As I was on my treadmill this morning, I was reading The Gift:Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde. I recently ordered my own copy of this book after reading the library’s copy for a while. re-reading the first chapter, I had a bit of an insight involving an old poem of mine.
Hyde talks about a “widening” of the ego. From self, to relationship, to larger community.
If the ego widens … it really does change its nature and become something we would no longer call ego. There is a consciousness in which we act as part of things larger even than the race. When I picture this, I always think of the end of “Song of Myself” where Whitman dissolves into the air”
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot soles.
When I was younger I overheard a friend of mine muse that if I kept writing poetry it had to get better. This left me wondering how bad my poetry was. Little did I know that this was a feeling I would re-visit throughout my life. I like my music and poetry and think it’s worthwhile. But at the same time, I am willing to grant my own subjectiveness and bias. I think of the great flutist, Jean PIerre Rampal, lingering in the wings of a church where applause was forbidden. When he was asked to play an encore, he wryly refused saying, maybe they didn’t like it.
Once I showed a poem to a composer/professor I knew. This professor and I had a weird relationship. I think in retrospect I may have intimidated him. At the time, I felt he had all the cards of life: composing, a teaching job, skills. He agreed to teach me the (now defunct) art of music calligraphy but stipulated that he would not take me as a composition student.
When I showed him the poem, I remember the look on his face or at least my impression of his reaction. He seemed to see in my poem a revealing of my own little egotistic needs. Here’s the poem:
When I was
A child I wanted to be a river
Calm as a falling pebble.
On my shores trees turn in
Simple wavering dance,
Hesitating in the palm
of a river child.
I asked dripping lovers to be
Liquid. O the many and same
Asked into my head until
Light went dead within
On the skin of my lover I am
Lost in danger of simple desire:
I want to be a tremor of the air
Inside greed ears of trees.
I want to be an instant on the arms
Of all, sound in the sky that
Comes and goes like a single breath.
Old river longing grown into
A hopeless scheme drawn from
The still night, neither expected nor
I like to think I was trying to capture more what Hyde and Whitman had in mind than my composer prof.