Dec 15, 2008

On Finding Nazareth

Soon after reporting on the lack of response to this blog in my last post, a buddy of mine who has almost no knowledge of Yvor Winters wrote me that he had purchased a copy of the recent Selected Poems of Yvor Winters, edited by Thom Gunn and issued by the "Library of America." Greg Stone is my friend’s name, and he comes to Winters’s poetry cold. I think his reading of a short poem of Winters’s, one I discussed a couple years ago at Christmastime, to be enlightening. The following is our brief exchange. Greg’s letter is just the kind of thing I’d like to see happen more often on this blog.

From Greg Stone:


I'll give you my impression of "Fragment". I often feel that poems are structures that we fill with our own personal experience. As the structure fills, the meaning crystallizes.

First, despite being four lines the poem feels very complete so I take the title to be a comment, perhaps that Christianity is not a central theme in his life, but an unfinished discarded fragment of meaning.

I cannot find my way to Nazareth.
I have had enough of this.

seems clear enough. The first line refers in present tense to a pursuit. The second sentence in past tense shows a definite end. [Note: The photo, posted by Ben, is of the Basilica of the Annunication, which looms large in the city of Nazareth.]

Thy will is death, and this unholy quiet is thy peace.

More difficult - I take "will" (which is probably a double meaning) as a "last will and testament". He was promised eternal life, but understands now that he will be bequeathed simple death from an impersonal ("thy" uncapitalized) god, perhaps nature as god. A lifetime of an unresponsive god shows him that that quiet which had been charged with expectation of reassurance was simple emptiness.

Thy will be done; and let discussion cease.

Again, "will" maintains it's double meaning and "discussion cease" refers to the end of his pursuit and the end of his life.

I can't argue that this was Winters intent, but the poem connects to me in a complete and satisfying way.




A nice take on the poem -- and in the ball park as to what Winters intended, though that is far from certain. We do not know whether he tried to find God or what he called "the Spirit" from any of his writings. We do not exactly know what many of these terms mean, though some few writers have grappled with the issue in what are now very obscure writings.

I have written in my book on Winters on my web site about his views on Christianity. The passages are easy to find by using Google, such as searching on "Year with Yvor Winters Ben Kilpela Christianity". I could go on at length about Winters's views, but I'm not sure you are interested in them as deeply as I am, so I will forbear.

I enjoyed your note, though. I took it, at first, that you were agreeing with Winters, but I see, on closer inspection, that that is not the case. You're simply saying that you understand and appreciate what Winters appears to you to be saying to you as the reader. You must turn to "To the Holy Spirit" to dig deeper into these matters. Two poems by Edgar Bowers written in the 1950s, a one-time Winters student and very great writer, are directly concerned with such issues as well. I'll send them to you if you're interested ["The Virgin Mary" and "The Astronomers of Mont Blanc"]. Both poems were judged by Winters to be among the greatest ever written, and I would agree.

But, tell me, how does the poem "connect" to you. Do you mean something more than understanding? Do you agree to some extent?

Finally, may I publish this short note on my blog? It's exactly the kind of thing I wish to encourage. I'll try not to gloss your gloss with too much gloss.


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