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  • Writer's pictureLaren Grey

The Beauty in The Longing

Laren Grey

February 14th, 2024




The Beauty in The Longing

Where Language Fails and Poetry Thrives


In the grand arena of human expression, poetry stands as a monument to our relentless pursuit of the ineffable. The journey's beauty lies not in achieving perfect expression, but in the eloquence of its failure. At its zenith, the essence of poetry inhabits this exquisite tension – clutching towards that which eternally lies beyond the grasp of language.

In the book of time, where history's lies and truths cast shadows and light, and where the breath of time converges, we find the history of poetry. Here, among the coarse paper and crafted ink, poets of old are recorded for eternity, their minds brimming with thoughts that words could scarcely contain. On their pages, they aimed to articulate the inexpressible: the grandeur of the natural world, the cavernous depths of human emotion, and the enigma of the divine. Each word penned stepped towards an unreachable summit, grasping at loose rocks, and causing a landslide below.

In the heart of its pages, on any random page, an endless journey through the minds of time begins, where our journey through the history of poetry finds us. We first meet Sappho, the ancient Greek poetess, whose fragments of verse resonate with a severe beauty. She wrote of love and loss, of longing so profound that it transcended the confines of her prose. Her attempts to capture the vastness of her emotions fell short, creating spaces more meaningful than words. Consider the intensity of Fragment 31, where fire races beneath the skin, ears roar, and “the tongue breaks”.  The words falter as passion becomes overpowering. In these gaps, we find the essence of her soul—not in the completeness of expression, but in the haunting emptiness of what remains unsaid.

As we traverse the ages, we encounter the Persian mystic and poet, Rumi. Like Sappho, his words pull between spiritual realms and earthly grounding, attempting to unite the human and the divine, as in his “Guest House” metaphor, where he invites both joy and sorrow to enter as guests to the self, understanding their transitory nature.

Rumi understood that language was an imperfect vessel for such a union, but it was in this imperfection that he found beauty. His poems, brimming with metaphors and symbols, were like outstretched hands, reaching for a truth that continually slipped through his fingers. Yet, it was in the reaching, in the yearning, not in the grasping, that his poetry found its true significance.

Venturing deeper, we come across the pages of Shakespeare, the famous bard whose name is synonymous with literary genius, where even the master of language grapples with its limits. His sonnets and plays captured the complexity of human emotions with unparalleled eloquence. However, even Shakespeare, with his command of language, could not escape the intrinsic boundaries of words.

His Sonnet 73 bombards the reader with images of death and rebirth, where “yellow leaves” and “sweet birds” collide.  In his plays, time unravels as a meaningless construct, and in Romeo and Juliet, love and hate blur into a single destructive force. His most profound passages often show the language straining under the weight of his ideas, with colliding metaphors and fracturing meanings that offer glimpses of something more profound than mere words can convey. This creates an environment for a relationship to develop, between writer and reader, between expression and interpretation.

In the early 20th century, we hear bolder female voices in poetry. While primarily known for her diaries and explorations of feminine sexuality, Anaïs Nin was also a skilled poet. Her verse, a unique blend of the intensely personal and the surreal, reveals the often-turbulent emotional landscapes lurking beneath carefully constructed social facades. Nin's poetic style evokes a dreamlike intimacy, mirroring the confessional quality of her prose, such as in her poem “Risk”:

Risk to lose and to lose and to lose again

The game of love, its momentary shifting pain

Risk to find at the turn of the stair.

An alien face with no explanations to spare.

The focus on risk and vulnerability emphasizes a willingness to explore life's raw emotional states and the issues confronting women who were beyond the norms of her time, entering themes of desire and intimacy. Nin's writing pushes against societal expectations. Nin's poetic voice frequently reflects an unfettered sensuality, an open embrace of experiences that mainstream society often deemed taboo.

The passage of time brings us to the modern era of typewritten words, where the beauty of failure takes a harsher form. We encounter actor/playwright Sam Shepard, whose work, although not poetry, epitomizes the beautiful failure of prose. In Sam Shepard's plays, a strange, desperate beauty arises from the wreckage of broken words colliding with broken souls.

His characters, like those in "True West" or "Buried Child", wrestle with truths too deep and wild for simple articulation.  Their speech is fractured, filled with halting repetitions and unformed desires that seem to snag on the barbed wire of their circumstances. In the final confrontation between Austin and Lee in True West, where their battle over an unfinished screenplay devolves into barely comprehensible animal sounds, or in Buried Child, where Dodge's rambling monologue circles around his dead grandson, words pile up but obscure the trauma rather than reveal it.

Even beyond speech, Shepard uses pauses and gestures to show language failing. The unspoken hangs heavy in the spaces between lines, writhing in the trauma of unhealed family wounds and the unfulfilled dreams of an idealized past. Yet, it’s within this ragged inability to say everything that a deeper truth takes form.

His plays expose the deceptive power of language, revealing how societal myths and family narratives often obscure rather than illuminate. Shepard's writing suggests that perhaps the most profound human experiences find their truest expression not in eloquent sentences, but in the silences, the stutters, and in the desolate emptiness where words fall short.

As our journey through the pages of time concludes, we find ourselves back in the beginning, staring at the silence of a blank page, a poem unto itself. Within the single blank page, there is the collective futility of their endeavors, and all future endeavors—a constant striving to express the inexpressible. Yet, rather than deterring, the blank page invites creative fires. Poems are not just collections of words, but stitches binding the spine holding together the pages of human experience.

In the end, poetry's failure to capture the ineffable is not a shortcoming but its greatest strength. It reminds us that some truths are too far beyond the confines of language. In the spaces between words lies the unspoken, the mysterious, and the sublime. It is in the act of reaching for the unreachable, in acknowledging the beauty of falling short, that poetry touches the divine.

Every poet, in every era, has embarked on this impossible quest, knowing that true expression lies beyond the reach of words. In their beautiful failure, in their courageous embrace of imperfection, they find their most profound voice. In this space of failure and striving, poetry reveals its true purpose—not as a mirror to reflect reality, but as a window to the beyond, where the ineffable remains beyond reach, and beauty lies in the longing.



Works Cited:

·       “Sappho 31 – Interpretation of Her Most Famous Fragment.” Ancient Literature – 11 January 11 2022. Accessed 13 February 13 2024.

·       Nin, Anaïs. Waste of Timelessness and Other Early Poems. Swallow Press, 1977.

·       Rumi. "The Guest House" in The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks, Harper Collins, 1995.

·       Shepard, Sam. True West. Vintage Books, 1981.

·       Shepard, Sam. Buried Child. Urizen Books, 1979.

·       Vendler, Helen. The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Harvard University Press, 1997.

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