Ecstasy and measure

From Keter unto Malkhut.
    The seventh day of rest.
The naming of Creation.
    No, this is not a test.

The rustling wind in forests.
    The stars just out of reach.
Crude scribbles in a cavern.
    The rudiments of speech.

The Sephirot of Kabbalah drapes all creation with the intersected lineaments of the creator's will, from the utter abstract divinity of Keter to the mortal appendage of Malkhut.  The latter manifested such hazard to geometric universal order as Elohim created the genera of species mounting to humanity that he required rest on the seventh day.  Gnostics of almost all religions including Kabbalists conceive the journey from common flesh to immanent numen as the very communication of these divine lineaments within the human mind, a reversal of the journey from godhead firmament to man to fallen man in the primitive allegory of Genesis.  From a modern perspective we see a similar progress in our scientifically attested, aeons-long development from cavemen braving their everyday dangers to fix on their glimpse at the infinite in the stars.  This inspired the myths and scribblings about myths that evolved into culture and religions and, some would claim, enlightenment.  Lehr's poem is a series of collages that wave into this theme.


Among the many celebrations of Richard Wilbur's 90th birthday earlier this month I caught his poem "Teresa" in The Atlantic blog.

After the sun’s eclipse
The brighter angel and the spear which drew
A bridal outcry from her open lips,
She could not prove it true,
Nor think at first of any means to test
By what she had been wedded or possessed.

Not all cries were the same;
There was an island in mythology
Called by the very vowels of her name
Where vagrants of the sea,
Changed by a word, were made to squeal and cry
As heavy captives in a witch’s sty.

The proof came soon and plain:
Visions were true which quickened her to run
God’s barefoot errands in the rocks of Spain
Beneath its beating sun,
And lock the O of ecstasy within
The tempered consonants of discipline.

The paradox of St. Theresa lies in how ecstatic manifestations in her flesh were revered as signs of divinity.  Even in religions that encourage monasticism the lure of the orgasm is an irresistible magnetism, so what a great windfall for them to have found a lady in whom they could package both parOxysm and temperance.  What a great lesson for the church to seize upon in its quest to put the Malkhut genie back into the Keter bottle, though doctrine, through dogma, through the rod of discipline.  Wilbur expresses the ambivalence of St. Theresa by connecting it to Eëa, Circe's island, throwing in a Kabbalistic touch of his own by seizing on the vowels (which represent the very nature of mystery) distilled from "Theresa" into "Eëa".  Odysseus famously lingered a full year on the island where he, as Ezra Pound put it:

Observed the elegance of Circe's hair
Rather than the mottoes on sun-dials.

Those mottoes of course connecting back to our scribblings in quest for divinity—the lexical power of Alpha and Omega.  But Odysseus was drawn from discipline by the immediate tangling of man and woman, the elegance of Circe's hair.


The cosmology of the Igbo has a much less schizophrenic attitude towards divinity and the realized elements of nature, including flesh.  In the Weblog Odinani: The Sacred Science of the Igbo People, you can find many explorations of such characteristics of Igbo cosmology, set in contrast to Western systems of thought.  Among the Igbo, life itself blends ecstasy and measure in utter braid, and discipline is decreed by connectedness to nature, rather than by institutions seeking removal from nature.  To quote Odinani, "We once understood the oneness of the Source/Creator (Chineke) with Creation and our relationship with Nature (Ani)."


One of my own missions in poetry is to work with the traditions that better reflect this continuum, seeking excitement in the tensions between my Igbo traditions and the foreign philosophies that have colored so much of my life.  I'm wrestling right now with a poem, "Nchefu Road," that I first wrote as a teenager and seem to return to and refine every decade or so as knowledge and experience within my own life expand its bounds.  To quote a key passage:

So how fitting that here in Port harcourt
Where the river shunts to infinity,
I found the bald temerity to pose
Questions of the cosmos, to shun humility
Decreed by Lao-tze; whose "Chi"
Spelled cosmos as mine spells my soul,
So I should need less Brahmin casuistry
To venerate my slice of godly role.
But the river knows that Gao law
Sparks market riots in Igbo land
And that deadly poison in Bamako
Is sweetmeat in the Samarkand.
So Nchefu Road will lead me clear
From splendent-robed enlightenment
To wisdom of its opposite science
To naked bath in firmament.
To a Niger poet's rock of
Hippopotamus contentment.

Strangely I'm only today realizing that for the most part I'm following the four-beats accentual pattern of Pound's Mauberley.  No surprise, of course, as Pound is a long-standing influence of mine.  I suppose I'm always looking for that discipline of measure to express rather than to suppress the constant ecstasy of my own complex mind and experience.