And yet only a couple of years later, at the point of renouncing poetry altogether, he dismissed his ‘Alchemy of the Word’ with its rules for the form and movement of each consonant as one of his follies. I can understand why he did so. He was, for sure, rushing into madness through his rational disordering of all the senses. But I am not prepared to admit that he merely invented this relationship between words and movement, sound and image. Was it folly when he wrote, The first adventure on the path was when a flower told me its name? I don’t believe so, even though, in leaving his tormented adolescence behind, he felt the need to spurn such magic. I, too, seek such a communion through language, and this is served by attending to the cadence of each line and sentence and to the colour of every sound in context until language becomes a substance shared as well as a communication about a subject.
How could I dismiss it when, in the depth of their craft, some of the poets I most admire admit to a sense that the sap of language streams within the veins of nature and sustains her? My mentor, Robert Duncan, for instance: As I came needing wonder as the new shoots need water / to the letter A that sounds its mystery in Wave and in Wane / trembling I bent as if there were a weight in words. Or, going further back, there is Samuel Taylor Coleridge with his dream vision of Kubla Khan’s garden where Alph the sacred river ran / Through caverns measureless to man - the images, he claimed, rising up before him as things, with a parallel production of their correspondent expressions. Or I think of William Blake’s description of the innocent poet who, plucking a reed to use as a rural pen, dips it in the stream for ink, as if to allow Nature herself to trace her alphabet. The further back we go, in fact, the more
we find that the very sounds and rhythms of the language give voice to the elemental qualities of the landscape in which they are written or spoken. No doubt Dr. Johnson, in the C18th, felt justified in his attempt to have the meanings and spellings reduced to alphabets within the confines of his famous dictionary, for how, with a wild and barbarous jargon that refused to lie down in its stall, could the scientists of his time record the results of their experiments? I, too, love lexicons; yet how savourless my measured words seem compared to the Hey Diddle Diddles and Hopscotch rhymes of childhood, or the rocks and cliffs that utter themselves through the consonants of those Scops and Gleemen who first forged our language.