Finding what will suffice

In Words Overflown by Stars, Sydney Lea's essay is called "'I recognize thy glory': On the American Nature Essay and Lyric Poetry." His essay is indeed lyrical, and he is a great lover of the natural world. In fact, this is a good book - for anyone who enjoys poetry or essays, this whole book is worth a library visit and maybe a bookstore purchase. (Your affinity would be dependent on your desire to settle with concentrated attention into the studies being offered to you.)

The thing is, when one reads the essays of M.F.A. instructors, one ends up with about a zillion and a half various rabbit trails opening up, all calling out with their siren songs. (Nicely mangled metaphor, that one. Did you know rabbit trails had siren songs? yeesh) Come and follow me, they say. This path leads to more and more delight. Oh, yes, answers the chorus on the other side, that path is a good one, but look here. This is where you want to be. Come and explore. We want you with us.

(I should probably not read this stuff while the school quarter is in session.)

Toward the end of Lea's essay, there is a phrase in quotation marks. (Quotation marks are the reason God gave us Google.) This blissfully lush paragraph says,
Yes, "the mind in the act of finding what will suffice" may be as much the final subject of a nature essay as of a poem, but the essay can't just say any old thing that occurs to it. As Puritans like me are fond of claiming, it must "earn" its right to speak. It must establish its authority. The connections among its things and thoughts and emotions may and should be nonrational, but that's a long way from saying that its facts are finally irrelevant.
Indeed it is a long way. But wait. What was that first thing? "The mind in the act of finding what will suffice." Who wrote that sublime phrase? Flip pages. Flip more pages. Shut ears to the sirens on every page. (Wow, this is a really good essay!) (Hush up. Pay attention. Find what will suffice.) Dang. Apparently I am expected to know this.

Okay, fine. Google it is. "Finding what will suffice." Well, look at that. Another essay.

In the Winter, 2004, edition of The Antioch Review, Eleanor Berry wrote an essay entitled "Working Prosodies: Finding What Will Suffice." But the text is not here - not the whole thing, anyway. Oooh, yeah ... guess what I can do? I can get into Marylhurst's Shoen Library databases, and I can get that whole article and print it out for my own collection and have it for myself. That will suffice, for sure. (And another note weaves into the songs of all the sirens now in full chorus. Berry recommends a book on free verse poetry. She finds "the fullest and most satisfactory formulation" in Charles Hartman's Free Verse: An Essay on Parody. And there are many more recommendations in here too. The chorus rises to fever pitch as the list of this day's necessary writing taunts me from my wall.)

But I still cannot find the origin of "the mind finding what will suffice." It is a part of a poem. Who wrote it? AH! Here it is! (Thanks again, Google.) "Of Modern Poetry," by Wallace Stevens. Copy. Paste. Print. Tack to wall. This is very beautiful.

And I want a reminder. "What will suffice." Essays and poetry must be the result of successful hunts for it. But ... if the chorus of sirens could keep it down for just a moment, I think I hear something else in the woods. As the sun comes up and the trees begin to glow in that particular morning watery green, I think that I can hear the voice of the prophet, anwered by the Apostle who walks in conversation with him.

Find what will suffice. You do not need more or more than enough. You have enough. Find that. Use that. Be "the mind in the act of finding/ What will suffice."

More on this thought in the coming days.

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