Tuesday, July 22, 2008

701. Drawing Lessons - Howard Nemerov


Your pencil will do particles and waves––
We call them points and lines––and nothing else.
Today we shall explore the mystery
Of points and lines moving over the void––
We call it paper––to imitate the world.
First think a moment of the ocean wave
When it stubs its toe against the scend of the shore
And stumbles forward, somersaults and breaks.
A moment ago nothing was there but wave,
And now nothing is here but particles;
So point and line not only turn into
Each other, but each hides from the other, too.
The seed of a point grows into a tree of line,
The line unfolding generates the plane
Of the world, perspective space in light and shade.


The points and lines, the seashore and the sea,
The particles and waves, translate as well
Into the consonants and vowels that make
The speech that makes the world; a simple thing.
Or else a complex thing proceeding still
From simple opposites that make it seem
As if it might be understood, though this
Is probably illusion in the sense,
Delusion in the mind, making the world
Our true hallucination. Much as matter
And anti-matter are said to explode at touch,
So at the meeting-place of sea, air, shore,
Both sides explode, the ocean into spray,
The shore more slowly into boulders, rocks,
And final sand. All this repeats itself.


Always repeat yourself. To draw a line
's not much, but twenty-seven wavy lines
In parallel will visibly become
The sea; by tempering their distances
Apart, now near, now far away, we make
Ranges of mountains standing in their valleys;
By arbitrary obstacles of shape
That will prohibit passage to our lines,
We make a fleet of sailboats or a forest,
Depending on what shapes we have left void.
We see that repetition makes the world
The way it is, Nature repeats herself
Indefinitely in every kind, and plays
Far-ranging variations on the kinds,
Doodling inventions endlessly, as the pencil does.


We said the water and the shore explode
And then repeat; that's not quite the whole truth.
For water has the wondrous property
And power of assembling itself again
When shattered, but the shore cannot do that.
The Second Law seems to reverse itself
For water, but not for land, whose massive cliffs
Break into boulders that break into rocks
That then descend to sand and don't return.
While I've been taking, you've been drawing lines
With your pencil, illustrating what I say
Along with whatever else you illustrate:
The pencil lead's become a stub, its black
Graphite remains became the world you made,
And it will shorten when you sharpen it.


The Second Law's an instrument, we're told,
Of immense power, but there's sorrow in it,
The invention of a parsimonious people
Accustomed to view creation on a budget
Cut to economy more than to delight
At splendor overflowing every vessel.
Land is the locus of form and dignity
Disguising the way down to age and death,
Shameful decay, and dust that blows away––
See, rub your drawing and it smudges into dust,
Because your pencil is a citizen
Of the middle class material world, designed
To be a minor illustrator of
What we become and what becomes of us.
The sea's a little more mysterious than that.