Sunday, September 14, 2014
The Dream of a Common Language, by Adrienne Rich. This was the book Strayed kept with her in her heavy backpack, nicknamed Monster, the whole hike.
"I'd carried it all this way, though I hadn't opened it since that first night on the trail. I hadn't needed to. I knew what it said. Its lines had run all summer through the mix-tape radio station in my head, fragments from various poems or sometimes the title of the book itself, which was also a line from a poem: the dream of a common language."
In the play, L.L. Zamenhof has the dream of a common language, Esperanto, and the character of Emma has a dream of Zamenhof! A baker carries a heavy burden in the shape of a box. (An early thought of mine was to strap it with bungee cords to a backpack! Who, as I like to say, gnu?) The character of George reads all the time and has words echoing in his head.
In Wild, Strayed continues:
"I opened the book and paged through it, leaning forward so I could see the words in the firelight. I read a line or two from a dozen or so of the poems, each of them so familiar they gave me a strange sort of comfort. I'd chanted those lines silently through the days while I hiked."
"Often, I didn't know exactly what they [the lines of poetry] meant, yet there was another way in which I knew their meaning entirely, as if it were all before me and yet out of my grasp, their meaning like a fish just beneath the surface of the water that I tried to catch with my bare hands--so close and present and belonging to me--until I reached for it and it flashed away."
Poetry is often like that, yes. I advise people at poetry readings just to listen attentively and let the words wash over them like water, not struggling after some exact meaning. Poetry expresses the inexpressible, after all. Keats advised a kind of negative capability, or the ability to rest in uncertainty "without any irritable reaching after fact or reason." In general, art is not about catching a fish. It's always going to flicker away.
look it up! Another character, trying to explain her "big thought" realizes "this is about much bigger fish." There are many fish that get away in this charming play, swimming along beside characters who say exactly what is on their minds and in their hearts, and it seems wise to me just to let that be! Let it be a part of the play-going experience of The Language Archive to leave some of it untranslatable! That's art, that's genius.
Update: I meant Julia Cho's genius! And a corresponding genius in the open mind of the audience. Plus, I do hope someday to read The Compleat Angler.