only its name, and we are to make of that what we will.
Meaning eventually comes down to what you bring to the table.
And, poetry is about feeling.