Sunday, 18 August 2013

Grace: Poetry in Motion

There is perhaps nothing more pleasant than attending a Mass wherein the servers and the priest are all in complete control of the situation, so to speak; they move with grace and poise, and every movement seems to take no effort. Poetry in motion. I'm sure we've all heard the phrase at some point, in praise of someone's ability to dance, run, walk, do the boogie, whatever. Although probably not the last one. Anyway, the question is, what do we mean by this phrase? Exactly how is it like poetry in motion when we see someone move gracefully? And why is it that in an attempt to be solemn or graceful, some servers fall the way of being ostentatious?

The answer to this is quite simple; the analogy is drawn because the same factors which come together to make good poetry are necessary for physical grace. What are these factors? Good poetry requires good form, clear, crisp expressions, and, perhaps above all, economy of expression. To have possession of these results in grace and poise; to lack them, sloppiness or ostentation. Let me take each  factor in turn.

First, then, to good form. I should fend off a possible literary criticism here, by making the point that poetry requires good form whether it be free verse or not; in the case of free verse, the form is simply imposed by the author himself. What this means in the physical realm is quite obvious, and I'm sure needs little real explanation; in the case of dancing, for example, it is obvious that good form means adherence to certain principles of movement. The same applies, however, to such things as serving at Mass. One must stand, as in general life, with one's head erect, eyes forward. One's hands should be held in front of the chest, not pointing forward as if one is about to dive into a pool, but held naturally.

Clear, crisp expression. In poetry, this is obvious: phrases can't be hackneyed, they can't be rambling, nor can they be too elusive. In serving, what this means is that all actions should be done with a purpose; if there is no purpose, there should be no movement. When you walk, walk with a clear, crisp step towards your goal. When you genuflect, genuflect as if you know you ought to, not because you're stumbling to follow the person next to you.

Poetry, however, can often be ruined by a certain pretentiousness, that is, an overly exaggerated expression or a desire to show off by saying too much. There is perhaps no greater mistake than to exaggerate a movement. In everyday life, to walk or talk in an exaggerated manner is ridiculous, and in no way ever looks good. What makes good poetry good poetry is economy of expression. No more is said than needs to be in order to get the idea across. Likewise, in the physical realm, grace is acquired through economy of motion. No action should involve more movement than its purpose requires. No action should be exaggerated for the purpose of 'showing off', nor should any action be exaggerated for the purpose of 'being perfect'. In serving, a genuflexion should be quiet, and neither fast nor slow, but simply brief. It shouldn't take an hour to get from one end of the sanctuary to another; the movement should be calm, controlled, and by no means fast, certainly, but nor should it be trying to keep pace with a snail: it should be brisk and unassuming.

Grace is economy of motion, minimal effort, understatedness. If you notice an action because it's sloppy, there is no care for the action. If you notice it because it's ostentatious, the action has lost its purpose, and become the end in itself. Good serving (and indeed, all gentlemanly acts) should be unnoticed: bad serving is noticed.

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