Well, yes, if you’ve been reading Chasing the Dragon, you’ve read the final stanza of this poem before: it’s the beginning of The Continent of Fire, the first poem in the collection.
But the title and first two stanzas give you a context for the poem. Actually, they give you a context for everything I try to do with my poems. I don’t like to talk theory, but bear with me if you will, and you think it’s worth your time.
The title is from our master, Shakespeare, and from his greatest work, Hamlet (I’ve changed the wording slightly, not to correct Shakespeare, but to correct Gertrude). Shakespeare, oddly enough, is sometimes hailed as the first truly modern writer. The line implies that we can only attain to the eternal by moving through nature.
“No idea save in things” is pure modernism, but it’s in keeping with Shakespeare’s line. I thought it came from Pound, but I’ve seen it attributed to other modernists. It’s that widespread: it reflects a deep distrust of abstraction (think Hemingway). Literature only works when it is grounded in sensual fact.
And the second “more matter, less art” is like unto it. It reflects a deep distrust of art for art’s sake. A poem shouldn’t call attention to its poetry: it should call attention to the matter of the poem. Some have argued that T.S. Eliot killed modern poetry because he’s so damn hard to understand. I love Eliot, but the point is well taken.
So that leads us to the final stanza, without abstraction, and very little art. It’s a literal representation of a hike I used to take every year when I lived in Charlottesville, Virginia. Humpback Rocks is on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Virginia has a moderate climate, so if you come on New Year’s day, the snow is likely to be melting, the mud will be slippery, and it will cake on your boots. The trees will be bare, letting the sun shine in. The trail does rise to the rocks, and valleys are endless. The rocks, trees, mountains and light are the face of eternity, whether that’s meant literally or spiritually.
You can take your pick on that, but I make my position clear in the last line: “Suffer me not to be separated.” I don’t mean that as abstract thought, but as my reality. No ideas save in things, yet there are things and there are ideas.