Thursday, April 27, 2017

Breaking the Code by Robert Penn Warren

I read this poem and I thought about it. It's by Robert Penn Warren. It is good to know that a great poet has difficulty breaking the code of life.

Breaking the Code
by Robert Penn Warren

The world around us speaks in code,
Or maybe something like the old Indian sign
Language of the Great Plains -- all with a load
Of joy and/ or despair. And in all of which you must resign
Yourself to ambiguity, or error. The road
Markers are often missing, or defaced.  Is
The message the veery tries at dusk to communicate benign?
Does the first flake of snow from a sky yet blue
Mean that or this?
Is the owl's old question -- "Who? -- who?"--
Addressed to your conscience, and you?

In dawn light does the scroll-mark of wind-swirl in night snow,
Or later the bleeding icicle tip from the eaves,
Tell you a truth you yearn to know---
Or is it merely an index of the planet's tilt?
And what of the beech's last high leaves
Of hammered gold, or glint of sunlit gilt?

What do the eyes of a mother, dying, say or perceive
As your heart compresses in the torturing twist
Of a fist,
And do you know
Whether you feel a ghastly relief --or grieve--
As with glazed eyes you go
Forth, alone, under winter stars, and try to weep,
And try again, and yet again,
For only undefinable tears will serve such a paradox of pain?
Later, of course, you sleep
Oh, for the longest sleep!
But, no, for later you may see a beloved face
Wreathed in raw rage,
And see a timeless beauty clawed, in a flickering moment, by age.

It is hard to break the code in our little time and space.

In this poem I think the poem is reflecting on time, age and death.
And out of this contemplation he comes to the understanding of our lack of ability to fathom it all.
Maybe we all struggle to determine the "code" and get it down pat.  But what we get might be odd glimpses of the way with most of life being wrapped like a dead fish in the paper of uncertainty, ambiguity and incomprehensibility.

Does the bird at dusk-the veery speak to us something benign?
Or does the owl shout our losses to us?
Who can say?

And when we lose those we love--that mother perhaps who is old and clawed in her age to a fragment of what she once was--perhaps we struggle between relief and despair.

When do we weep? And how is it we come to the end of it all with any sort of sanity? The time to decipher the code is brief and we aren't able to mesh it all into a web that can be kept intact.
The only solace is that there is not enough time and space to figure out the code of our DNA and make it express perfectly.

This poem is very pretty and I especially love this section:

And what of the beech's last high leaves
Of hammered gold, or glint of sunlit gilt?

In the fall when I walk in the tiny strip of the wilderness the poplar trees are gold like this-as if there was a creator hammering away at the block of gold to make these hammered ornaments of leaves that he hangs on the trees for us to admire. Surely you have seen his work? Surely we can praise the work as one of a craftsman?

Hammered gold indeed or bit of sun's gilt.

None of us will break the code of our lives not even a wise poet like Robert Penn Warren and perhaps this poem is his recognition of our finite abilities.

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