Monday, 15 September 2014

Words, ritual, ceremonies - making wordless anguish articulate

Interesting article in the Observer yesterday and online, about an interview with Edward Hirsch. Thanks to Katherine for the tip-off. 

The article made me think, which is a bit hard on a Sunday morning, about the words funeral celebrants write and speak, in what is often loosely called "the elegy."

Celebrants scratch their heads an excess of words, words, words.... I think we sometimes get fed up with the sound of our own voices, which is in its way probably a good sign.  Some of us want more ritual and less wordage.

We may be doing ourselves down unneccessarily. Hirsch wrote this entry in "A Poet's Glossary:"

 “elegy”: “A poem of mortal loss and consolation...The elegy does the work of mourning, it allows us to experience mortality. It turns loss into remembrance and it delivers an inheritance. It opens a space for retrospection and drives wordless anguish, wordless torment toward the consolations of verbal articulation and verbal ceremony.”

If our words, whether in the form of elegy (i.e. reading a really good poem or passage) or our own efforts, "turn loss into remembrance" then they may be creating the "verbal ceremony" he refers to. We may sometimes under-value that power. 

I'm reminded of what has been said about really effective popular music: it gives voice to the feelings millions of people have but can't articulate so well themelves.

Sometimes, of course, bereaved people do articulate well for themselves, or they do so for us to read out for them. Other times, we have to find the words with and for them. It's a difficult thing to do. "A raid on the inarticulate, With shabby equipment always deteriorating In the general mess of imprecision of feeling..." as another poet, TS Eliot, wrote - about his work. 

Our successes are never total. I guess - hope - our failures are only partial too.

It's a great thing to try to do.

You can read the article here:

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