Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hy Sobiloff's Child Within

From a poem by Hy Sobiloff:

Speak to me child speak to me
You are learning
Yet you may teach me again the sweetness and the curdle
And tell me of the kid that is nursing under the sapodilla tree
And of the seashell I lost
And of those first scenes that I've forgotten

Speak to me of the innocence in the wading pond
That survives somewhere (I shall comment on the miracle)
Open your secrets to me
While I stare at your stare

Show me the buzzard ugly enough to die
The ground dove that has a hermitage
Tell me of the dogs that are better than cats
Cats cannot catch goats
Explain why that child is sitting by the road
Nodding and shaking and no-one there

I shall give you a biscuit
And let you eat it with dirty hands...

Promise me child before you disappear in hide-and-seek
That your next step will be the fiction of this world
That when you leave the broken wall
You will keep your lizard spontaneities...

In 1963, the poet James Wright wrote an introduction to Hyman Sibiloff's poetry collection "Breathing of First Things." In this introduction, Wright seems to chide those who see the quest for the child within as naive or, worse (for Wright), unmanly. Wright says that the rediscovery of what he calls the true self, with its healing powers, necessarily involves a search for the child within, which he equates with the ability to experience wonder through the senses, the ability to see the miraculousness of things, to feel truly alive. In the introduction, Wright says:

"[...] the struggle to be true to one's own self involves a good deal more than the rediscovery of a childlike radiance and joy, though that rediscovery may lie at the end of the journey. The journey itself is a dark one. It is neither more nor less than the attempt to locate and reclaim those healing powers within one's self that are able to provide sufficient courage and literal physical strength for one to confront and overcome the agonies of the world which exists beyond the womb and which, for better or worse, does not happen to be shaped and arranged in a pattern identical with the orchards and rivers and meadows of that earliest garden, sunken now almost below the memory and, whether wasted or redeemed, lost somewhere between the morning of dancing animals and the tousled dusk of sorrowing human faces. Beyond that garden we live a good deal of our death. We may insist on returning to seek it by trying to ignore the shocks and miseries that obstruct the only true way back home; and such evasions really amount to a mere refusal to live. The refusal, the negation, the despair--these are our constant familiar spirits in the twentieth century."

Wright describes the journey back to self as a dark one; I think I agree with him. But there are moments of epiphany, of light. An example is found in Sobiloff's poem. The lines in Sobiloff's poem that speak to me the most are: "I shall give you a biscuit/
And let you eat it with dirty hands..."

The reason why those lines are meaningful to me is that I got an immediate image, upon reading them, of myself, very small, innocently eating a biscuit with my dirty hands. I remembered having eaten food with dirty hands, after just coming in from a hard day of play, good play, my hands scooping dirt and all my senses alive, picking up things, exploring them with my hands, feet, and mouth. There is such an honesty in the image of a child with dirty hands. Wright also points out that Rilke understood the power of returning to a child's wonder: "'Every door in me opens,' said Rilke, 'and my whole childhood stands all around me.'"

In one of Wright's own poems, "The Journey," in the final stanza, he writes:

...The secret
of this journey is to let the wind
Blow its dust all over your body,
To let it go on blowing, to step lightly, lightly
All the way through your ruins ...

Such a gorgeous, sensory moment.

I have more to say about this topic, but I need to let my thoughts compost a while longer.


Anonymous said...

The biscuit in the child's dirty hands is the image that most affects me, too. I can see it, almost smell it. The child coming to the adult without pretense; the adult giving the child acceptance. Is there anything more beautiful? Teagrapple

Moggy said...

That was really good. I've missed a lot because I haven't read as much as some people. I still have a lot of child in me.

ggw07 said...

"The school is not quite deserted," said the Ghost. "A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still."
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Greatly moved by the Sobiloff poem and your comments!

Judith HeartSong said...

oh how I have missed being here, and how I wish I had more moments in my day to visit friends.... such powerful imagery in this post to truly appreciate.

It is always very good to be here:)


Rhea said...

Hi, I visited all of your blogs and wanted to say that the Walt Whitman quote on your other blog is a quote I have loved for a very long time.



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"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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