What are we feeling when we are feeling joy?

WIMAN-600x315Christian Wiman at The American Scholar:

The definition of  joy in the passages by Wordsworth and MacCaig, though both are tethered tightly to the natural world, remains pretty abstract. Even “Small Moth,” clear as it is on the elements of one woman’s happiness, is elusive about that moment of joy. This may be inevitable, though maybe all poems of joy—maybe all poems, period—are aimed against whatever glitch in us or whim of God has made our most transcendent moments resistant to description. (A “revenge of a mortal hand,” is how the Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska defines the joy of writing.) The great Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai once wondered why it is that we have such various and discriminating language for our pains but become such hapless generalizers for our joys. “I want to describe,” his poem “The Precision of Pain” concludes, “with a sharp pain’s precision, happiness / and blurry joy. I learned to speak among the pains.”

“Among the pains” is where we all learned to speak. The instant the link between word and world appears, so does the rift between them. (I met a Czech scholar once, a man of immense learning and multiple languages, who told me that he didn’t speak a word until he was five years old. “Everything was okay until then,” he said with a shrug.) This link/loss aspect of speech seems true no matter one’s metaphysical dispensations.

more here.

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