David Wolf is the author of four collections of poetry: Open Season, The Moment Forever, Sablier, and Sablier II. His work has appeared in The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, Poet and Critic, River Styx, and elsewhere. He is a professor of English at Simpson College,
where he teaches writing and literature and serves as the literary editor for Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology, and the Arts.
...is called “Enough Said.” Though, before I read the poem, I feel I need to say a few things about the poem’s origin, particularly the title. And its form. First the content. Still a useful distinction in my mind, form and content, though I well know that others disagree. More on that later. Maybe.
Anyway, about my next poem.
Last summer I was hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. Well, to be fair, it was more of an extended stroll. I have never been much of a hiker. I have friends who hike. They take five-hour walks. So I am fairly certain they would have a problem with me calling a one-hour hike on flat terrain around a small lake a hike. Anyway, I was shuffling along, and beside the trail I saw a page torn from a book, and there was poetry on the page. As I am a poet, I recognized this ontological fact right away. Now I know some of you are wondering about those two words “ontological fact,” especially those who have read Stanley Fish’s essay “How to Recognize a Poem When You See One.” That is a terrific essay containing a very fundamental truth concerning language and representation, but let’s hold that thought for now.
Anyway, I picked up the discarded page, and the poem turned out to be Bai Juyi’s famous poem “The Philosopher Lao Tzu.” The whole poem reads as follows (as translated by Arthur Waley):
The Philosopher [Lao Tzu]
“Those who speak know nothing;
Those who know are silent.”
These words, as I am told,
Were spoken by Lao Tzu.
If we are to believe that Lao Tzu
Was himself one who knew,
How comes it that he wrote a book
Of five thousand words?
I have always liked that poem for its sense of humor, its wisdom. And it was fun to run across it out on the trail. But I also got to wondering just how that little poem got to be torn from a book and tossed along the side of a trail. I should mention that that ragged page (a small page, 4 by 5 inches) had been folded in thirds, horizontally, like a small letter, though it lay unfolded (roughly) when I spied it. How indeed did it get there? I wondered. Perhaps, I speculated, it was a favorite poem of some hiker (or fellow cosmic dawdler) who carried it with him or her on certain promenades, and one day, upon taking it from her (or his) backpack (not that I could imagine anyone needing a backpack on that trail), said hiker was so moved upon encountering the poem’s wisdom once more that he or she tossed this great poem about wordlessness into the wordless wilds, needing no longer those words, any words, realizing in full that one should not, as the Zen story advises, mistake the finger pointing to the moon for the moon itself. (Or however that goes.)
Or maybe the poem just fell from someone’s pocket.
Or maybe it blew there from a long way off.
Or perhaps someone planted it there for another to find.
Anyway, as I continued to speculate about how that poem came to rest there along the trail, ideas for my own poem began to swirl. I should add before I forget that I put the poem in my pocket, for I could not imagine re-depositing it there by the side of the trail. Accident or conceptual gesture (or whatever else in between), it was a piece of paper, and I am no litter bug.
As my ideas began to swirl, a strong wind came up and some dark clouds came rolling over the nearby peaks, and I thought, how coincidental! My mind reeled even further back in time, pondering the centuries between the poem’s composition and the present moment, back further to its inspiration and all the way forward to its existence down through the centuries of all those minds and spirits encountering it, in different languages, throughout centuries of war, peace, joy, suffering, time and space both vast and miniscule in the broader context of the cosmos. I stood there for a few more timeless minutes amid the wind and darkening skies before heading back to the lodge where I wrote this next piece.
Again, it is called “Enough Said.” Here is the poem.
Though, before I read the poem, a few words about the poem itself, not that we can really separate the poem from its title. Poetry readings are funny. Most poets insist that poems are meant to be read aloud. Largely that’s true, but many poems are best read or studied quietly, silently, though Allen Ginsberg once told me that a linguist told him that even when we are reading silently to ourselves, our voice boxes make minute vibrations. Thus, Ginsberg insisted (not necessarily the linguist), all poems are oral in a sense. My central point here is that no matter the performance value, joys, pleasures, and general sonic satisfactions granted a given poem, when it is read to us (and we are without the printed text, assuming one exists) we are excluded from experiencing the typographical effects, including key enjambments (or run-on lines).
So indulge me for a moment and picture the poem I am about to read you as ten lines in length with ragged syntactical line breaks reinforcing the torn page of the poetry found along the trail. Once more the notion of form as an extension of content is operative here.
OK, what else do you need to know. Lao Tzu is the famous Taoist philosopher.
I deliberately left out any specific names of flowers, grasses, stones, etc.
Here is the poem.