The Limits of Poetry


Speech is the twin of my vision, it is unequal to measure itself,
It provokes me forever, it says sarcastically,
Walt you contain enough, why don’t you let it out then?
My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach,
I sing the unaccomplished.
Let others finish specimens, I never finish specimens,
I start them by exhaustless laws as nature does,
Indicating not only themselves but successive productions out of themselves, fresh and modern continually.

So far so well,
But the most and the best of the poem I perceive remains unwritten,
Always unfinished—always incompleted,
Still something not yet told in poesy’s voice or print—something lacking,
Who knows? the best yet left, unexpress’d and lacking, the road but fairly started.
The paths to the house are made—but where is the house itself?
At most only indicated or touched.
At any rate I have written enough to weary myself—and I will dispatch it to the printers, and cease.
But how much—how many topics, of the greatest point and cogency, I am leaving untouch’d.

There is that in me—I do not know it,
It is without name—it is a word unsaid,
It is not in any dictionary, utterance, symbol.
I feel a hundred realities, clearly determined in me, that words are not yet formed to represent,
The secret and the solving still are hidden,
The strongest and sweetest songs yet remain to be sung.

I swear I see what is better than to tell the best, it is always to leave the best untold;
The greatest of thoughts and truths are never put in print,
For the real depths elude us—
Aught of real perfection, or the solution of any deep problem, or any completed statement of the moral, the true, the beautiful, eludes the greatest, deftest poet—flies away like an always uncaught bird.

Come now I will not be tantalized, you conceive too much of articulation,
When I undertake to tell the best I find I cannot,
I become a dumb man, my tongue is ineffectual on its  pivots.
Indeed, what does it all amount to, this saying business?
I swear I will never henceforth have to do with the faith that tells the best,
I will have to do only with that faith that leaves the best untold.

Great is expression—great is silence,
In what is written or said forget not that silence is also expressive,
The art of the use of words would be a stain, a smutch, but for the stamina of things,
For in manners, poems, orations, friendship, authorship, what is not said is just as important as what is said, and holds just as much meaning.
Anguish as hot as the hottest and contempt as cold as the coldest may be without words.
The greatest anguish is the misery that neither weeps nor complains,
The greatest contempt utters not a single word,
I swear I begin to see little or nothing in audible words,
After all there is in eloquence and rage, I guess there is more still in silence—the untellable.

NEXT: THE GREAT MAKER OF POEMS