Tonight I returned to a passage that has stuck with me for years, from an introduction to the poet Chimako Tada in The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry (J.D. McClatchy, Ed.) The passage quotes Tada’s philosophy of poetry and expresses why poetry has such a spellbinding effect on some of us.
In poetry…all the elements work functionally, each word having a numerical value that changes constantly along with the changes of syntax. When dealing with even a short poem the reader must engage his intellectual energy to follow an equation of almost infinite complexity. How does such difficult work come to be experienced as pleasure? Because the concrete images and situations and structures presented by the poem satisfy not only the senses and the emotions but also the brain’s capacity for performing intellectually delicate work. And when to that satisfaction with decoding is added the poetic impact of glimpses of the utterly unexpected, of some other world, the resulting pleasure can approach that bliss which is among the most sublime experiences available to humans.
I do not know if the “numerical value” of words she evokes relates somehow to Japanese prosody, to some more mystical quantification, or something else entirely, but I can say that I have sensed this kind of intellectual work going on when I have become deeply engaged in reading poems. It happens after several read-throughs, when the words have begun to adhere to the mind through repetition, and new senses become apparent, or one notices felicities of sound that were missed in earlier readings. There will always be, in our enjoyment of good poems, an infinite progression of pleasures extending just beyond the reach of our ability to comprehend them.