It’s a truism that the writer’s material is words. We rely on our words to do their work: to “mean” something. But in his poem “Articulation,” Scott Cairns questions this reliance. The poem’s speaker says that his only “certainty,” paradoxically, is that his language “falls / ever short.” What he has “come to trust” is “our words’ / most modest crapshoot.” (I hear an alas! in these lines.) Most frustrating, he goes on, is that if he ever comes to apprehend the wonder of each breath’s fullness of presence, “my words would grow so heavy as to still.”
In this line, the poem’s iambic pentameter plods heavily; and it’s the first line in the poem to end with a period, a dead stop. Up to here, each line has dropped into the next — so that our reading never quite knows where to pause (dramatizing the uncertainty of attempts at articulation). The poem then ends, however, with an astonishing turnaround. The “stillness” of the speaker’s words, which had been the extreme shutdown of articulation, “opens” — to a sun-filled, endless “eighth day.” This is, for Christians, Sunday: the glorious day celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus.
And this “eighth day” fills with even more richness of meaning when we recognize the name of Warren Farha, to whom Cairns has dedicated this poem. Farha is the owner of the magnificent store Eighth Day Books, specializing in classics of religion, philosophy, history, and literature. Cairns has concluded “Articulation” by paying tribute to what Farha offers us: the world’s masterpieces of “articulation.” — Peggy Rosenthal
What I have come to say is never quite
_____sufficient; what I have come to say falls
ever short, if reliably—my one,
_____my only certainty. This fact, for now,
can prove both deep discouragement and deep,
_____elusive hope. I’ve come to trust our words’
most modest crapshoot; I have come, as well,
_____to see their limit as my proof. If, one
fresh morning, I should come to apprehend
_____how ever full with presence every breath
now is—and even now—I have a sense
_____my words would grow so heavy as to still.
I suppose that morning then would open
_____to our eighth day, whose sunrise will not set.
—for Warren Farha
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.