Monday, March 8, 2010

The High and the Low

I went for a winter hike with some friends in an area known as the Niagara Glen. It’s a broad but rugged place in the Niagara gorge, a place of tumbled rocks strewn from an ancient tributary. Like so many others, I’d traveled along the edge of the gorge and never imagined that a completely other world existed there. Not that it’s unknown; people explore there, fish there, play there. It’s just that looking down from the top you focus on the river below and forget the space between. So often someone in our party would exclaim, “I never knew this was here!”

The terrain is rugged but not inhospitable. Its great attraction is in its difference: it is neither the roar and swirl of the powerful river nor the civilized parks and roads above the rim. In its way, it reminded me of poetry and what poetry should be.

I will grant that sometimes poetry will look down from the refined rim of the abyss and try to explain what lies below. Or again, poetry may be part of the raging variability of the river where it grabs the banks. But who but a poet can show and explain the one to the other, can explore the complexity that lies between and still joins them.

In the human condition it is the artist, the poet who must clamber between the highs and the lows, to seek the realities that are ecstasy and profundity. To that end nothing can be more symbolic, more metaphoric than a winter hike in the gorge of the Niagara River on a clear winter afternoon.

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