A Very Excellent Vision


Mark Strand died late last year. I am grieved that we die. I am grieved too that Strand was not a Christian when he died (Strand was an atheist). I am deeply grieved by that, in fact. But I am also thankful that in God’s gracious providence Mark Strand left in the wake of his gifted life a truly insightful voice to which we may continue to return for seasoned wisdom. Strand was a remarkable poet—a man whose good gift as an artist uniquely served human flourishing, and a man whose artistic utility I will happily acclaim. This comes via the Paris Review:

“There is another type of poetry, in which the poet provides the reader with a surrogate world through which he reads this world. Wallace Stevens was the twentieth-century master of this. There’s no other poetry that sounds like a Wallace Stevens poem. But then, there’s nothing that sounds like a Frost poem, either. Or a Hardy poem. These people have created worlds of their own. Their language is so forceful and identifiable that you read them not to verify the meaning or truthfulness of your own experience of the world, but simply because you want to saturate yourself with their particular voices.

. . .It’s this “beyondness,” that depth that you reach in a poem, that keeps you returning to it. And you wonder, The poem seemed so natural at the beginning, how did you get where you ended up? What happened? I mean, I like that, I like it in other people’s poems when it happens. I like to be mystified. Because it’s really that place which is unreachable, or mysterious, at which the poem becomes ours, finally, becomes the possession of the reader. I mean, in the act of figuring it out, of pursuing meaning, the reader is absorbing the poem, even though there’s an absence in the poem. But he just has to live with that. And eventually, it becomes essential that it exists in the poem, so that something beyond his understanding, or beyond his experience, or something that doesn’t quite match up with his experience, becomes more and more his. He comes into possession of a mystery, you know—which is something that we don’t allow ourselves in our lives.”

You may read the rest of his interview here. Anyone who wishes to develop their craft as a poet ought to come and hear the refracted echoes of wonder in this vision of poetry.

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