I'm still looking through A Book of Luminous Things, which includes amazing work from poets around the world. The following work, by the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski, has stuck in my mind since I read it. It is translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Hass (128):
In the rear-view mirror suddenly
I saw the bulk of the Beauvais Cathedral;
great things dwell in small ones
for a moment.
The Beauvais Cathedral (the St. Pierre de Beauvais) is a thirteenth century cathedral in Beauvais, France. Like other gothic cathedrals in Europe, this structure is awesome in its size and beauty. The medieval builders were hoping to construct the largest and tallest cathedral in France.
It's difficult for me to express what this poem does for me, but it has something to do with the speaker's second-hand viewing of this huge, beautiful structure. Even in a small, backwards reflection, he recognizes and is struck by the building's grandness. The reflection of the cathedral, encapsulated in a tiny, mirrored image, still retains the power to connect the speaker with the object.
It reminds me of poetry, and of art in general. We cannot represent exactly an object, an idea, or even a thought in a poem. Consider Wallace Steven's "A Study of Two Pears." He writes several stanzas describing two pears, each a different description but each true, and and eventually admits that he can't fully communicate the experience of viewing a pear. But the reader, nonetheless, can identify with the sensation of seeing the pears, and with the struggle of trying to describe them. We cannot accurately communicate the truth of our experience with words, or paint, or any medium, but the attempt is still inherently valuable.
So the speaker is not actually experiencing viewing the cathedral; he is viewing a representation of it; but even the representation has power and value, because it allows us, if only "for a moment," to connect with the experience.
Another interesting note: The builders of the Beavias Cathedral, in either their poor planning or poor materials, did something wrong; and the high vaults collapsed in 1248. Apparently, there is still discussion in the architectural world about why the collapse happened; no one is sure. So the speaker is viewing something not only "great" in something "small," but also something that speaks to humanity's flaws and, possibly, hubris. But still, flaws and all, it has the power to move us.
Like a poem. Inherently flawed, because it cannot accurately communicate the speaker's experience, but inherently valuable because of its attempt.