Indian necklaces are heavy in the way that the moon is heavy. When you wear one, you have to move steadily as Earth to avoid causing it to twist. The sweet glow of reflected light from its gold and gems, as everyone notices, is much more lovely than incandescence. The tidal effect in a room — measurable in waves of glance and gaze. Do you ever question the necessity of beauty?
Some of my students once told me that beauty is not a need, but a want. I understood why they were confused, but somehow it was very hard to straighten out the issue. They were thinking only of Indian-necklace-type beauty, and not of the infinite absolute that artists, poets, scientists, athletes and others strive to access in their practices.
I think Charles Simic gave us so much of that beauty in his work, and I’m saddened at the news of his death this week. This poem, “Stone,” is a favorite, which I’ve shared often with students, even the youngest ones in Writopia Lab workshops.
I also think that there’s a part of me that sings elegiacally—a subconscious ritual celebration—at the passing of poets I love. I feel sure they have studied those inner charts well enough to live on, beyond what we know.
If you want to make… an elegy
Most poems are sad. But elegy is the diamond necklace of all sadness. “The great elegy touches the unfathomable and originated in the unspeakable, in unacceptable loss. It allows us to experience mortality. It turns loss into remembrance and delivers an inheritance” [A Poet’s Glossary, Edward Hirsch].
One way to approach writing one is to choose a concrete image, like a piece of jewelry, clothing, or other personal item. Start with that, and try showing its qualities in the way Simic’s “Stone” does. Then grief can create its beauty. Elegiac voice relies on a strong grounding.