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Shambhala Sun | September 2010
You'll find this article on page 96 of the magazine.

About Poem: Peter Levitt on Juan Ramón Jiménez’s “Mind, Give Me”

Mind, Give Me

Mind, give me
the exact name of things,
…that my word may be
the thing itself,
recreated by my soul.
So that all who do not know them
go through me,
to things;
all who have forgotten,
go through me,
to things;
all those who love them
go through me,
to things…
Mind, give me
the exact name, and yours
and theirs, and mine, of things!

(translated by Peter Levitt)


At all points, day and night, a poet’s relationship to the imagination is crucial. For many poets, it is the primary relationship of their lives, the foundational ground of reality which poet William Carlos Williams echoed in his statement, “Only the imagination is real.”

When a poet maintains an intimate relationship to this fertile and all-inclusive part of human existence, there is a continuous conversation that occurs, which Juan Ramón Jiménez reveals in the title and first line of this poem: Mind, give me.

I can almost hear him whisper these words as a kind of prayer, though it is not his prayer alone. To have one’s words or vision become reality—what poet or person could want more than that? Then, the river a poet names, with its stones and song, would ceaselessly flow in the hearts and minds of other human beings, and green would become the green of real love, as when Lorca wrote, “Green, how I love you green.” The possibilities here are endless. Even peace is only as far away as our ability to truly hear the imagination and to say through word and deed, from the depth of our being, exactly what we hear.

For an act of imagination and the facts of living to find each other is miraculous, indeed. But, what I most love about this poem and its yearning is the why of it; that is, why Jiménez wants to be given the exact name. It is not for himself alone, but for all of us, so that we may experience the transformation that hearing such words can provide. For some, it is so that we may meet the world as never seen before. For others, it is to help us remember the world in all its particulars and wholeness. And, for others still, it is simply a kiss, because these ones love the world exactly as it is, with all its incalculable beauty, and despite its rigor and suffering. When I see what Jiménez is after, his prayer turns into a bodhisattva’s vow.

Finally, I love the generosity of this poem, for it reminds us that we, too, know the exact name of everything, and by so doing, we are invited to consider just what those names might be, and how they might be articulated, to make the world we long for real.

Poet, translator, and Zen teacher Peter Levitt is the author of Within Within and twelve other books of poetry and prose, and is a recipient of the Lannan Foundation Award in Poetry. He leads the Salt Spring Zen Circle in British Columbia, where he resides.


 

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