People among People: eros, storge, agape
In his international anthology of poetry, A Book of Luminous
Things, editor Czeslaw Milosz presents a section of poems that focuses
on people, not observed in isolation but among other people. Indeed, poets
are people, observing and describing those around them. Yet prompts for
poems come from more than our opinions about people we meet and watch;
they come from those who bind us to them in some way, through our feelings
for them. Milosz stresses the poems that express love, compassion, and
admiration for another, and also fear, hate, and loathing, and asks whether
a good poem can arise from hatred. He invokes the three kinds of love defined
by the Greeks: eros, sexual love and more: an unlimited desire,
the most forceful motivator; agape, our love for humankind, closely
connected with the Latin caritas or charity; and storge,
a tender affection that unites parents and children, teachers and students.
Milosz credits storge with the impulse to write for audiences beyond
one’s contemporaries, the kind of love to create art that might not receive
direct praise and rewards from one’s peers but that looks forward to future
I circulated the
paragraph above last fall to various poets and writers, and what you see
on these Poetry Porch pages represents some of the response. The
poems here show eros in its many guises: the enabler, the deceiver,
the bearer of hope, the destroyer of illusions. Depicted in concrete terms,
does not exert its impact with soft gloves. While it might define the terms
of domestic life in one poem, it can push and tug and threaten to blow
domestic life into smithereens in another.
In a thematic
issue, questions arise about suitability and subject heading, and many
of the poems chosen succeed on their own merits before they define a category.
One poem might certainly begin propelled by eros, yet by the time
it ends, some storge surfaces as well, giving the reader an acute
feeling for what might have been. A poem might present a parrying between
a willing heart and a reluctant one and then, through humor or irony, achieve
the unifying perspective of charity.
In these poems,
as expressing love between family members and in the milieu of education,
comes with an attendant anxiety not necessarily associated with these groups
of people among people. The description of the love the older generation
feels for the younger can convey a suffocating intensity; affection between
siblings are threatened with change after a death in the family; a relationship
between teacher and student creates a particular context within the perimeter
of the near future, yet the distant future is unpredictable and remote.
It is interesting
to note that agape, as it is represented in this group of poems,
presents love felt for human kind as it is all wrapped up in feelings for
a particular place. In one poem, agape occurs as a feeling for the
unity, indeed the great brimming joy, for being in close physical proximity
with people in a crowd. Yet, while one might expect agape to include
a gathering in of disparate people, another poem describes a barrier that
must be crossed first, after which feelings of love become manifest in
a bridging of cultural differences described in terms of respective locales.
Today, it seems that the role of love for all of humanity, and the very
enormity of the concept, is losing authority to an age of strife over territory,
nationhood, and historical legacy.
March - April 2003
Request for poems and prose
Suggested theme: long poems or sequences. Deadline: December
The Sonnet Scroll
Next deadline: December 15, 2003. This popular format will continue
to post original unpublished sonnets twice a year, in December and June,
from published and unpublished poets, from students in college, graduate
study, and high school, and from their professors and teachers.