Sunday, March 3, 2013

#62 / Kenning

Once in awhile / We talk about poetry / And so it was / I learned a new word.


Whales follow
the whale-roads.
roads of magnetized air.

To go great distance,
exactitudes matter.

Yet how often
the heart
that sets out for Peru
arrives in China.

Steering hard.
Consulting the charts
the whole journey.


In this poem, the word "whale-roads" is a kenning, a type of literary trope. As Wikipedia notes, a kenning is a circumlocution, which presents itself in the form of a compound (usually two words, often hyphenated) that employs figurative language in place of a more concrete single-word noun. Kennings are strongly associated with Old Norse and later Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon poetry. 

"Whale-roads" is a kenning, and that circumlocution means nothing more, nor less, than "the ocean."

This being true, what does that fact say about Hirschfield's poem? Did Hirschfield not understand that while humans can follow a "road," and maybe Geese can even follow some magnetic force that steers them straight, a "whale-road" is "the ocean," and it therefore makes no sense to say that Whales "follow" the ocean, because far from constraining their choice of destination, the ocean itself is freedom pure?

Or, is that the point of the poem? We think we steer by a chart and have a straight course, but when our hearts end up in China, instead of Peru, that may be a demonstration of a fundamental truth: whatever "road" we think we are following, that road does not constrain us, no matter how hard we steer. We are free to follow our hearts, wherever they take us, finding "whale-roads" of boundless opportunity. 


Here is my favorite poem:

Caminante, son tus huellas
El camino, y nada más;
Caminante, no hay camino,
Se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino,
Y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino,
Sino estelas en le mar.


Walker, your steps are the only path you have.
Walker, there really isn't any path;
You make your path by walking.
Walking, you make your own path,
And when you turn around and look back
You'll see a path you'll never walk again.
Walker, there really isn't any path
Just your footsteps on the sea.

Antonio, meet my new friend, Jane.
Jane, meet my old friend, Antonio.

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