Zach Miller (zarfmouse) wrote,
Zach Miller

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So apparently it is national poetry month.

I've never been a huge poetry guy. I LOVE good poetry when it finds it's way to me but I never really sought it out. But when I was in high school I was always on the prowl for powerful things to scrawl on public places. I wanted the perfect quotes to write on bathroom walls or inside my textbooks or in the Babbel Books. They were little bits of anonymous enlightenment, runes to give the world of the bathroom stall meaning and beauty. Tolfink carved these runes on this stone.

I was obsessed for a while with a certain e.e. cummings poem. It is probably the only poem I've ever memorized. I could write it anywhere any time. I got it from a Babbel Book or a conversation with a friend or something. Someone else was inspired by it first. That's how inspiration was for me at that age, I kind of glommed on to other people's wonderment and got obsessed with it.





This was the first time I'd seen that the form/structure of words on paper, not just their syntax and semantics and implication and context, but their physical form, can have meaning and implication and provide context. It all maybe seems trivial now but it was a big deal when I was a Freshman in high school, so forgive me if I start talking about concepts in this poem that are simply obvious at first glance to you. (And apologies to duck2ducks if it was him that came up with some of these interpretations, I don't even remember the difference anymore between what I was taught about this poem and what I came up with on my own and what I read in a Babbel Book and whether you had anything to do with it or not.)

Basic text: "a leaf falls. loneliness." There's some action and there's a mood. There's a huge recurring pattern of ones. The entire poem looks like a numeral 1. The initial el ("l") in lonliness is replaced by a numeral one ("1"). The substring "one" in loneliness is made to stand out as is the second el (which has already been established as interchangable with the numeral). And finally there is 'iness'. Oneness or "I-ness". All those ones could be "I", ego, self. Is it interesting that the final "i" is lower case? A reduction of ego as "I" finds "oneness" with lonely nature? The parentheses show the sideways curve of the falling leaf twisting in the wind. The parenthetical phrase "(a leaf falls)" interupts the loneliness. I've seen this poem called "a leaf falls on loneliness" but I think it's more like "a leaf falls in loneliness". The falling leaf doesn't become lonely, it happens in the context of loneliness, interupting it, if only briefly. Does this create a transition from "loneliness" to "oneliness"? The leaf, which only falls in the autumn, a time of great change, provides the stark Zen "aha" moment of enlightenment: I am not alone. I am not separate from the leaf. Myself, my loneliness, and the falling leaf are all one. And the spacing is like breathing and air and wind. The fluttering leaf does not fall straight down, it lingers, wafts, drifts to the solid ground of "iness" (the longest and lowest string in the poem). As it falls the loneliness and the reader are breathing, waiting, and experiencing together.

It was the perfect poem for the transition between 8th grade and high school. In 8th grade I was very depressed about being very alone. I didn't really have identity yet in 8th grade. I started forming that with the Babbel crowd. Initially the "angstiness" of this poem's solitude (not to mention the falling...falling is bad, like death, right?) was what attracted me to it. It wasn't until I started to find some basic meaning for myself that I started to see the poem not as angsty but as describing a sort of transcendental enlightenment moment in nature (the leaf may fall, but that's part of a larger change that ultimately represents growth).

Thinking about the poem now, I am geekily reminded of my favorite construction from Mathematics. Assume that there is nothing that we know about but the empty set. Assume that there is nothing but nothingness in the universe, "0". Well how many concepts are there in the universe are there then? There is 1: the concept of nothingness. So now you have "1". So how many things do you have, well you have "nothingness" and you have "1". That's 2 things. So now you have "2". And so on. So by simply assuming the existence of nothingness you have the existence of an infinite number of "counting numbers". Once you've got counting numbers you've got negative numbers and fractions and ultimately you even have the real numbers. Infinity is a lot more than 0. The number of real numbers is a lot more than the infinite number of counting numbers. That's a lot of stuff packed into a little lonely bit of nothingness. Interestingly with as many more real numbers as there are than counting numbers (a whole lot!) we only have names and a special use for about 2 of the trancendental real numbers (the part of the real numbers that can't be assigned to counting numbers), pi and e. Huh. There sure is a lot we don't comprehend, even though we contain it all within ourselves, simply by containing nothing.

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