Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Human Imagination

This evening, on the PBS news, the newly appointed poet laureate (U.S.) to the Library of Congress, W. S. Merwin, in the course of a completely appropriate interview mentioned the uniquely human urge "to be completely involved" in the act of imagination, in creating something.  True, he did seem to define imagination as being able to feel with the endangered humpback whale, with the starving of Dafur, and so forth, what they are experiencing, and to me that is empathy, which of course is excellent and human, which does require some imagination.  In the whole list he gave, however, he mentioned only things that involve being one with suffering.  Whatever happened to the Lark, to the host of Daffodils, to the laughter of children, to creating a Galatea?  Yet I have no right to ask a very estimable poet to share my own list.  Surely he is right, that total involvement of mind, body, and soul in imagining, in making (not in any particular medium, he was quick to explain) something just because it wants to be made by oneself (not for oneself, not for anyone else in particular) is the uniquely human urge.  Sometimes art for art's sake is sneered at, but probably only because those who do not, or do not yet, understand it are a little frightened by the idea.
An hour later, Pierre Boulez led the Chicago Symphony in Mahler's 7th Symphony.  I thought I knew all the Mahler symphonies, but, though of course one would recognize the composer, I did not know this one. And all the strengths of the Chicago orchestra were in great form.  It was a wonderful occasion in my life of music-listening, and if there is a repeat performance I shall stay up late to hear it.  This could become my favorite Mahler.   Between the great composer-conductor, Boulez, and Mahler, and that great orchestra, here indeed was what Merwin must mean.