Saturday, April 19, 2008


(Hat tip to Jim Murdoch for triggering this rumination.)

There are many kinds and types of epiphanies, from the great and life-changing to the small "aha!" that suddenly sharpens the day's edges, and makes you sit up and pay attention, even if only for a moment. I don't think small epiphanies should be overlooked, I think they can be just as personally life-changing as the greater epiphanies. It is a matter of scale, perhaps, but not only. Moments of transcendence are moments of epiphany; moments on the threshold of the numinous and liminal can be revelations equivalent to epiphanies; when they are brought back to us by the shaman or the poet, even small epiphanies can serve as guideposts and signs on the way to the greater experience of the transpersonal.

The etymology of the word epiphany is revelatory, literally: Etymology: ME & OFr epiphanie < LL(Ec) epiphania < Gr(Ec) epiphaneia, appearance < epiphainein, to show forth, manifest < epi-, upon + phainein, to show The Greek root epiphainein, to show forth, to broadcast (as a light going out into the darkness), to bring into the light what was hidden in shadow, to make manifest, to make real, to bring into being.

I've been writing a series of new poems and prose-poems using Greek words as titles and triggers; most of these words have Christian theological subtexts and usages, although the poems are neither conventionally religious nor Christian, nor epistolary. (I read a lot of theology, for a layman.) In going back over some older poems of mine, I recently discovered anew that private epiphanies are a long-standing subject in my poetry. I looked back over some older poems, specifically one or two written almost 20 years ago that have lingered with me, that were written during or after experiences of personal epiphany.

One of these poems that readily comes to mind is the third in a short series of poems called the Portraits. The poems in the series were written in persona, and are not autobiographical; some of them were inspired by fictional characters, and were my poetic response and capsule summation of each character's moment of transcending everything they had been or knew up to that moment. In the introduction to the series I wrote: The Portraits are moments of epiphany or transcendence taken from critical turning points in the lives of their characters. They are moments outside of time, when you have stepped back and learned how to see yourself independently of your everyday concerns; you see how to hold yourself up to the light and examine every brilliant facet of the gemstone of your existence, turning and seeing the same moment from every angle. None of these characters should be confused for real people; none of them are people you know; yet they are very real. I can say, re-reading these older poems of mine now, that I'm pleased that one or two of them have held up, and aren't too horribly bad.

portrait. i

lost in an overwhelming sunflare of vision
the dancer stands stilled by the touch
of a night without music, without change
and her eyes are unlatched by the sound
of a sky dormant with promise and fear

she holds no denial of roses or prayers
but her dance is the display of a twilight
twofold in laughter and pain
and her cause and her ending a quest
for her own simple truth, in a world of no endings

the vision moves on, leaving her freed
full of the hope to banish her frowns
vanquish her solitude, redeem her tears
and her joys may be numbered, though numberless remain
for her dreams are unbonded, her sorrows now gone

portrait. iii

in his epiphany
icy silence cloaks the earth
branches of a willowwhip
thwack on the porchwood
ice sliding on the glass
he looks out
and is reflected in crystal warmth
twofaced window
the inner and outer silences
(one darkly warm, one brightly cold)
he watches lights on distant hills
twinkle in winterwinds
through blackbranch trees dancing

One more poem, this time actually titled epiphany. This was originally written in the mid-1980s, one late spring evening when I was coming out of a campus film society showing of one of those movies that occasionally hits you so hard that you are rendered speechless, overcome by something beyond your usual limits. I came out of the movie theatre, overwhelmed, and the sky seemed exceptionally clear that night, even in the city, and full of stars. I stopped and stared, and felt like I was going to fall up from the face of the earth, into eternity. (The movie, by the way, was Louis Malle's My Dinner With André.)


the sky here is bright and cold at night,
hard-edged and flat like quartz
in the first early dawn. the moon
stands between two pines, her husbands;
she turns like a coin spun in the air,
turning, rowing like salmon
in the river. bright star points
here and there, a stream flowing
in the most careful pattern-
but the pattern is unknowable,
transparent; even the moon
can't hold it. her husbands
stand guard on it, silent except
for the evergreen needle falling,
falling in the dark. sitting
on a ridge, head thrown back,
Coyote howls. he wants to make love
to the whole sky, but he's too small.

you don't usually see with such clarity.
every treeshadow has a name,
a shape, a movement in the breeze,
and you must name them all
as you pass. our ears open
as we walk, as the drama ends,
the shadows fade, and the music
very quietly plays. you are ready.
the moon brightens,
then veils itself in clouds.

The idea of epiphany has come up for me in my visual art as well. In 2003, I collaborated with another photographer on a joint exhibition titled Epiphainein. I also played live solo Stick for the opening reception at the gallery. Click on the flyer below to see some photos from the show (yes, I designed the flyer, too):

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Blogger Kathryn Magendie said...

Stopping by for a look around...saw your eloquent comment on the R&T's blog...thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment.

8:00 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...


Thanks for stopping in. Roses & Thorns looks interesting, BTW. I plan to check it out in a little more detail soon.

Best wishes—

8:54 AM  
Blogger John Ettorre said...

Lovely, lovely poems, Art. They're graceful and as gentle as a soft breeze. And very cool to see your design handiwork as well. You're a man of many talents.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Hi, John—

Thanks for the comments. I'm pleased you thought the poems were good. They're old enough now that I'm not so sure any more.

Much appreciated—

8:03 PM  
Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Interesting post. The nearest I can come to that was the time I saw The Elephant Man in a cinema that, now I think about it, is actually a book store now. The entire audience got up in silence and left. There was none of the usual chitchat and banter, just the sound of shuffling feet. You don't easily forget something like that.

9:23 AM  

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