Yesterday I picked up a small volume of poetry, Waiting for Spring. It’s been quite a few years since I last read this collection of poems by my former mentor, Richard P. Jones, who, as professor of English at Pacific Lutheran University, was unofficial “poet-in-residence.”
Born in 1945, Richard Preston Jones died in 2010. He has been more or less forgotten as an American poet. His publications in literary journals are obscure (because it’s difficult to find them), and his small volumes of poetry, long out-of-print, are hard to get.
But I remember Professor Jones.
Reading Waiting for Spring brought back memories of studying his poetry, which I pored over (and sometimes puzzled over) in several fascinating class sessions of his poetry course. Let’s read and discuss one of his poems:
Only Through Waiting
Richard P. Jones
It is only through waiting that rocks bloom;
water can’t help them grow, or too much sun,
by mistaking them for some dark secrets,
hasten the hour of their germination.
Too much attention will just harden them,
and too much water will make them slippery
to touch and impossible to hold.
You must stand still at the periphery
of their vision, pretending not to hear
them singing each to each in the moonlight.
You must be as patient as sand, for it’s
only through waiting that rocks come out right.
– Waiting for Spring, p. 20.
Ever hear the term “poetic license”? Only Through Waiting is a perfect example. When read literally, it seems quite improbable. After all, how can “rocks bloom”? How can stones grow? In what sense do they have “vision”? How can one hear these stones “singing each to each in the moonlight”? What’s going on here?
Like abstract art, Only Through Waiting is impressionistic. This poem has its own “dream logic.” In its own way, it makes sense, even though, when read literally, it makes no sense at all.
That’s what good poetry does—transport you to another world. By analogy, poets know that the spiritual world operates with its own psychic physics, commands its own mystical magic, and takes us to new horizons. In order to enter that world, one must be open to that which makes sense to the heart, even if it may defy logic. When we read and internalize poetry, you and I can enter the “Valley of Wonderment”:
After journeying through the planes of pure contentment, the traveler cometh to The Valley of Wonderment and is tossed in the oceans of grandeur, and at every moment his wonder groweth. Now he seeth the shape of wealth as poverty itself, and the essence of freedom as sheer impotence. Now is he struck dumb with the beauty of the All-Glorious; again is he wearied out with his own life. How many a mystic tree hath this whirlwind of wonderment snatched by the roots, how many a soul hath it exhausted. For in this Valley the traveler is flung into confusion, albeit, in the eye of him who hath attained, such marvels are esteemed and well beloved. At every moment he beholdeth a wondrous world, a new creation, and goeth from astonishment to astonishment, and is lost in awe at the works of the Lord of Oneness. – Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, pp. 31-32.
Art can be, and often is, an expression of mysticism, a mystic signature. That’s not to say that the poet, Richard P. Jones, who wrote Only Through Waiting was a mystic—just that his art evokes something of the mystical experience.
True mysticism is not psychedelic. It’s not an escape from this world. Rather, it takes us on a “journey to the center of the earth” in one’s interior world. The landscape can be breathtaking. There’s so much to explore, as Baha’u’llah poetically alludes to in this mystic passage:
The story is told of a mystic knower, who went on a journey with a learned grammarian as his companion. They came to the shore of the Sea of Grandeur. The knower straightway flung himself into the waves, but the grammarian stood lost in his reasonings, which were as words that are written on water. The knower called out to him, “Why dost thou not follow?” The grammarian answered, “O Brother, I dare not advance. I must needs go back again.” Then the knower cried, “Forget what thou didst read in the books of Síbávayh and Qawlavayh, of Ibn-i-Hajíb and Ibn-i-Málik, and cross the water.”
In light of this passage, let’s revisit the poem Only Through Waiting. The poet draws an association between the stones and water. Water polishes the rocks. The rocks become slippery and elusive: “too much water will make them slippery/to touch and impossible to hold.” By the reference to “sand,” we get the sense that the poet is by the seashore or lakeshore. We also get a picture of this experience occurring at night, when the poet says: “You must stand still at the periphery/of their vision, pretending not to hear/them singing each to each in the moonlight.”
Stones, so far as we know, are utterly devoid of sense. Deaf and dumb, they cannot see, much less sing “each to each in the moonlight.” And it may well be that the poet does not intend for us to suspend our disbelief in this way, but is simply conveying a message that we must be prepared to invest our physical surroundings, indeed our very lives, with a mystical dimension, that transcends the laws of physics, in order to approach the realm of metaphysics.
Welcome to the world of the spirit. It is a poetic, noetic realm. You need poetic license to get in.