Reading Novalis in Montana
By Melissa Kwasny
The dirt road is frozen. I hear the geese first in my lungs.
Faint hieroglyphic against the gray sky.
Then, the brutal intervention of sound.
All that we experience is a message, he wrote.
I would like to know what it means
if first one bird swims the channel
across the classic V, the line flutters, and the formation dissolves.
In the end, the modernists must have meant,
it is the human world we are weary of,
our arms heavy with love, its ancient failings.
But that was before the world wars, in 1800,
when a young German poet could pick at the truth
and collect the fragments in an encyclopedia of knowledge.
There is a V, then an L, each letter
forming so slowly that the next appears before it is complete.
The true philosophical act is the slaying of one's self,
Novalis wrote and died, like Keats, before he was thirty.
They have left me behind like one of their lost,
scratching at the gravel in the fields. Where are they
once the sky has enveloped them?
I stand in the narrow cut of a frozen road leading into mountains,
the morning newspaper gripped under my arm.
But to give up on things precludes everything.
I am not-I, Novalis wrote. I am you.
If, as the gnostics say, the world was a mistake
created by an evil demiurge, and I am trapped
in my body, abandoned by a god whom I long for as one of my own,
why not follow the tundra geese into their storm?
Why stay while my great sails flap the ice
as if my voice were needed to call them back
in the spring, as if I were the lost dwelling place for the flocks?
"Novalis believed in the doctrine of correspondences, that the natural world is a mirror or lens or double for the divine presences symbolized by it, that there is a correspondence between inner and outer worlds," writes Kwasny in Poet's Choice. "Such thinking led to Wordsworth and Coleridge's return to nature as a temple and eventually, in America, to the writings of Emerson, Thoreau and Dickinson. Living in rural Montana and being preoccupied by our place in and outside the natural world -- compromised as it is -- I am drawn to both the romantics and the Native tradition of respect for and communication with non-human forms of life. Seeing the geese fly above me one fall morning on my way to get the mail, I began to wonder: What might it mean in this country, at this time, to read the world? What messages do the geese have for me, and, in turn, what part might my attempt at reading play in their flight?" The poem appears in a book of the same name published by Milkweed.
I have nothing of major importance to report from my Saturday, which I spent getting ready to go to Kitty Hawk for four days! We haven't stayed in the Outer Banks since 2002 and I am really looking forward to it -- I've only had one day at the beach all summer thus far, and I am very grateful to Hurricane Bill for having turned north, though I hope no one's vacation in Nova Scotia or Cape Cod is ruined (we haven't been there in ages, either). We got over three inches of rain today from storms unrelated to the hurricane, which kept the kids in the house most of the day. The father of one of Adam's friends just bought a house down the street from ours, and he had the kids this weekend, so we had our two, his two, and Adam's best friend for a long time this afternoon -- it was loud. *g*
We watched the soggy Redskins preseason victory over the Steelers this evening around our packing and planning -- the laundry got folded, my hard drive got backed up (we learned that lesson, though I back up weekly, while husband has now pulled all the important files off his hard drive and backed those up too. Our cats are highly suspicious since there are bags lying around, but have exhausted themselves from spying on boys in the basement and are now lounging around the living room glaring balefully at us.