The three poems I’ve recently posted (Rumi’s Where Everything is Music, Gabriela Mistral’s Drinking -- or To Drink in another translation, and Dylan Thomas’s The force that through the green fuse…,) all have a common theme: The life force or energy that underlies all life. Each poet approaches the them from a different perspective. Rumi speaks of music, poetry, that rises from an unseen source that we must open our hearts to. Mistral communes with others through water, a source of life for all living beings.
In fact, water is a metaphorical element in all three poems. It is most explicit in Drinking. But in Dylan Thomas, the force that drives water, a symbol of the flow of life, is the same force that energizes the blood stream and the wind. Though Thomas claims he cannot communicate this life force to the things around him, he is describing it for us. Rumi uses the ocean in two ways: To indicate that this force is the output, the “sea foam,” right at the edge of the wave; the driftwood that the ocean spits out. But it is also the source, the depths where the hidden gem, “the pearl,” resides; it’s the source from which the music is generated.
In each poem, there is something unknown, undefinable about the source, something beyond language. In Rumi, there is “the root / that we cannot see.” Mistral’s refrain (“I remember people’s gestures, / They were gestures of giving me water”) has a dreamlike quality. When she says, “I keep my thirst and her look. / This shall be eternity / For we are still as we were,” she takes the moments she’s describing beyond the memory of an event to a timeless, ethereal awareness of this one source. Thomas is most adamant about his inability to define this force: He is “dumb” to tell any being or object anything about it.
Notice that in each poem, the poet expresses a certain painfulness, a sense of longing or separation. A different translation of the Rumi poem begins, Listen to the story told by the reed, of being separated. “Since I was cut from the reedbed, I have made this crying sound…” This is an explicit expression of separation from the source. In the Mistral poem, when the speaker “glued [her] mouth to the foaming / and the blessed water burnt [her],” maybe she came too close to the source. Dylan Thomas’s “dumbness” is an overt statement, in each stanza, of his inability to communicate his connection to this underlying source.
Much poetry is about finding our need to find the source of our being. These poems express this need explicitly, effectively, and beautifully.