Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By A. R. Vander Vegt
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Ode to imagination

From the Editor

 

"Imagination! who can sing thy force? / Or who describe the swiftness of thy course? / Soaring through air to find the bright abode, ... / From star to star the mental optics rove, / Measure the skies, and range the realms above. / There in one view we grasp the mighty whole, / Or with new worlds amaze th' unbounded soul."

An excerpt from Phillis Wheatley's poem, "On Imagination."

Phillis Wheatley, in my estimation, is a matriarch of American poetry. Born in West Africa and then stolen from her home to be sold as a slave in America to the Wheatleys of Boston, her story is one of heartbreak, triumph and perseverance. Precocious and hungry to learn, Wheatley would go on to publish poems in the likeness of Ovid and John Milton, adding her own distinct evangelical and American flair. Her legacy is important in conversations of American poetry and the abolition of the slave trade - even on an international level.

Poetry, more than ever, is important in today's day and age. It extends back to the furthest reaches of human history. Exampled in religious works (Adam's first words recorded in the Bible are poetry for Eve), political works (the Aeneid by Virgil could read as Roman propaganda), entertainment (Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, anyone?) and social commentary (spoken word poetry of today), poetry makes space to talk about things we wouldn't normally talk about.

Emily Dickinson, another American poet, put an interesting and succinct spin on poetry. "Tell all the truth but tell it slant - / Success in Circuit lies ..."

From a 21st Century standpoint, we may chafe at the thought of truth being told with a slant. Slant is something to be avoided at all costs, at least when it comes to consuming news and other media.

But think of what she's actually saying: "Success in Circuit lies." This, my friends, is the power of metaphor. And when is metaphor best employed? Why, poetry, of course!

Think of Wheatley's poem again. Who can describe the force or swiftness of imagination? "From star to star the mental optics rove, ..." Not only is that just an incredible way to string words together, it speaks clearly into the workings of our minds. No one can go where the mind goes. We "measure the skies, and range the realms above."

How is this accomplished? Is it because we physically have experienced all there is to experience? Absolutely not. We never will. But by circuiting around a truth or experience, by scratching surfaces and crafting metaphors in response to experience, we bring much more into the conversation and exploration remains possible. A metaphor cannot grasp everything, but its implications and possibilities opens doors to conversation and connections previously unmade.

Here's an example: You could describe a person as beautiful but unapproachable. Or you could say this person is a porcelain doll. The first is fine. The point is well-taken; we all have people in mind when we hear this description. But the second causes you to think and make deeper connections. A porcelain doll? What do we know about porcelain dolls? They're not what you play with everyday - they're nice to look at, but you're scared to bring that doll outside, to the dentist's or to sleep with at night. Porcelain dolls are for tea parties and dainty dresses. They're sensitive, as well. For all the carefulness you bestow upon that doll, there's the possibility that under a misplaced touch, a crack may appear. That comparison of a porcelain doll - it's heaps more descriptive of someone than simply stating some character traits.

Why all this talk about poetry and metaphors? This week marks the first week of National Poetry Month. In honor of that, we're going to be publishing a poem each week. The poems are chosen arbitrarily - so if you know of one that strikes your fancy, bring it in or shoot us an email at evergreen@mlstargazette.com. Or maybe you'd like to submit a poem you've written - that would be great, too!

Poetry isn't everyone's thing, but it's good to try something new every once in awhile, right? So turn over to page 11. Stretch the muscles of your imagination. Be impressed, be intrigued, feel wonder, think a little bit more, a little bit longer.

 

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