This understanding is surely at the heart of King Lear’s “mystery of things” as well as our apprehension of the gulf between potentiality and actuality, a gulf that extends to the very act of creation itself, including the making of a poem. As Gioia says of the difference between the idea of a poem and the poem as realized in words on the page (“The Next Poem”),
How much better it seems now
than when it is finally written.
How hungrily one waits to feel
the bright lure seized, the old hook bitten.
Such is the distance between Jacob sleeping on a “stone pillow” beside the brook and seraphim ascending the ladder between the earth and heaven. And from that place lying in between what is and what was, what may be and what might have been—a place almost, but not quite, beyond words—Dana Gioia has brought back to us some of the finest poems of his or any other time.