BORDANDO el MANTO TERRESTRE by Remedios Varo

Remedios Varo“Bordando el Manto Terrestre” [ Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle ] (1961) by Remedios Varo.

The Cowpattyhammer management apologizes for having closed “Make It New!” so abruptly.

One of the casualties was that we never got a chance to look at this painting by the Spanish-Mexican painter and anarchist, Remedios Varo. The title means “Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle,” and the imagery is probably the closest we got to the “secret” that was such an important part of the discussion. My own feeling is that with the exception of the sculpture of the tall Aborigine woman and her daughter that introduced the previous thread, this extraordinary painting was probably the most relevant.

You can click here to look at the painting in more detail. Once you have moved in, the definition of the graphic is quite high so you can zoom in as much as you like. Indeed, I’d be very interested to hear what you see.

In addition, if there are any matters arising from the previous thread do feel free to comment below — the management is very grateful to the increasing numbers of people who visited the site in the last weeks of the discussion, and would be very pleased to have more feedback.
………………

NOTICE March 11th, 2014:
Thread Closed for Comments.

This thread is now closed for comments — 1 less than 80 is a lot, and I hope very much that those of you who have not had the opportunity to dip into it further will take the chance to do so.

The thread was designed to deal with some of the issues that were left hanging at the end of the previous thread, “Make It New,” which ended upside down in the grass. Those issues are stalled for the moment, needless to say, but I think the final discussion of Emily Dickinson’s “haunted house” imagery probably took us as far as we could go anyway, under the circumstances.

Christopher Woodman

………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD

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79 Comments

  1. wfkammann said,

    February 11, 2014 at 7:03 am

    At words poetic, I’m so pathetic
    That I always have found it best,
    Instead of getting ’em off my chest,
    To let ’em rest unexpressed,
    I hate parading my serenading
    As I’ll probably miss a bar,
    But if this ditty is not so pretty
    At least it’ll tell you
    How great you are.

    You’re the top!
    You’re the Coliseum.
    You’re the top!
    You’re the Louver Museum.
    You’re a melody from a symphony by Strauss
    You’re a Bendel bonnet,
    A Shakespeare’s sonnet,
    You’re Mickey Mouse.
    You’re the Nile,
    You’re the Tower of Pisa,
    You’re the smile on the Mona Lisa
    I’m a worthless check, a total wreck, a flop,
    But if, baby, I’m the bottom you’re the top!

    Your words poetic are not pathetic.
    On the other hand, babe, you shine,
    And I can feel after every line
    A thrill divine
    Down my spine.

    Cole Porter, Christopher, now there’s a Genius. And if you don’t know it all by heart, just click here!

    • February 14, 2014 at 5:13 am

      Total agreement, Bill. I’ve sung him all my life; I never, ever get tired of his stuff. The Oscar Wilde of songwriters; epigrams everywhere you turn. In a later era, he could’ve made a mint on literary T-shirts. (And a good thing, too; for musicians, it’s all about the merch these days.)

  2. February 11, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    As we’ve still got one foot (and a big muddy one) back in the previous discussion, I’ll drag in a bit more dirt with one of my own.

    At the very end Dawn Potter said:

    A poem is analogous to a painting. What’s within the frame is all the viewer/reader has to work with. Carrying on about all the stuff that’s in your head doesn’t do a thing to make the painting/poem a better work of art. If what’s in the frame doesn’t speak to the viewer/reader, then the work is not doing its job. Do not blame everyone else because writing a poem is harder than you believe it should be.

    I met Dawn Potter first on FOETRY way back in 2007, I think — she was just an occasional visitor while I was a regular, but whenever she came in the earth trembled, she was such a fierce breath of fresh air from the Maine woods. I remember very well the day when one debater had the temerity to say she needed to be “de-educated,” and that person I suspect still has some singed places on his head and perhaps some deeper damage elsewhere. I was very struck by Dawn’s strength and passion at the time and have been a great admirer of her ever since, even when she flames me. But still I can’t say, I’m afraid, that I always agree with her.

    By way of an answer to her here I’m going to ask Leonardo da Vinci to come into my corner:

    Colors and grief, memories, the expected and the unexpected, this tree and the fluttering of its foliage, its annual variation, its shadow, as well as its substance, the accidents of its shape and position, the remote thoughts which it brings to the edge of my wandering attention—they are equivalents. Any one can be substituted for any other. Is not this perhaps the definition of things?

    Of course they’re both right depending, as we were both right on the previous thread, she about the primacy of craft, me about the primacy of meaning. What was wrong was the rivalry and the anger, and all that’s about something much deeper, I think. And I don’t mean personal, I mean in the nature of things, even when they’re woven in as fantastical a way as they are by Remedios Varo, a woman, take note, in “Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle.”

    But I still have to drag in a bit more of the past, I’m afraid. The first time I encountered Remedios Varo was in a discussion on FOETRY too, a site which had a far more active intellectual life than many of its critics realized mainly because they never bothered to go there. Dawn Potter did, and much to her credit. In addition, the quote from Leonardo da Vinci came from the infancy of the very same blog where we are now at a time when it was called ‘Scarriet’ — and the quote is even now part of the Cowpattyhammer/Scarriet joint archive.

    And the relevance of all this to “Bordando el Manto Terrestre?”

    Wraps. Packaging. Have a look and see.

    Christopher

  3. February 12, 2014 at 10:27 am

    WHAT I SEE FIRST

    1.) I see warm, vibrant oranges and yellows tinged with brown that deepen toward the edges into shades of warm silt, all of it surrounded by damp swirling greys and amorphous smudges not yet differentiated into colors.

    2.) I see a high medieval-type tower with a chamber at the very top with six beautiful young women with golden hair sitting on simple wooden stools with drafting tables before them. Five of the women are busily drawing or designing something while the sixth is raising her right hand with something in it.

    3.) I see what is probably a woman in a niche at the back. She is robed like a nun or a devotee of some sort and is playing a pipe. The figure’s quiet, reflective music feels like it is filling and perhaps even creating the space.

    4.) I see a very tall, very thin figure standing in a commanding position in the center. The figure is robed like a nun or perhaps a priestess or even a priest with a conical hat and a tight-fitting inner garment that goes all the way from the toes to the chin. The figure is looking straight out but without seeing anything, as if he or she were concentrating hard or perhaps even visualizing something. There is an open book in the left hand as if the figure had been following instructions or interpreting something in it just before looking up. In the right hand the figure holds a stick or a wand of some sort which seems to be stirring something in a very odd, hour-glass-shaped pot just in front. Indeed, the pot seems to be turning too – there’s a circular vector ring around it that would suggest that. A very striking detail is that the figure’s face is veiled with only just the large, far-seeing eyes looking out. A less obvious but perhaps even more significant detail is that the figure’s outer robe is drawn in about the knees so the shape becomes like a calyx, vulva or shell. The figure is so thin, tall and fey yet the robe’s shape is female and full.

    Christopher

  4. February 13, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Building up to WHAT I SEE next – and hopefully you are thinking about that too.

    There’s a question that has been on my mind for some years — not to be dramatic but that’s true, I actually mean some years!

    I live in a world that is indescribably beautiful in everything it does except it’s art – indeed, in a sense it has no art, only craft. Thai children are brought up with the strict injunction that what you think or you want doesn’t matter, it’s what other people want that’s important, and your elders in particular. Of course your ‘ancestors’ count very highly among your elders, so it’s a very ‘traditional’ society in the sense that everything made in the present is modeled on and judged by the way things were made in the past. The perfect copy is the perfect product.

    Indeed, to be perfect in South East Asia you must learn to copy perfectly, and Thais like the Burmese, Laotians, Phillippinos and Indonesians do so in the most astonishing ways. For a local example, there’s a well known restaurant on the Ping River called The Gallery (you can go there!) which is always full because it has a very famous guitarist who plays every evening all by himself alone with his guitar. And what’s so special about that? Well, he’s playing perfect Eric Clapton, that’s what, and has been doing so for the whole 19 years I’ve been in Chiang Mai! And there are 3 or 4 other guitarists floating around the bars who play perfect Doc Watson too, and I mean that blind man’s astonishment, finger-picking miracles, which any number of Thai musicians make look easy. And as well there are some really top quality Bluegrass groups around – the musicians have long black hair tied back in pony tails with leather fringes everywhere and bandanas and mustaches and you could swear they were Indians, because of course Indians play Bluegrass! Five strings of course, the electric pace, the laid-back drawl. Perfect, and thrilling.

    The Wats (temples) are hives of activity as Thais believe that if you give money to the Wat you will get a better next life – i.e. higher up and richer. Most of the money is spent on building, and the Thais are still building extravagant golden peaked visions everywhere, and there are 10s of 1000s of craftsmen who can still carve teak in exactly the same way, sculpt stucco, do wrought iron work, cast bronze Buddhas, glaze and lay tiles, all in exactly the same way as the past. Indeed, when a new building is finished you’d have to have a really practiced eye to know it was new at all. And more even than that, when one of the really old buildings, giant Buddhas or chedis starts to cumble, and I mean ancient classical works 500 or 600 years old, or even more, they don’t call in the Department of Fine Arts to preserve it, they rebuild it so it’s exactly the same but all perfect and new. For a Thai you preserve your heritage not through preservation of ruins but through demolition and perfect recreation!

    Wat Chedi Liem This is a photo of Wat Chedi Liem which is very close to where I live. The Ubosot or initiation hall on the right was completed just last year, and is magnificent in every detail. The Chedi on the left was built over 900 years ago, indeed, it’s the oldest and most beautiful in Chiang Mai. Between 1996 and 1998 I watched in horror as it was entirely stripped down to the bare brick and re-plastered. Only the Buddhas in the niches are original, and they have been carefully repainted.

    I’m sure you can see where this goes. For such a gifted people, why have they no interest in self-expression what is more in what we call ‘meaning?’ Why is it all recreation accomplished by craftsmen scrupulously trained in all the old skills? For example, there is a big new Modern Art Gallery attached to Chiang Mai University, but there is no Thai modern art at all to put in it. Oh, there are many Thais copying primitive vegetation with tigers like Henri Rousseau, silk screens like Andy Warhol, and distortions like Frances Bacon, etc. etc., but there is not one piece out there that you would stop and wonder at, what is more want to commune with because it’s so vital, original and challenging. There are very well known “National Artists” who paint celebrated murals in temples like the famous one at Doi Saket, for example, but to a cynic they still look like covers for Acid Rock albums or airbrush fantasy art. Same thing with poetry, same thing with design, same thing with pottery, weaving, clothes and of course music. All traditional and executed with precision but nothing that could be described in Western terms as ‘art.’

    I know the question you will ask – what do I mean? So what is art as opposed to craft, then, and how do we define the difference?

    Christopher

    P.S. As a footnote to that, I would say it’s how we know the difference between Remedios Varo and Salvador Dali, for example. By and large I’m not very interested in ‘Surrealist Art’ which usually feels to me like a waste of talent regardless of how astonishing, fanciful, shocking or ‘magical’ the execution may be. Fooling around with technique. Genius icing on an inedible cake. Bland white cake supporting an extreme exhibition of magical skills. Art for art’s sake, could one say that?

    Christopher.

  5. February 14, 2014 at 4:30 am

    Christopher, I’m fascinated by this culture-wide devotion in Thailand (and elsewhere in Southeast Asia) to reproduction that completely supplants originality. I have enormous respect for art restorers, but that’s an entirely separate critter from the destruction/recreation cycle you describe. Would Kali approve, I wonder? I’m not well versed enough in her lore to know whether she improved on the original when she was in creative mode, or simply remade everything precisely as before.

    I’m truly astounded, though, that (apparently) no one who’s been educated abroad has understood the profound spiritual and emotional gifts available to the artist specifically through actual creation, or contemplated the inspired source creators of this traditional art and architecture — which had to be original once. I’d love for you to expand on your own observation, and/or any scholarly investigation into this phenomenon.

    As for surrealists, I have to disagree with your assessment, at least in terms of my personal response to them. Dali, e.g., often speaks to deep id wells of dream stuff in me. Likewise Magritte. It’s true that their photorealist facility was sometimes off-putting to me initially, but the more time I spent with a specific painting, the more I appreciated that the hyper-real vividness of the imagery actually, counterintuitively at first, contributed to the hallucinatory quality of the work — its capacity to transport me out of my verbal/analytical, left-brain orientation into what I imagine a guided peyote-assisted vision quest might look (and feel) like. Immensely liberating when the connection happens. Yes, Dali in particular was a shameless showman — an early performance artist, maybe — but whatever his motives or intention toward the viewer, the result (for me) was far from merely dazzling.

  6. February 14, 2014 at 9:33 am

    Thanks for that very positive response, Kay – what I said was actually quite hard to write because I have such high regard for the people where I live and wanted to say something critical about their culture without insulting my friends. That’s why I used the word “recreation” instead of “reproduction,” though exactly what the distinction is there I’m not quite sure – I’d be interested to hear what you feel about that. I felt that “Recreation in Thai culture” was a topic that could be discussed as a critical issue without it having to feel like a criticism. Because what I’m really interested in is why we in the West feel that the oldness of a thing gives it special value, and why we go to such lengths to preserve ruins – which, in a sense, is equally an obsession as remaking everything new. Yet at the same time we follow the injunction, “Make it new” in almost everything we do, so much so, in fact, that we are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a messy, confused and sometimes even counterfeit concoction as a “work of art,” even when it’s simply fulfilling the injunction to be “original” and nothing much else. It’s original, alright, indeed it’s trying so hard to be ahead it hasn’t even gotten out of the blocks!

    That’s hard to say, but it’s one of the directions I thought this thread might go.

    I like your idea of a “destruction/recreation cycle,” and you made my day with your beautifully expressed observation about Kali, “whether she improved on the original when she was in creative mode, or simply remade everything precisely as before.”

    I’m not well-versed in Kali lore either, Kay, though at 74 I live totally under her sway as my own body is loved so passionately by her day and night. Indeed, what I have been trying to do in these last two threads is not “research” such topics in a “scholarly investigation,” as you put it, but rather revisit them in living words as if they were right there before my eyes, fresh and new– as if I could just see them like a Kalahari Bushman!

    As I say in my poem in the previous thread, the one which drew so much flak, alas, we human lovers of knowledge must also respect what is hidden (“dark,” “secret wraps,” “furtive,” silt-lapped,” “draped” etc. etc.), for there is a dynamic in the tension between what we know and what we don’t know that makes us human just as much as our higher knowledge makes us like gods. Knowledge sucks us upward like the sun does the orchard’s sap, says the poem, but there is an equal genius in what we experience in both our minds and bodies as “weight.” If you haven’t visited that thread, you can click here and scroll down a bit to find the discussion.

    Forgive me the nutshell, all those of you that are still left after the debacle at the end of “Make It New,” forgive me and listen once more if you can, and stretch! Both as an old man who has never grown up and as a poet, I’m convinced there is a “spirit” or “djinn” in Things that if rubbed by the artist in the right way, or embraced, or loved, or even just desired, can reward all those who have eyes to see and ears to hear with the greatest of all treasures, wholeness. For it’s human beings alone that are whole, not angels or demons, and our ignorance is part of the nature of things, as is decomposition. Which is another reason why Kali is so important, as much as I’d rather stay young!

    I hope you’ll forgive me for not responding immediately to what you say about Surrealism, Kay. I won’t forget and I’m sure you won’t either, and when we get there those observations will be important I feel sure.

    Christopher

    ………….
    [Added 5 minutes later:]

    …………………… THE UNWITHERED GARLAND

    ………………………. Her grace is not of any part,
    ………………………. But selfhood’s self, its very motion,
    ………………………. The mortal dream surprised by art
    ………………………. More effortless than wind or ocean,
    ………………………. All spirit flowing out to burn
    ………………………. The essence of its contradiction,
    ………………………. And give more light the more it turn.
    ………………………. Things are not only what they are:
    ………………………. They pass beyond themselves to learn
    ………………………. The tears of the particular.
    ………………………. If she go ranging out of sight
    ………………………. To suffer on a distant star
    ………………………. Her wounding by the infinite,
    ………………………. It is in answer to her law.
    ………………………. Who had of her the world’s delight
    ………………………. And loved her for her sacred flaw
    ………………………. Loves her not less beyond his reach,
    ………………………. Still with the wonder that he saw
    ………………………. Alive. Perfectly to pray,
    ………………………. As the Fathers of the Desert teach,
    ………………………. He does not even try to pray.

    …………………………………………………………… Stanley Kunitz

    • February 15, 2014 at 10:05 am

      “The unwithered garland?”

      “Unwithered” is the word that untethers this poem from time and decomposition, and “garland” is not far behind in its elevation and praise. Indeed, if there ever was one, this is a poem that sanctifies earth’s godliest yearnings.

      A garland crowns the head with laurel or the like all over the world, just as where I live it encircles your neck with fresh jasmine buds so fragrant you walk around in a trance for the whole day long. But it’s gather ye rosebuds while ye may like everything else, and jasmine moves on very quickly, indeed just one day later the smooth white flesh of the blossoms is worn to old brown skin and the odor is stale. Every altar in Thailand has the remnants of such withered garlands as jasmine necklaces are draped over the images when asking for blessings, and the feeling is that whatever is offered to a god or a deity becomes part of its spiritual environment, and like those Spirit Houses I showed you in the last thread, they’re never cleaned up. That’s the way the spirits like it, that’s the way the spirits live, after all. And as to me personally, all I have to do is change the word from “spirits” to “spirit” because I can’t see ghosts, ‘phi,’ or elementals at all as my neighbors do all the time. On the other hand, when I rub this poem, the djinn in it allows me a very real glimpse of “Her,” and that’s what I read, write and live for.

      Ganesha & Kwan Im Garlanded

      This is Homprang’s personal shrine. You can see Ganesha directly below the large bronze Buddha which presides over his head. There’s also a delicate, white glazed Kwan Im on the right – a gift from Bill who just left the gift of the Dali below. Both images are still decked with what was fresh white jasmine just a few days before – you’ll see how it’s withered. Hopefully you can see too how what they celebrate is forever and has no problem encompassing decomposition too.

      I just wish you could see how wrong it is to delve too fiercely into that mystery, how you can love it but you can never grab it what is more hold it in your arms or understand it, ye gods of white sexual fury, ye cruel suitors who would take what doesn’t belong to you over.

      Christopher

      A NOTE ALMOST A DAY LATER: Please forgive the dislocations and readjustments my prose goes through in trying to say what I mean, very often leaving dangling words and misconstructions in it’s wake. It’s like writing a poem — who knows when it’s ever completed? (And is even that o.k.?)

      One wonders how Herman Melville ever got Moby Dick done through all that pentameter in prose…

  7. wfkammann said,

    February 15, 2014 at 7:47 am

    Kay,

    I think that one would be hard pressed to consider Dali only as a craftsman. Part of the interest of surrealism is the juxtaposition of classical painting technique and the “message.” (Einstein’s world of the melting clock e.g.)

    What differentiates art from craft may be the presence of some “artistic” intention or idea over and above the craft of the piece. There may be a gorilla who could paint like Jackson Pollock, but would that painting be craft or art or…..?

    Here is Dali’s image called Leda Atomica.

  8. February 16, 2014 at 7:50 am

    It’s masterful and silly at the same time, Leda Atomica. The fact that it was painted decades before the airbrush and Photoshop makes it almost miraculous as far as technique is concerned. But of course Madison Avenue has caught up with the style, so nobody will ever be competing with Salvador Dali again. Nobody will ever put that much time into kitsch when magic-realism is so technically easy and, of course, everybody’s looking for the really eye-catching computer-game or music-video cover. Madonna could have modeled for this Leda if Dali’s wife would have let her – because there’s no sexual tension in the painting whatsoever, or anything hidden or fey or the least bit mysterious. There’s no rush just as there’s no rush in Madonna. And their faces are equally hard.

    Now I personally love kitsch, and I love well-painted pornography too, whereas photographed pornography bores me because the body’s so naked, and that’s not what I mean at all. For the erotic give me Balthus any day, or Andrew Wyeth’s ‘Helga’ if you do want to take it all off, or if you’re in New York, the astonishing Wei Dong or even John Currin who can paint right up there with Caravaggio. But don’t give me Jane Russell posing with an Audubon swan as I haven’t the time for mere graphics, and every media whiz-kid today is slipping in something from a Leonardo Da Vinci notebook or a physics formula to dignify his (usually) ‘deep’ work, and that really sells. Because that’s where it’s at today — when you can make people think they’re thinking, that’s really marketable. And all you need for that sort of ‘knowledge’ is Google – there’s no esoteric djinn whatsoever in such mystery-deprived art.

    There’s also too much competition out there from honest, hard-working, cramped little djinns with dirty fingernails and stained aprons, I’d say, and if you want to see what Dali never did have a look at the work of the dozens of extraordinary new figurative painters in China who work with the perfect body draped in perfect silk in a candle-lit corner of the Forbidden City where everything flies.

    And for the djinn in Surrealism? René Magritte first of all, I agree with Kay. But also de Chirico and Delvaux, and there are others at the time but the farther away from André Breton the better. But for courage and juice give me the Central American women, Frida Kalo and Remedios Varo. Not everything they did by any means, but when their djinns are on song, oh my, my, my. And because they’re women they know more about this sort of thing than all the king’s men could ever stop posing for in the bright light of their reputations again. Because there comes a time when you just have to look and ask yourself, is this interesting?

    Christopher

  9. February 16, 2014 at 10:30 am

    The Remarkable Painting of KONSTANTIN KACEV

    “The efficiency maybe lies in the speed of the electronic information which we exchange daily through the internet, SMS, MMS, e-mail… However the power and the quality to communicate is within our selves, in our emotions which everyone of us expresses differently, with a very personal and unrepeatable ” handwriting “, through a painting, a film, a book, a letter, a touch or just a simple conversation.

    It is very important that we feel an emotion, a real fluid. We must have a feeling that we are present here and now, and not just like some electronic cell, but like real human beings that are spiritually connected. Nature created us all with a purpose to leave better things behind, for those that will come after, until the time abandons us.

    ………………………………………….Konstantin Kacev, Republic of Macedonia
    ………………

    Konstantin Kacev - Galileo 450

    Konstantin Kacev - Pomegranates

    Konstantin Kacev - Daphne

    …….. Konstantin Kacev - P.S.Girl 381

    And as I just said above, my feeling is that such painting also celebrates forever, encompassing as it does all that is falling apart and not falling apart in equal measure. And if you look carefully you will see that the little girl has before her a stem of flowers identical to the stem of flowers the standing woman in the painting above holds before her eyes. That’s observed, of course, in the context of the “Her” of Stanley Kunitz’s wonderful metaphysical poem, “The Unwithered Garland.”

    The paintings also relate to my own poem about things “unweighed.” Everybody wants to grasp the delight that’s under those secret wraps but she must never be grabbed what is more held in the arms as if her body could be known or consumed or exploited — ye gods who would have whatsoever ye desire, ye cruel suitors who would take what doesn’t belong to you or anybody else over.

    Yes, even as the suitors in The Odyssey tried to, or at least until Athene brought her lover home and reunited him with his age, weight and darkness first — and of course with his wife as well, but that was long after.

    Count the pages and see, because, of course, Odysseus’ journey was nowhere near ended by the events in Ithaca.

    Christopher

    NOTE ADDED LATER: Having wrestled with it all night, I rewrote what I tried to say after the paintings this morning (my time, 12+ hours before yours!). I’d be very pleased if you could give it another chance.

    C.

  10. wfkammann said,

    February 17, 2014 at 8:43 am

    Who had of her the world’s delight
    
And loved her for her sacred flaw
    
Loves her not less beyond his reach,

    Still with the wonder that he saw
    
Alive.

    The idea of the “sacred flaw” reminded me of the Navajo rugs with their flaw built in to protect the weaver from “blanket sickness.” The flaw is the spirit road which let’s the creativity of the artist continue. The Navajo name is shih nih bi-teen which translates “Mind my road.”

    The Japanese have something similar in Wabi Sabi.

    “Wabi Sabi is flawed, undeclared beauty—beauty in all things imperfect. It is an acceptance and appreciation of growth, decay, and death as a natural process. It is the acknowledgement that nothing lasts, nothing is perfect, and nothing is ever complete.

    Wabi sabi changes our perception of the world. It enlightens us to our own imperfections, as well as the impermanence and mortality of our lives.
    Broken down there is no exact translation of the words wabi and sabi, but their characteristics can be explained.

    Wabi represents understated elegance, unpretentiousness, freshness, quietness, simplicity, humility, and modesty. A wabi person is content with very little, humble, and one with nature.

    Sabi represents imperfection, impermanence, asymmetry, irregularity, transience, and aging. Sabi is aging, and the beauty and peace that come with it. True sabi cannot be created. It is the result of the natural process of time—the rust, patina, wear, or repair that naturally occurs in the aging process.”

    This corresponds with the Buddhist idea of non-self, impermanence, and suffering: the nature of reality.

    To create something that is perfect and cannot change (like the first stanza of your poem, it seems) is to entrap your spirit in a reality which does not exist, Christopher.

    • February 17, 2014 at 9:11 am

      Thanks for that, Bill.

      I was just about to add another little postscript to my previous post, and now it will go better here.

      Wounds such as those wrecked upon the suitors in The Odyssey must be paid for too, however justified the vengeance. Indeed, those sort of wounds too are part of “her sacred flaw.”

      Nelson Mandela never foreswore violence, don’t forget, a stance which, irony of ironies, made him a saint after passing through 27 years of intense loneliness and suffering. But he never reneged on the violence.

      Stanley Kunitz was a staunch conscientious objector and refused to serve in the army when America first entered WWII. When he realized what was actually happening in Europe, he joined the army of his own free will and served in the military to the end of the war — an action totally against his own conviction that killing could never be justified.

      “Mind my road” indeed.

      C.

      …………………

  11. February 17, 2014 at 10:19 am

    Referring to what Bill just said above (which he added later so I hadn’t seen it before I wrote my previous reply):

    “To create something that is perfect and cannot change (like the first stanza of your poem, it seems) is to entrap your spirit in a reality which does not exist, Christopher.

    This is mean.

    And what a shame that it should come at the end of such an interesting and valuable contribution, neutralizing it, distorting it for the sake of a clever remark.

    To say that the first stanza of my poem cannot be changed is not to say it’s ”perfect” but to say that it’s done, and indeed it has been done for more than 5 years now. It also happens to be the introductory poem to a whole book called Galileo’s Secret, and provides some of the seminal imagery for its 44 poems, including one long one in 12 parts.

    A poem of this age and function is like a sculpture cast in bronze. Of course it could be changed as a sculpture can be melted down and the bronze reused for a subsequent work, but why would you want to do that as it has moved so far beyond being just a preliminary sketch in clay? It’s a poem cast in bronze just as my early years are cast in my youth. Should I go back and mar myself to be more like I am today?

    For Bill to insist, as he has done over and over again, that the first stanza makes no sense because 1.) the images are scrambled, 2.) the grammar is bad, and 3.) the word “suitors” is misleading because the word belongs exclusively to The Odyssey, is just plain stubborn and insensitive.

    That’s what bullies do in the playground, just keep saying he wets his pants over and over again, or repeating everything he says, even his tears.

    You don’t have to put in a bid for Frances Bacon’s “Portrait of George Dyer Talking” or even like it, as I don’t, but to insist today that it should be neatened up and made to look more like a real person is ridiculous at this point in time as Frances Bacon is dead, or even to say that while he was alive, or even when the painting was still wet on his easel. Ditto my poem, which is very dry.

    To talk about revision of a finished poem or painting may be fun in the classroom and perhaps even instructive to poets who are there as part of their voluntary participation in a training program, but it’s unkind in the extreme when it diminishes the finished work of a mature poet, published or unpublished, professional or amateur, good or bad.

    Christopher

    P.S. If you haven’t read the poem you can click here.

    …………………

  12. wfkammann said,

    February 17, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    Faust II

    Der Chorus mysticus beschließt das Drama:

    „Alles Vergängliche Ist nur ein Gleichnis; Das Unzulängliche, Hier wird’s Ereignis; Das Unbeschreibliche, Hier ist’s getan; Das Ewig-Weibliche, Zieht uns hinan“

    The mystic Chorus ends the drama:

    “All the past is only metaphor; the unreachable, stands here before; the indescribable, here it’s done; The eternal-feminine, leads us on.” 


    By the way, the idea of a sacred flaw or the creative spirit being captured in “perfection” is more interesting to me than whether I am mean or you have crafted The Thinker.

    And not to put too fine a point on it. Here’s Mozart

    ………………

    • February 18, 2014 at 11:16 am

      “The mystic chorus ends the drama” here to be precise.

      But before you click on it, read what follows first:

      “All the past is only metaphor; the unreachable, stands here before; the indescribable, here it’s done; The eternal-feminine, leads us on.”

      Then get the Mozart going and you’ve got Galileo’s secret in a nutshell.

      C.

      ………………

      • wfkammann said,

        February 19, 2014 at 12:48 am

        Ganesh

        Galileo was secretly a Hindu: is that it?

        Or did he just lift the boys’ skirts to check the pendulum to see what time it was?

    • March 5, 2014 at 9:06 am

      Not wishing to interpose myself in this petit contretemps, which seems to me at a (very) casual glance to have antecedents of which I know bupkes, I will simply remark that this kind of humor (in which something vulgar is enveloped in the most refined giftwrap, so that the recognition of the core sentiment is typically on a slowish fuse) makes me very happy. (Kiss me, Wolfi!) Nothing to do with either the creator or the intended recipient; it’s simply the deliciously surprising baked-Alaska amalgam of cool structure with heat and goo. (Though of course the layers are reversed.)

      I am completely over my head here as regards most of the high-flown output of two terribly erudite esthetes — so, with your kind permission, I’ll continue for the most part in my role as often bemused, but occasionally enlightened and entertained, observer. Quotidian demands preclude my participation in any meaningful way on a regular basis; I don’t get this kind of mental exercise often enough at this point to be able to contribute without prodigious (and likely hernia-inducing) heavy lifting. Too much like work! However, carry on, gentlemen; carry on. I’ll cheer from the sidelines.

      • March 5, 2014 at 9:07 am

        Oops — intended that this should follow the Mozart canon. See? — can’t even get the logistics right!

  13. wfkammann said,

    February 18, 2014 at 7:51 am

    Getting Old

    by Jack Gilbert

    The soft wind comes sweet in the night
    on the mountain. Invisible except for
    the sound it makes in the big poplars outside
    and the feel on his naked, single body,
    which breathes quietly a little before dawn,
    eyes open and in love with the table
    and chair in the transparent dark and stars
    in the other window. Soon it will be time
    for the first tea and cool pear and then
    the miles down and miles up the mountain.
    “Old and alone,” he thinks, smiling.
    Full of what abundance has done to his spirit.
    Feeling around inside to see if his heart
    is still, thank God, ambitious. The way
    old men look in their eyes each morning.
    Knowing she isn’t there and how much Michiko
    isn’t anywhere. The eyes close as he remembers
    seeing the big owl on the roof last night
    for the first time after hearing it for months.
    Thinking how much he has grown unsuited
    for love the size it is for him. “But maybe
    not,” he says. And the eyes open as he
    grins at the heart’s stubborn pretending.

    Reminds me of the Kunitz.

  14. February 18, 2014 at 8:16 am

    Makes me happy to see this here, Bill.

  15. February 18, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Glad to see you back, Kay – we’d love to hear more from you.

    I like the Jack Gilbert very much too, Bill, but don’t understand why it reminds you of Stanley Kunitz. Perhaps you mean it reminds you of the general drift of “The Unwithered Garland,” though “Getting Old” is completely different in its tone, style, and imagery.

    Like Stanley Kunitz, Jack Gilbert published very little considering how long he lived and how intensely he was dedicated to poetry. On the other hand, four volumes is a lot compared to Kunitz output which can easily be collected into a single slim volume.

    They are certainly similar in the way they focus on what they value. What’s different, it seems to me, is the extraordinary compression, distillation, and refinement in Kunitz, who’s more like an alchemist than Jack Gilbert who’s a singer or bard — and alchemy’s a very difficult science to read. If you want to read Kunitz you have to have the courage to persist even when you haven’t a clue where it’s going, but if you do the reward will be pure gold, in yourself.

    The reward from reading Jack Gilbert is great too, but the determination it takes to stay with Stanley Kunitz requires a lifetime’s commitment.

    Finally, I’d like to say that Philip Larkin and Stanley Kunitz have a lot in common as well though their styles and concerns are planets apart. What they have in common is that each poem was such a struggle and so much agonizing was involved there wasn’t enough time to write more than a handful. Yet how many masterpieces they managed between them!

    I think two of the greatest poems ever written on getting old are Philip Larkin’s “High Windows” and Stanley Kunitz’s “King of the River.” “Touch Me” is pretty good too, and perhaps it’s that poem that reminds you, Bill, of Jack Gilbert when you think of Stanley Kunitz.

    Christopher

  16. wfkammann said,

    February 19, 2014 at 7:34 am

  17. wfkammann said,

    February 19, 2014 at 7:39 am

  18. wfkammann said,

    February 19, 2014 at 7:46 am

    ………………

    ………………

    • wfkammann said,

      February 19, 2014 at 11:33 pm

      Half the Truth

      by Jack Gilbert

      The birds do not sing in these mornings. The skies
      are white all day. The Canadian geese fly over
      high up in the moonlight with the lonely sound
      of their discontent. Going south. Now the rains
      and soon the snow. The black trees are leafless,
      the flowers gone. Only cabbages are left
      in the bedraggled garden. Truth becomes visible,
      the architecture of the soul begins to show through.
      God has put off his panoply and is at home with us.
      We are returned to what lay beneath the beauty.
      We have resumed our lives. There is no hurry now.
      We make love without rushing and find ourselves
      afterward with someone we know well. Time to be
      what we are getting ready to be next. This loving,
      this relishing, our gladness, this being puts down
      roots and comes back again year after year.

  19. February 19, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Thank you so much for all those readings, Bill — I’d never heard any of them.

    I’m in tears as I’ve been under the shadow/blessing of all three of them so much of my life, even as a youngish man — though I didn’t understand any of them very well until I got to be where I am now at 74. Also, being a failed poet is a great help because all you can do is read to yourself your own work in a similar way, and listen, over and over again.

    Here’s one of my favorites written in direct response to “King of the River” just a few years ago. You’ll just have to read it quietly to yourselves as all I have is this small space to show you.

    ………………

    ……….BECAUSE TO STAY IS TO BE NOWHERE

    ………………The sedge-green wastes roar
    ………………and bend before the stern
    ………………iron stem—
    ………………then lie partway back,
    ………………chilled by the viscous glaze
    ………………and waiting for the helmsman’s
    ………………crafting hands to warm them.

    ………………But there will be no arrangements
    ………………again this year,
    ………………for this is the long wake
    ………………of the diffident old master,
    ………………the prodigal father who always
    ………………moves on despondent
    ………………just before the spring.

    ………………How sad to be propelled
    ………………like Arctic terns
    ………………whirling the ocean waves
    ………………even in our ploughing.

    ………………And so we tear lines of longitude
    ………………in the pale earth with beaks
    ………………sharpened by the cruel compulsion
    ………………ever to love what’s lost
    ………………and then steadfastly
    ………………lose what’s left,
    ………………migrating mercilessly
    ………………from pole to mating pole until
    ………………swooning back to where it starts
    ………………we glide like wistful fish
    ………………high above the falls
    ………………and fill with what remains
    ………………of just a little lust
    ………………the same old rills again.

    ………………How sad the whole
    ………………latitudinous earth
    ………………should just become faint
    ………………coordinates for crossing it.

    ………………Yesterday we passed
    ………………the Ile Saint Germain
    ………………white with flowers
    ………………in February—
    ………………today we are over
    ………………grey industrial snow.

    ………………Look, far below us now
    ………………moves another young
    ………………family in flight—
    ………………they leave hennaed footprints
    ………………in the flinty field.

    ………………Tomorrow perhaps
    ………………the baby will stop crying
    ………………pater noster
    ………………in the wilderness

    ………………as trembling
    ………………we endure the loss
    ………………of not quite knowing
    ………………why it is we cried

    ………………ourselves, or where,
    ………………for what we prayed—
    ………………almost as if a god were there
    ………………and really meant to stay.
    ………………

    ………………

    Christopher

    ………………

  20. February 20, 2014 at 9:32 am

    The Next Step: Entering The Haunted House

    In Search of Mae Pho Sop

    ………………

    “Nature is a Haunted House – but Art – a House
    that tries to be haunted.”

    ………………… Emily Dickinson as quoted by Thomas Wentworth
    ………………… Higginson in a letter to his wife (1870)

    ………………
    I’ve been interested in Emily Dickinson’s “haunted house” remark for many years, and like everything Emily Dickinson said or wrote it’s endlessly fertile. Like most writers, I think, her words have brought me right to the very edge of the questions I’ve been been trying to ask the universe all my life, and oddly enough one of those moments came up quite recently in a discussion with my friend, Dawn Potter. You can click here to read Dawn Potter’s poem and what we said about it — and if you thought we weren’t the close friends that we are, you can check that out too.

    I think this little exchange is as good an introduction to “haunting” in poetry as I could come up with, and as Dawn is partly responsible for this present discussion, I’m sure she won’t mind if I draw your attention to it. Dawn’s poetry is also so different from my own it might help us to apply these ideas in a wider context — my poetry and her’s are night and day, needless to say, as are Jack Gilbert’s and Stanley Kunitz’s, or Dawn Potter’s and Emily Dickinson’s.

    But before we begin, here’s a shape-shifter:

    The event that follows, and I mean the whole installation including the flags, appeared beside a road near our house quite recently, but when I asked my wife what it was she wouldn’t tell me and just said I shouldn’t even look at it, it was so dark. She said I should keep to the little hex signs in the new rice which depict Mae Pho Sop, whose name loosely translates as ‘Mother Demeter.’ She said I would understand Mae Pho Sop better and therefore be at less risk — even though men are forbidden entry to the Jung Kaew (rice barn) because she sits on top of the shimmering pile of new grain stark naked, and no man has ever recovered from that. That’s why in Thai culture only women climb up to collect the rice from the barn before the next meal or next planting.

    Hex Sign

    50 years ago I saw farmers in Sussex, the Cotswolds and Brittany weave newly harvested sheaves of wheat and barley into “Corn Dollies,” as they’re still called in craftshops and county fairs in the U.K. (“corn” = grain in the U.K.). Equally abstract as the above, they are invested with exactly the same function and power in rural areas of Europe even today, and I strongly suspect among Native Americans throughout the Western Hemisphere.

    Also I should mention that I’m just now going out into the rice to see if I can photograph Mae Pho Sop for you — if you look at the introductory photo to this post you can see my green bicycle and I’m already over that bamboo bridge on the edge of the rice which is just behind me. If you don’t hear more from me it will be because I got zapped.

    Christopher

    ………………

    • wfkammann said,

      February 21, 2014 at 5:31 am

  21. wfkammann said,

    February 20, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    Christopher,

    As you will recall, if you are still there, we visited Myanmar before coming to Chiang Mai. On Inle Lake we took a walk toward the Buddhist Temple and I looked to the left to see this fellow wallowing feet away. Yes, the world is full of spirits.

    At the Buddhist Temples at Bagan we found this Wat (spirit) as part of the complex. Yes, animism is alive and well in Myanmar and Thailand too.

    …………

    The idea that the world is filled with spirits is difficult to refute if you adopt a certain sensitivity.

    http://commonground.org.uk/

    But the work of art as inhabited by spirits or the poet as a creator of spirits to inhabit the poem. That implies that within a spirit world we can create something without spirit and then put a spirit in. That’s what the voodoo doll is and the mask and…… No wonder people don’t want their pictures taken.

    “I hesitate to define just what the qualities of a true wilderness experience are. Like music and art, wilderness can be defined only on its own terms. The less talk, the better.” Ansel Adams

    ………………

  22. February 21, 2014 at 7:16 am

    I went out into the paddies and called, and even though she’d obviously had a bad hair-day she came. Click on her and see (give her a bit of time to appear as she’s very big!).

    ………..

  23. February 21, 2014 at 7:37 am

    It’s masterful and silly at the same time, that’s what I said about Dali’s “Leda Atomica” just above.

    Indeed, I don’t really like the word “surrealism” to categorize art unless it’s used in a strictly historical context to describe the 1920s movement that tried to harness the so-called “power of the unconscious” as defined by Freud. The assumption was that Freud’s free association could unlock the hidden secrets buried deep in the psyche, and if artists just juggled images about a bit something would happen — sparks would fly, feelings would be felt, and hunches would turn into insight and sometimes even into deeper forces that could transform the psyche. Whether what was painted, filmed or spoken in the 1920s was of any permanent value, or based on any deeper understanding of the psyche than what had come before, is still an open question. Surrealism with a small ‘s,’ on the other hand, has come to describe a general style characterized by brightly-lit images with sharp edges that float arbitrarily in space, and, like the images in Dali’s Leda Atomica, have no clearly defined rational or ‘real,’ as we say, equivalent or function. Indeed, that’s all there is to it, and most of the time that’s not much.

    ‘Primitive art’ from Africa to South Asia, Australia and Oceania right on up to the Inuit in the Arctic, or wherever, is equally adept at dislocating the artifact from reality as ‘surrealism’ is. But there’s a huge, watershed difference too. Indeed, what distinguishes ‘surrealism’ from ‘primitive art’ most of all is the former’s emphasis on what has come to be called ‘magic-realism’ — ‘surrealist’ art tries to look even more real than real, ‘hyper-real’ we call it, as if the images had been photographed with an atomic camera and were then pumped up by magic, ‘photo-shopping’ is what we call that ‘magic’ today, and ‘digital’ the camera. The makers of ‘primitive art,’ on the other hand, assume just the opposite, that the created image is more real than the object and more charged with magical potency than the thing itself. Indeed, the ‘primitive’ artist feels the power resides in the ‘image’ or ‘word’ that stands for the thing rather than in the physical world which the thing inhabits, at least that’s the way it’s assumed to be in our modern cosmology, if I might call it that. And, of course, the ‘primitive’ artifact often looks nothing whatever like the factual or physical object it represents and, according to the ‘Primitive’ artist, it so powerfully controls.

    Like the ‘image’ of Mae Pho Sop I found on my bicycle yesterday. And what an irony that is – because in many ways Primitive Art is more intellectual than Modern Art, even when our Modern Art is at its most heady and abstract (you can look back at my “unweighed” poem for both those words).

    So there we are, and that’s precisely where I want to be as we get ready to look again at Remedios Varo’s painting more closely. I want to enter the high tower where the wraps are woven — “embroidering the earth’s mantel,” Remedios Varo calls it, and there it is right before our eyes.

    Christopher

    ………………

    • wfkammann said,

      February 21, 2014 at 9:50 am

      Dalí himself described the painting in the following way:

      “Dalí shows us the hierarchized libidinous emotion, suspended and as though hanging in midair, in accordance with the modern ‘nothing touches’ theory of intra-atomic physics. Leda does not touch the swan; Leda does not touch the pedestal; the pedestal does not touch the base; the base does not touch the sea; the sea does not touch the shore. . . .”

      The eggs; the two sets of twins; the adultery on the wedding night; the golden mean. In the end it all happens spontaneously; as if by chance.

  24. February 21, 2014 at 10:39 am

    As I said when it came up in this discussion before, the painting lacks both tension and mystery. It’s a beautiful study of a stuffed bird and a stuffed woman, but there’s no sex in either of them, and if there was it would have been awfully scratchy. Ditto what I said about the “hard face” which, like the light, has no grace in it in any sense of the word, just expensive magic-makeup. Technique with no juice is just technique with even less juice. And as to the title of the piece, I mean, “Leda Atomica” in 1949? Can you get much more insensitive than that? And the language of Dali’s note on its “meaning” would have killed off any hunch you might ever have had if you’d had the chance to see it in the 50s and thought there might be something to it.

    What a contrast between the painting’s posturing and this bit of extraordinary, almost embarrassing, genius-purple surrealist magic – which we all would still die for I feel sure:

    ……….. LEDA AND THE SWAN

    A sudden blow: the great wings beating still

    Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed

    By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,

    He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.


    How can those terrified vague fingers push

    The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?

    And how can body, laid in that white rush,

    But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?


    A shudder in the loins engenders there

    The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
    And Agamemnon dead.

    ………………………………… Being so caught up,

    So mastered by the brute blood of the air,

    Did she put on his knowledge with his power

    Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

    …………………………………… William Butler Yeats (1923)

    And I feel sure that the question at the end was a real one for W.B.Yeats too, as it still is for me.

    Christopher

  25. wfkammann said,

    February 22, 2014 at 12:34 am

    Christopher,

    Perhaps you’ll like these better. The first is Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate. Reminds me of the “pomegranate kisses.”

    And Swans Reflecting Elephants is the one Edward James was left with when he bought a year’s worth of the artist’s output. It has swans. As I recall, one of your family names is Swan, no?

    ……..

  26. February 22, 2014 at 9:51 am

    I don’t know why you thought I might like these paintings better, Bill, as I’d say they’re just as lacking in mystery as “Leda Atomica,” perhaps even more so. Because at least in “Leda Atomica” Dali used his wife as his model, which is something as marriage is always dangerous, and as a portrait of his wife “Leda Atomica” could be interesting.

    I’m no expert on this, but I suspect Dali’s greatest work was probably in his privately commissioned portraits from which he earned most of his very considerable income, most of which are hidden away in private collections. I can remember my mother being shocked that her friend Mrs S. had him paint her portrait for a huge sum, and in the end poor Mrs S. couldn’t even hang it on the wall. She was very beautiful, Mrs S, but I hated her because if I didn’t look her straight in the eye whenever I met her she would tell my mother, and that hurt me because I loved my mother and still my mother would let Mrs S. tell on me like that. Apparently Dali put some image in the painting that exposed her ability to hurt with her beauty as well as her tongue and her social position. I didn’t understand what that was as I was only 8 at the time (1948). Also, I never saw the painting.

    But the titles of these 2 paintings, they’re much better than “Leda Atomica,” indeed, André Breton would have been proud of Dali’s command of real Surrealist Language & Objects. But on the visual level even his tigers lack juice though there’s plenty of spit and polish on the surface of their boots which makes their toes really, really shiny.

    Emily Dickinson said that nature is a haunted house, but that art is a house that tries to be haunted. And therein lies the real challenge, it seems to me, because when it comes to these paintings of Salvador Dali there’s trying alright, but almost no haunting. In fact, Dali announced to the whole world almost everyday that he was trying, even in his mustache and cape he did, and indeed he put all his very considerable skill into every detail of his public trying so that the whole art market could see just how extraordinary his trying really was. But nothing much came of it because there was no juice in the trying, no commitment, folly or danger, just dry smoke and hard mirrors. No engagement, no risk, no possibility of failure — which is the real test of any true artist, I’d say, and that very much includes me. And I’m perfectly willing to admit that in the end that may well be the simple explanation of my failure, as Dawn says.

    And as far as my reputation is concerned, you seem to think that any painting with a pomegranate in it might cast light on my work, but I suspect you’re mocking my pomegranate more than you’re celebrating it. Mocking my trying, in other words, which I am, but by saying it over and over again you’re back in the playground again.

    And here’s what I actually said, Bill, and whether it’s successful or not you’ve got to admit that in describing Mary’s lap I jumped!

    ……………. …draped arabesques of trembling skin
    ……………. and shining pubis so defying gravity
    ……………. even the most upright Jove
    ……………. or holy Galileo
    ……………. bearded like our father’s angel
    ……………. tumbles to the maiden yet again,
    ……………. so hotly does the dreaming quiver
    ……………. fletched in abstract plumage
    ……………. hunger
    ……………. even for a single pomegranate kiss
    ……………. that scatters weight
    ……………. like rubies.

    …………….

    Christopher

    ……..

  27. February 23, 2014 at 10:05 am

    ………………

    Claude Monet, Femme à l'Ombrelle Tournée vers la GaucheClaude Monet, “Femme à l’ombrelle tournée vers la gauche,” Musée d’Orsay.
    …………..

    …….. SHE HOLDS THE HELPLESS BEAST UPON HER BREAST

    …………………..The bull escorts the matador
    …………………..as the Olympian artist once upon a beach
    …………………..his scantily attired just acquired life
    …………………..model wife.

    …………………..Sometimes the furious eyes
    …………………..are bright porcelain blue
    …………………..and class-act lacquered step
    …………………..light as a Shanghai Dragon Paladin’s
    …………………..sporting with his star-crossed foil,
    …………………..his rapier bride & serpent flyer—
    …………………..her silky court contortionist’s
    …………………..plumed and scented body
    …………………..vaulting at arm’s length
    …………………..high over the trembling
    …………………..withers like a white
    …………………..lace parasol—
    …………………..turned to the left and
    …………………..green underneath as his pond,
    …………………..to be sure,
    …………………..in the vertiginous shadow of
    …………………..such a perfectly disposed,
    …………………..perfectly groomed
    …………………..and pleated sex.

    …………………..Today’s sublime surprise
    …………………..and foxy artifact—
    …………………..Olympia’s dapper gent’s &
    …………………..sometime bull-impersonator’s
    …………………..favorite wife model at 5 o’clock
    …………………..any theatrical Sunday afternoon
    …………………..after the picnic on the grass
    …………………..or promenade along the beach,
    …………………..her coy radiance nothing like
    …………………..the sun before him—
    …………………..is right on cue
    …………………..rushed, bent and rudely poked
    …………………..as the swaggering genie
    …………………..mate puts on his latest
    …………………..fustian cape and mask-of-god,
    …………………..this time the black-beaked priapic
    …………………..regard raucous as a galloping swan
    …………………..rampant just behind her—
    …………………..and yet the more the
    …………………..grizzled wrought-iron brows are tossed
    …………………..and thick pomaded chest pumped
    …………………..the more the whirling girl
    …………………..openly displays the sheer swish
    …………………..of her silvery hips to make
    …………………..them glitter even more
    …………………..brightly in their mythic
    …………………..suit of fresh skin
    …………………..tight with pleasure
    …………………..and applause.

    …………………..Her arches too
    …………………..so fulsomely reflect
    …………………..the brilliance of the sand
    …………………..carefully raked beneath them
    …………………..she hardly needs
    …………………..to put on anything at all,
    …………………..just pirouettes
    …………………..on blushing wings
    …………………..before the brutal charge
    …………………..that such an elementary
    …………………..unzipped old master
    …………………..is an iron-nibbed,
    …………………..quadruped in black,
    …………………..not an artist—
    …………………..until the sable wand is drawn
    …………………..to deify him deftly
    …………………..like a cardinal
    …………………..all in red.

    ………………

    Christopher

    ………………

  28. February 24, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Why Galileo? Why his secret?

    And do I know his secret, or do I think that at one point I knew his secret, or even just guessed at some point that he must surely have had one? Even now 20 years after I started this book called GALILEO’S SECRET?

    Well, all I can say is I hope he did, and if he didn’t I’ll have to go back to the drawing board in my own life, I’m afraid, assuming as I do that there probably is a secret to the human predicament, caught as we are between heaven and earth — and assuming too that Galileo of all people was in a position to look into it. If he didn’t, if he thought that what he had found out about the universe was all there was to it, period, and that everything everybody else had ever thought including Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, St. Augustine, Peter Abelard, Meister Eckhart, and Giordano Bruno, among many others, was wrong, then I’ll have to start all over in my own struggle to come to terms with the fact that I know so much and so little at the same time, indeed, know everything there is to know and yet not one single thing.

    Sound familiar?

    For that’s the predicament I too share with Galileo though, needless to say, I share none of his genius. Yes, I’m a little bit good at some things but not even very good at anything what is more a leader in anything or an expert – and I can’t even write poetry that anybody else can read and I’ve spent 24 years now trying! Whereas Galileo was the best there ever has been at almost everything, because he ground those lenses too, you know, and there are technical secrets involved in the basic grinding and polishing process that nobody knows for sure even to this day. Indeed, you could call those lenses ‘secret’ if you dared, or even ‘occult.’ And in that description Galileo hasn’t yet put the thing to his eye what is more observed any moons moving around anything anywhere.

    Imagine. Galileo was able to prove something which was unthinkable in his own time — that is he was able to think of something that contradicted everything he had been taught and in which he believed with his whole heart and soul – with his whole mind based on his whole education, knowledge of history, religious training and life-experience. As plain, as we say, as the nose in the middle of his face.

    If you want to know how difficult that would have been in the 16th century, imagine if you developed in our own times a machine or tool that could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that God existed, and that more than that your machine or tool could definitively locate God in a dimension quite separate from the Universe that we know and live in, and that it was that God that had, in fact, created the dimensions we know as the Universe out of quite other dimensions than the ones in which we live and God doesn’t, so to speak? And imagine if you could prove beyond a shadow of doubt that ‘Love’ (for want of a better word) was in fact the primary energy or life-ray emanating from ‘God,’ and that your tool or machine could actually measure Love’s wave patterns and field-forces including its warmth, intensity and manner of locomotion as well as our scientists can measure the speed of light and the relationship between physical energy, weight, mass, time, duration and space? We can’t actually connect those things, of course, but never mind, most of us think we can, so let’s just imagine that we really know what we think we know and that someone has come along and proved conclusively once and for all that because we rely on sensory equipment that measures things in terms of dimensions which themselves are created out of dimensions outside our own dimensions including such familiar territory as inside/outside, big/small, close/distant, old/young, past/future, alive/dead, because of all that we are simply not in a position to understand that the earth actually is the center of creation in a wholly other sense even when in our new modern or ’empirical’ way of looking at things the earth is hardly there at all, or so small it doesn’t show up on the scale of things and is rapidly going out besides, in other words, dying?

    Imagine if you could think such thoughts in the mind of Galileo alone in your garden at Il Gioiello with no books or paper anymore for eight years, your life in ruins, your daughter dead, and everything you stood for beyond the pale? Imagine if you could make your peace with everything yet didn’t have to capitulate, or give up, or perjure yourself in any way, or be a hypocrite or deny your convictions or anybody else’s either — because you could see everything so clearly contradictions could lie down together in peace? Indeed, you could let it all lie down together and rest?

    Could you call that a ‘Secret’ even if you didn’t know what it was? And could you, as a result, come to love even these following final lines as I do?

    ……
    …………………“Yet still it moves!” the old beard raves,
    …………………the moon girdling a softer quarter—
    …………………the impossible return,
    …………………ocean fins quickening the landlocked water.

    ……..

    Christopher

    ……

  29. wfkammann said,

    February 24, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    Christopher,

    The Buddhist Philosophy speculates that the entire universe is a system of dependent (interdependent) origination and therefore there is no person or thing which has any permanent existence of its own. “Anatta” said the Buddha “no soul.”

    Your discussion of centricity of a God etc. is an example of what Buddhism calls “The Fundamental Ignorance” which results in the idea of an “I” and then a “mine.”

    The “secret” and I doubt that it was Galileo’s or yours, is that there is no permanent thing. The changeable world is the ultimate reality. Your agonizing evokes compassion and love but these emotions are not the product of a God in some parallel realm but the response of human beings who sense your suffering and wish they could show you a way to cross to the other side.

    OM MANI PADME HUM

    • wfkammann said,

      February 24, 2014 at 10:47 pm

      A bodhisattva is someone who says from the depth of his or her heart, “I want to be liberated and find ways to overcome all the problems of the world. I want to help all my fellow beings to do likewise. I long to attain the highest state of everlasting peace and happiness, in which all suffering has ceased, and I want to do so for myself and for all sentient beings.” According to the Buddha’s teaching, anyone who makes this firm and heartfelt commitment is a bodhisattva. We become bodhisattvas from the moment we have this vast and open heart, called bodhichitta, the mind bent on bringing lasting happiness to all sentient beings.

      Buddhist literature defines three types of bodhisattvas: the kinglike bodhisattva, the captainlike bodhisattva, and the shepherdlike bodhisattva.

      A kinglike bodhisattva is like a good king who first wants everything luxurious for himself, like a big palace, a large entourage, a beautiful queen, and so on. But once his happiness has been achieved, he also wants to help and support his subjects as much as possible. Accordingly, a kinglike bodhisattva has the motivation, “First, I want to free myself from samsara and attain perfect enlightenment. As soon as I have reached buddhahood, I will help all other sentient beings to become buddhas as well.”

      A captainlike bodhisattva would say, “I would like to become a buddha, and I will take all other sentient beings along with me so that we reach enlightenment together.” This is just as the captain of a ship crosses the sea, he takes his passengers with him, and they reach the far shore simultaneously.

      A shepherdlike bodhisattva is inspired by thinking, “I want to help all sentient beings to reach enlightenment and see the truth. Only when this is achieved and samsara is emptied will I become a buddha myself.” In actual fact it may not happen this way, but anyone who has this motivation is called a “shepherdlike bodhisattva.” In the old days, sheep were not kept in fenced pastures, and the shepherds had to bring them down from the mountains to protect them from wolves. They would follow behind the sheep, guiding them into their pen and lock them in. A shepherd would take care of his sheep first, and only then would he go home and eat.

      The bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara developed this shepherdlike motivation and is therefore considered to be the most courageous and compassionate of beings. He vowed, “I will not attain complete enlightenment until I have led all sentient beings to liberation without leaving a single one behind.”

      Ringu Tulku Rinpoche, Daring Steps Toward Fearlessness: The Three Vehicles of Buddhism

      • wfkammann said,

        February 24, 2014 at 10:54 pm

        This hymn from the funeral of Princess Diana is a way to link together the remarks above. Jesus was called “The Good Shepherd:” The fellow who said “Love your enemies.”

        The King of love my Shepherd is,
        Whose goodness faileth never,
        I nothing lack if I am His
        And He is mine forever.

        Where streams of living water flow
        My ransomed soul He leadeth,
        And where the verdant pastures grow,
        With food celestial feedeth.

        Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
        But yet in love He sought me,
        And on His shoulder gently laid,
        And home, rejoicing, brought me.

        In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
        With Thee, dear Lord, beside me;
        Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
        Thy cross before to guide me.

        Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
        Thy unction grace bestoweth;
        And O what transport of delight
        From Thy pure chalice floweth!

        And so through all the length of days
        Thy goodness faileth never;
        Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
        Within Thy house forever.

  30. wfkammann said,

    February 24, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    and a footnote:

    Today is the birthday of Jane Hirschfield, born in New York City (1953). She went to Princeton, where she was in the first graduating class to include women in 1973. She published her first poem not long after, then went off to northern California to study Buddhism for the next eight years, during which time she didn’t write at all. She said: ” I don’t think poetry is based just on poetry; it is based on a thoroughly lived life. And so I couldn’t just decide I was going to write no matter what; I first had to find out what it means to live.”

  31. February 25, 2014 at 11:17 am

    Dear Bill,
    Such a lot, so please forgive me for just starting somewhere. So here goes:

    Landscape 1 w/ Ring (You can keep on clicking on the ring to enter deeper and deeper but don’t disturb the wraps.

    Dear Bill,
    Referring specifically to your first post, what you say about Buddhist philosophy doesn’t really help me, indeed it’s precisely why I find Buddhism for the most part unsatisfactory. It’s a solution that tells you how to live quietly but doesn’t answer any of the awkward questions that are bound to arise if you keep pushing, as I feel sure Galileo did — and I mean the questions that are unanswerable and lead into the wildest, most irreconciliable contradictions as bad as the sun definitely being in more than one place at once. That’s why I find poetry better, why the answers are for me more likely to be expressed in surrealist connundrums and fables, for example, and not in Buddhist-type language which tends to be dry, unambiguous and even a bit cynical.

    In my experience, most Buddhists tend to substitute one set of dogmas for another, and their new set of beliefs becomes just as much a self-justification as well as a credo – like soldiers the new Buddhists march in step proud of their rational austerity and self-control. Their banners say, “We’re the ones who know the Truth because we don’t believe in anything. There’s no mystery, no meaning, and certainly no old fuddy-duddy God with a beard out there with some pie in the sky. We Buddhists have no soul, and we’re proud of it.”

    And then they get on those rails and zip down the track with no detours, indeed zip right on home like the suitors to somebody else’s house in Ithaca like in The Odyssey, and they don’t even know they are there.

    That’s a bit over the top I know, Bill, but in my experience Buddhists do tend to make a religion out of their attachment to higher philosophy — they light incense to it, do prostrations before it, visit gurus, read holy texts, look for holy signs, go for blessings, get initiated and in general belong to a clearly definable Faith which limits them hugely. And what I’m trying to do is talk about something else entirely — but you just hear the word “God” and think, “Ah, Christopher believes in God, poor guy.”

    ~

    Bill — what I just posted yesterday does not assert or even hint that God exists what is more that I believe in God, which I don’t because he’s dead. What I wrote was a parable, not a dogma or creed to follow — it was a way of saying something like a poem does, or an extended metaphor perhaps, like a riddle or even a hex-sign like the one I posted – and like a hex-sign, for example, if you just answer with the word “pentagram” you can’t possibly get what it really is or anything else for that matter, because “pentagram” is just a word in the dictionary with no danger, fear, awe or magic in it. It’s algebra – when you strip off the wraps with a word you reduce everything there is to mere algebra, the lowest common denominator with the wings cut off. And I want the wings not only back on but operative!

    Yes, and you read my poetry in the same way, literally, and that makes it “hard” for you — like assuming that the word “suitors” means you’re in The Odyssey so you know exactly what’s coming up next — and if what you expect doesn’t come up next you say the poem is confused, not that perhaps you’re a reader on rails. When you do that the juice goes out of whatever you’re reading and you’re left with your own rail-bound convictions intact. You’re left with just what you already know before you begin, you’re left with an exact algebra where the unknowns have all been dutifully filled in beforehand so there’s only just one solution to be found. And in fact what you’re left with is no answer at all, just what you had all the time in your head.

    ~

    Whether it was effective or not, and I really don’t know, what I wrote about yesterday was about what nobody knows, including me. And that’s why it was shaped like a riddle. And as a footnote to that, think about this: if Telemachus had stopped at the first shape Proteus took when he got hold of him there would have been no Proteus, or any Odyssey either for that matter.

    ~

    So this is what I want to say to you, Bill, loosely paraphrasing something else I wrote that you couldn’t read either:

    Oh dear, Bill, you’ve got it so wrong. Indeed you’re exactly like the suitors in The Odyssey, you hang on to what you’ve got as if it were your own and it ‘s not. What you do is strip all the mystery off life like the clothes off a girl, which is much too fierce and rude a way to express love for anything, and least of all for the girl in somebody else’s house. You don’t seem to realize that like everything else in the physical world a girl is wrapped up in her mystery, indeed even the size of things is a mystery wrapped around nature, how wide things are as well , what the scenery looks like, all those things are just wraps, and if you don’t respect the wraps there won’t be any mystery left anymore than there will be anything left of a girl who’s been stripped by force of her clothes!

    Bill, I don’t think that’s hard in the words at all but it’s extremely hard with regard to understanding what’s under the clothes which we suitors want to forcibly lift!

    And this is even harder, which is probably why you don’t mention it. But it’s precisely where it’s at:

    ……
    …………………“Yet still it moves!” the old beard raves,
    …………………the moon girdling a softer quarter—
    …………………the impossible return,
    …………………ocean fins quickening the landlocked water.

    ……

    On the other hand, maybe this will work better for you because it contains no myths or legends and only one quite simple metaphor. And it’s the last poem in Galileo’s Secret.

    …………………
    ……………..WHERE THE TRUTH LIES

    …………………The truth lies in this last silence,
    …………………in what remains of the most precious manuscript
    …………………after the fire,
    …………………consumed by such intense and unexpected heat
    …………………each page lies there perfectly in order
    …………………yet crumbles to fine powder
    …………………the moment that we touch it.
    …………………We cannot read it so refined
    …………………but only mourn it,
    …………………and start again tomorrow.

    …………………The pile of pure white ash
    …………………you sweep up from your hearth
    …………………contains everything you know,
    …………………but what’s the value if it can’t be read
    …………………by any present reader?

    …………………“It was good, I think,” you say, “all I knew,”
    …………………and then recount the plot—
    …………………but no one’s listening to the message
    …………………but only glad to know you,
    …………………glad to know you’ll be there,
    …………………nothing on to follow.
    ……..

    Christopher

  32. omino23 said,

    February 25, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    Sometimes designers or programmers of video games include what is referred to as an “Easter Egg” in the game. This “egg” is usually hidden or only accessible though a either tedious or highly convoluted process well outside of the regular game activities.

    An example of these hidden delights might be if you go to http://www.google.com and type in the search box “Do a barrel roll” you will see the whole browser screen turn 360 degrees. This is a reference to the hugely popular classic “Starfox” produced by Nintendo in 1993. It is put in there to appeal to folks who grew up during the 80’s and who find themselves somewhere in their 30s now.

    One might argue that poetry often features many of these “Easter eggs”, that reference or evoke the whole range of human thought and feeling. I agree that annotations explaining away every little thing remove much of the mystery, it is one thing to beat a difficult game without any hints, another entirely to read the strategy guide and use a cheating code to “lift up the clothes” as you put it.

    Some Easter eggs remained secret and were hidden so well that they never came to light at all or were known only to the programmers and developers of the game. Some of these are simply messages in the code that a regular player would never be able to access. I am sure there are many that we do not know about and never will.

    So I beg to leave us poor unfortunates who are ignorant and blind a bread crumb trail in your poems so that we might also “Do a barrel roll” with you. But don’t of course just tell us “up up down down left right left right B A start” lets you start with 30 extra lives, we want the full experience.

  33. February 26, 2014 at 7:57 am

    That’s very exciting, Omino — particularly as I’m possibly the only computer literate person left on earth who has never played a computer game. On the other hand, I have developed a degree of intimacy with programming through managing this blog and more so even as the designer of http://www.homprang.com. Both are very simple compared to the level of what you call “the strategy guide” employed by highly trained programmers, for example, but I have managed to learn quite a lot of html code all the same and have been stunned by the extraordinary, indeed miraculous existential dislocate between the instructions I write in code and the result I experience through my eye on the screen, and above all how I can hide things under “the dark secret wraps” in the process. Indeed, I can see precisely the parallel to the “mystery” I’m arguing for when I rail against “lifting the clothes,” and it’s mind-blowing to me that somebody not only got what I was trying to say but found a parallel that for a moment made it look easy! And that’s truly exciting for me — that there is somebody out there who understands what I’m talking about. That’s a shot in the arm “beyond belief,” which is precisely what I’m talking about as well.

    And you write so clearly about it too, Omino – what an extraordinary gift to be able to write like that, and specifically a gift to me, Lung Kip, so out of the loop. That’s what I’m called here where I live — “Lung” means any man older than your parents and “Kip” is my childhood nickname which my Thai family use because they can’t say “Christopher.” At Chiang Mai University I was “Ajarn Christopher,” which means “Professor Christopher,” of course, but literally it means “Revered Master Christopher.” At home I’m just this bumbling old guy, “Lung Kip,” and the secret’s right in there too, make no mistake about it, like something out of King Arthur.

    I’ll be back to you soon with a response to your final paragraph but I’m too busy waiting on the table in ordinary time to respond to you now. But I might just add that being a servant helps when it comes to the wraps, just as servants are so often the only ones who get to see her truly naked.

    Christopher

    NOTE ADDED LATER: Omino 23’s previous comment was a quote from Frank Herbert’s “God Emperor of Dune” on the same theme, and I remember it well as he was already thinking toward where we are now. You can look at it here, and you might be interested in my response at the time as well.

  34. February 26, 2014 at 10:52 am

    LATER STILL: I’m not going to write more in response to Omino 23 today as I’m too excited and know I’m going to blot my copy if I do.

    Meanwhile I’d just like to draw your attention to the fact that my poem, ”She Holds the Helpless Beast Upon Her Breast,” explores these themes too in a graphic and, to my way of thinking, delightfully erotic as well as critical way – which is what I strive for in my poetry, and is probably why it’s not liked at all, by any.

    The Monet painting that introduces “She Holds the Helpless Beast Upon Her Breast” provides one of the most important images in the poem for a start, and if you don’t know the story of the girl under the umbrella it’s very easy to research with a few clicks — which is what I’d hope any engaged reader would do. Ditto “Olympia’s dapper gent,” speaking of servants in the know, how Manet painted the chambermaid with that megabuck bouquet behind her mistress, how she stands there so publicly in her own midnight skin near the equally black cat. And of course Olympia isn’t naked at all in the painting either as the scandalized visitors to the 1865 Paris Salon so bitterly complained. I mean that orchid in her hair, can you imagine? The velvet ribbon encircling her neck, the cloud of expensive jewelry draped all over her perfect figure, the aggressive breasts, the cheeky, almost macho gaze? And the shoes, in bed? And as to Picasso on the beach at Cap d’Antibes with Françoise Gilot under that umbrella in 1951, does anybody not know the drama of the girl 40 years younger than the master, the story of her own brilliance as a woman which so powerfully complemented the genius of her celebrated lover right to the end of his life and on in her own remarkable life to this very day at 93? I mean, who holds the helpless beast upon the breast in this case, Leda or the swan?

    And if you’ve never read it, have a look at Carl Phillips’ “Leda, After the Swan.”

    ………………
    ………………then everything, I
    ………………remember, began
    ………………happening more quickly.
    ………………

    C.

    • February 27, 2014 at 11:30 am

      I don’t really like to leave a little tag hanging at the end of a comment, particularly when it’s by a poet I admire as much as Carl Phillips.

      I’m referring to those 3 lines from the end of “Leda, After the Swan.”

      What I like so much is the idea that a celestial rape (bad trip, or even a good one? nervous breakdown? brush with death, psychotic trauma or visionary collapse and/or transformation???) is so much huger and more cataclysmic than the event one remembers. Indeed, there are just hunches left over — like a “barely defined/ shoulder, whose feathers/ came away in my hands” (that’s Carl Phillips at his best!). And of course all that bruising and stitching (Troy burning and/or your own body when you’re the victim of a rape — terrible). And then one wakes up to what one knows in this world, including one’s own inexpressible loneliness and incomprehension. And yet? And yet?

      In relation to that deepest of all human feelings I’d like to draw your attention to a comment in the previous thread that might be helpful:

      Why Galileo is described as “holy” is unanswered in my poem, “In Pursuit of the Still Unweighed,” but is dealt with throughout “Galileo’s Secret.” The riddle is so huge I couldn’t give you a pat answer – indeed, I don’t know the answer. That’s why I wrote the book, and am still working on it.

      There’s one little poem in the middle of the book that might give you some idea about where my mind goes in relation to Galileo’s state of mind while in exile:
      ………..

      ………..“A TRAGIC MUTUAL INCOMPREHENSION”
      John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy of Science, Oct. 31st, 1992
      ……………………..
      …………………………Even as you bow to let
      …………………………that desert rose be cut
      …………………………into your winter’s root

      …………………………the rude green rush
      …………………………redeemed his heart,
      …………………………his hands — the heat!
      ……………………..
      …………………………..

      Christopher

  35. February 27, 2014 at 10:19 am

    So now I’ve got to take this bull by the horns and see if, like Europa, I can ride it.

    What I found so exciting about Omino 23’s “Easter Egg” comment was that someone had actually been able to read my own parable for what it was and then reply with another, very different parable equally fertile. Because, of course, my example of someone proving the existence of God in our times with an irrefutable “machine or tool” was just that, a tall-tale or sci-fi fable, and it was supposed to illustrate how difficult it would have been for Galileo as well to have proven that God did not, in fact, place the earth at the center of things as described in Genesis. Of course, Galileo did invent a “machine or tool” that proved irrefutably that the sun was at the center of the universe, as we say, not the earth as in God’s well-publicized plan in The Bible, and that in the process he undermined the whole world-order of his time. Indeed, Galileo was able not only to think the unthinkable, as I call it, but came up with a machine that would allow any old person in the street to see he was right with their own eyes, as we say.

    And what a terrible and frightening thing to have done, particularly when, as I feel sure, Galileo revered The Holy Bible as much as anyone of his time and would never have wished to belittle what is more destroy God’s Creation – a terrible predicament for a man of such genius, and of course a predicament which Galileo had 8 years to live with without the distraction of any more scientific research. That’s my point, and although I have no special genius and can’t think much beyond my own nose when it come to science, I can make things up like a Magus – or like Omino 23 has suggested, a Designer or Programmer of Video Games! And I don’t mind the parallel at all as I know I’m not a Magus, or indeed anything special. But I do know that as an ordinary human being I have a hunch there’s a secret in or out there, as the case may be, and that poetry is a way I can approach it. That video games would help me to approach that riddle is no problem for me at all.

    And think about this. I fleshed out my parable about my own “machine or tool” so completely that at least one reader assumed I believed in it, whereas I was just fiddling around with language to create a theory that sounded pretty plausible with a god called “God” in a “Dimension” that was dimensionless and was therefore in a position to create our own dimensions while still exisiting on His Dimensionless Plane. And I would add now that that really does sound a lot like an “Easter Egg” – or maybe just being dead.

    What I must deal with next are Omino 23’s well-expressed reservations about what I’m doing, and I will – and I don’t mean to refute them but to open them up a bit more and hope he will come back to discuss them.

    But before I go now I’d like to leave you with that extraordinary final image on the beach from Carl Sagan’s story called “Contact” made into the wonderful film by Robert Zemeckis and starring Jodie Foster. I’m not going to say anything about it because if you haven’t seen it I’d like you to go there on your own. It too is just a parable, but isn’t it fascinating that we have to go to a place like that to begin to think like Galileo in exile?

    Christopher

    • omino23 said,

      February 28, 2014 at 2:20 am

      Was just reading about the Catholic priest/physicist/astronomer, Georges Lemaître, and was struck by his work and what you mention above about revolutionary changes in human understand and cosmology.

      While the work of Galileo hundreds of years ago lends itself well to this discussion consider also that in the 1930s Lemaître proposed a “primordial atom” or “cosmic egg exploding at the moment of creation” that would lay the foundation of the big bang theory and our “scientific” creation myth.

      When Pope Pius XII saw this theory as scientific proof of the Catholic faith Lemaître responded:

      “As far as I can see, such a theory remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being… For the believer, it removes any attempt at familiarity with God… It is consonant with Isaiah speaking of the hidden God, hidden even in the beginning of the universe.”

      You can read the article, “Georges Lemaître, Father of the Big Bang,” here.

      And there’s always this from “Jurassic Park.”

      ………………

  36. February 28, 2014 at 5:30 am

    Thanks for that, Omino – both snippets are wonderful.

    I’ve never suggested that anything I say here is new or “revolutionary,” indeed I have the feeling that my clumsy fumbling with all these “secrets” and “hunches” is because my mental faculties are in some ways less developed than the minds of people in the past.

    Here where I live in Northern Thailand I can sense that every day. My old mother-in-law can’t even write her own name, for example, what is more read a road sign or the instructions on a label, but she knows things I don’t know and never will. Indeed I know so little about the things she knows and sense so little of what she experiences that I don’t even know what those things are! Like the Sea Gypsy people who live on the west coast of Thailand adjoining the Andaman Sea who were able to flee to high ground before the Tsunami hit in 2004. Apparently they listened to the animals, in particular to the elephants that they keep just for that purpose. All our sort of people on the beach didn’t know the Tsunami was coming and perished. And a footnote to all that is that the Sea Gypsy people don’t even know what a Tsunami is in our terms — for them it’s a very powerful spirit with a life of its own and they know how to live with it.

    I have the feeling my mind is less developed in some ways probably because it’s more developed in others. My mother-in-law, who lives with us and chews betel all day long, hasn’t a clue what I’m doing, and often makes little jokes at my expense (they’re always loving, but nevertheless). Above all she finds my office stuffed with books and papers hilarious, and also the way I sit there for hours at my desk doing absolutely nothing worthwhile – while she’s weaving the most beautiful baskets you’ve ever seen and gathering plants to dry for medicine. She also has no existential problems, and no questions about this life what is more about the next.

    Educators all through South East Asia are stumped about how to develop a taste for reading among young people, very aware that until they do the level of education will remain poor. The problem is that although there is a high rate of minimal literacy in the region, there is no natural appetite for reading, even among the educated – even my colleagues at CMU with PhDs from abroad had very few books in their offices, even when they were teaching literature! And there wasn’t even a Common Room with all those current periodicals we so love and take for granted, indeed one of the primary perks of being an academic in the west, isn’t it? My Thai colleagues just weren’t interested in reading at all, just laughing and eating together, which they did all day.

    In general the cultures in the region are intensely communal, and from a very young age children are taught to keep their eyes up and stay constantly engaged with others. As they sit for everything on a mat on the floor in a circle, they stay in touch with everybody all the time at eye level, not just with the person across the table as we do, or in the next chair. Traditionally there is simply no place in the dwelling to put your head down either, even for children to do there homework, which as a result many, many simply don’t, compounding the education problem. Because of course when people do start to turn inward intellectually they will lose so much of the genius which enabled them to inherit the earth in the first place. And what an irony that is.

    The sort of questions I’m dealing with in my poetry are only of interest to those who have lost the earth, in a sense, and are already off space-traveling – which I am. And I’m not talking videos and computer games, I’m talking about thinking.

    My feeling is that most occult theories today, Theosophical, Anthroposophical, New Age Theological like Georges Lemaître, and there are many, and the numerous other old-style New Thinkers all the way from Ouspensky to Ron Hubbard and Osho, are grasping at straws. They all assume that there are spiritual certainties from the past that can simply be grafted on to present science to create what Rudolf Steiner called in one of his most influential books, Spiritual Science. My own feeling is that what we really need to do is more like what is suggested in the title of one of Trungpa Rimpoche’s books, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism — and I mean more in the title than in the content (though it’s excellent, and very influential too, it’s not about what I mean).

    Which is also what I hope we’re doing here, Omino, and I thank you for your contribution which has really helped to free things up — I was beginning to feel very much alone. On the other hand, I’m not going to be interested in “spiritual science” of any sort unless it’s expressed in some sort of “poetry,” which is usually going to mean parable or metaphor. Like your games, for example, or “Contact.” And by “poetry” I also mean, needless to say, painting, music, dance, theatre, sport and just plain play like chess, blind-man’s-bluff, crosswords, Sudoku, scuba-diving, knitting, wood-carving and weaving.

    Or ‎this — if you can a.) take it seriously, b.) find it delightfully wacky, and c.) read it as poetry all at once. Indeed, if you get stuck in any one of those ways of approaching it you’ll have lost the celestial thread, which is why good poems are so often as confusing as they are endlessly suggesting new meanings.

    Christopher

    ADDED A BIT LATER: also gardening, hiking, meditation, bird-watching, going to church, sailing, bicycling, fishing, and above all living in a culture which you don’t understand at all for 20 years, being in prison, and getting old.

  37. March 1, 2014 at 7:32 am

    A bit more on your “Easter Egg” analogy, Omino — I promised I would try to reply to your reservations about my poetry as well.

    Have a look at this. You’ll see my bicycle propped up against the fence so I could look more closely at the thing that had just appeared by the roadside. I had to wait a moment so a farmer on another bicycle could go by — you’ll see him in the distance.

    This is a very private and probably dangerous apparition, and I didn’t want him to see me peeking. You can click on it to see what I saw more clearly — I don’t know whether the fighting cock was part of the show or not, but there he is.

    Hex and Bike

    It seems to me that there’s a big difference between things that are hidden in order to be difficult and things that are difficult because they are by nature difficult or, even harder to accept, perhaps, because they require human perceptions that not everybody is born with but which any human being can develop in time.

    With regard to the former, “things that are hidden in order to be difficult,” everybody should be on the same playing field for that and essentially playing by the same rules — like in a treasure hunt at a summer camp. The camp counselors have constructed a course of discovery based on clues the campers have to decipher, and it’s to everybody’s advantage that a.) the clues actually mean something and b.) if you do crack the code there is, in fact, a treasure to be had at the end. I remember one summer about 1950 that my team of very young campers had to dive for the treasure which was sealed in a large glass jar tethered to a stone at the bottom of the lake. When we realized the clue meant it was underwater all we had to do was establish the spot in relation to a dock, the peak of Mt. Monadnock, and a big tree, all of which we knew well. It was thrilling but doable, and the treasure was the ultimate that summer — Mars Bars!

    The Easter Egg in Computer Games is, as you say, “usually hidden or only accessible through an either tedious or highly convoluted process well outside of the regular game activities.” With regard to poetry such a game would bore me, as it’s all just tricks. And such a gamer is hardly going to be sexy as a poet, I’d say, so my image of “lifting the skirt” would very likely lead to a not very pleasant sight. I mean, what does hiding something in a code that nobody can crack and which reveals something that is otherwise un-noteworthy add to the sum of things? Not much for me.

    If you think that image through a bit, I think you’ll see that on an existential level this is not a parallel when it comes to a genuine struggle to understand life through poetry – i.e. the intolerable wrestle with love, grief, loss, time, death, surrender, hope and wonder, all with just ordinary, everyday, humdrum words.

    Your suggestion that I might be persuaded to leave “a bread crumb trail” for my readers implies that I wouldn’t do that unless I had to. It implies that I’m writing about things that anybody could understand if just expressed more clearly. My point is that at a certain point in the exploration of things you realize you’re way in over your head yourself, as I feel sure Galileo did. And the next step is not deliberate obfuscation but something else entirely, a bowing down, a yielding up, an admission of both ignorance and impotence, and if one is patient the arrival of something that’s not really but almost like prayer at the point of surrender. And my argument is that it’s the job of a poet to try to get there and, furthermore, that this is unlikely to happen if the poet just provides a comprehensible answer for the sake of clarity. That would be, as I’ve said a number of times, just algebra – the lowest common denominator without any wings and going nowhere you haven’t already been.

    So that’s the easy part done now, talking in code that we both know. It’s much harder to talk about how we talk about things we don’t know how to talk about, and why “stripping away the dark secret wraps,” as I called it in my introductory poem to Galileo’s Secret, is unlikely to take a poet deeper into things which are by nature hidden. That’s a lot harder to say.

    Christopher

  38. March 2, 2014 at 7:23 am

    I deleted the previous comment and emended the ending of Comment 37 just above because I realized I had repeated myself. I didn’t mean to do that, and I ask you to forgive me.

    Christopher

  39. March 2, 2014 at 8:55 am

    This is a poem in the same section as “Because To Stay is to Be Nowhere” from Galileo’s Secret — Part III is called “Inheriting the Salt Kingdom” after a line from Stanley Kunitz’s poem, “King of the River.”

    ………………
    …… WHY WE CAN’T LOVE YOU

    ………. Our balkaned country’s
    ………. not so quick as your
    ………. kitchen-garden kingdom.

    ………. The escarpments rise too
    ………. precipitously white
    ………. and difficult
    ………. for courtship unfamiliar
    ………. with the dry-stone divinations
    ………. cast in fields logic can’t plough
    ………. or lessons harvest.

    ………. Don’t be astonished that
    ………. your green hips and poppy
    ………. stained embankments
    ………. can’t distract us from our grief—
    ………. it’s the scent of the tight fruit
    ………. of old trees and lost hedgerows
    ………. makes us wild
    ………. for dark restless brides
    ………. with high-arched country feet.

    ………. If we sit down and weep
    ………. beside your still waters with you
    ………. we will never quench our
    ………. thirst for those lean,
    ………. burn and briar spun limbs
    ………. that leap
    ………. the starveling falls
    ………. and make the last return
    ………. the furious bridegroom’s best—
    ………. the saintly salmon’s honeymoon
    ………. our bliss—
    ………. the blood-streaked spawn,
    ………. the long white body’s gentle rest.
    ……….

    Christopher

    ………………

  40. March 3, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Haunted House 450

    Be careful — this is a haunted house, a real one. Indeed, I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on it for 15 years now and little by little it’s become this, and if you dare you can just keep clicking and clicking, as we say, and eventually you’ll catch a glimpse of the ghost in the machine as Arthur Koestler called it. Indeed, if you hang in there you’ll eventually see yourself as in a mirror and realize that’s all you’ve ever seen, or will.

    But be careful even more so on this next one, be truly careful. If you just say to yourself “Halloween” or “Funny Noises,” or “Dungeons and Dragons” more likely today, or even if you’re proud and know enough to say “All Hallows Eve” or, let’s go for it even farther, losing faster: Totensonntag, Samhain, Hop-tu-Naa, Calan Gaeaf, Allantide — keep going with the sensible explanations and you’ll be farther and farther off the mark and more and more in danger. And the danger comes about because your monkey mind with all its well-informed words and dictionary definitions is all the time distancing you from your roots, and a rootless tree has no “silt-lapped limbs” to hold it down anymore and, more like a balloon than a tree, you’ll soon have lift-off. That may be how you want to be, up in the air, weightless with Yuri Gagarin, Neil Armstrong and the others, but there’s a big sacrifice in that. “All nature is a haunted house,” said Emily Dickinson, and by taking off (or “stripping off” as I call it in “In Praise of the Still Unweighed”), you’ll be left with just “Art” which is, as Emily Dickinson explained to her charming, handsome, brave and intelligent but obtuse friend, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, “a house that tries to be haunted.”

    Which is why art comes after craft — we’ve talked about that a lot already. And in this craft-world where I live, the most valuable material is teak, a most extraordinary wood that not only has a most beautiful shade and texture but which never rots, isn’t damaged by insects, even termites, and is a hardwood yet’s as easy to carve as butter. That’s the true miracle of teak, how it yields to the chisel, adze or carving knife, as if its spirit participated in its own transformations into chests, ships, chairs and sacred images. A willing partner in man’s endless search for beauty as well as his desire to make things that can stand up to the ravages of time. That’s teak, an angel in wood.

    Well, the above house is all teak, and the tragedy is that there’s no other source of teak for Thai carvers, cabinet makers, craftsmen and builders but old farm buildings to supply the most important raw material for Thai crafts. Because there is almost no living teak remaining in Thailand, all its great forests having been clear-cut in the 1920s and 30s by European “teak wallahs” who left Chiang Mai with a gymkhana club and polo but no trees. No trees at all, and indeed it’s illegal in Thailand today to cut a teak tree down, if you can find one, and if you want to grow one, and we have three small ones at home, you have to register them with the police. And of course they take 100 years to mature.

    Yes, the only source of teak for ordinary Thai people is old farm houses like the one above, and they’re everywhere because as soon as Thais can afford it they want to sell the old wooden house and build a proper cement house like they see on TV, even with a chimney though it’s much too hot for a fire. At Baan Hom Samunphrai we don’t have the same reservations about the rural past, and indeed our whole place is constructed out of old farm houses we have bought in the neighborhood, taken apart stick by stick (there are no nails in the old ones), put in the back of our pickup truck, and reconstructed at home — if you look at our website you can see lots of photos of the houses we have reconstructed in this way.

    I found the house above on my bicycle 15 years ago and rushed home to tell my wife because it’s only 3 or 4 miles from where we live, and the wood is excellent — still is. She came with me to look, thinking we would buy it, of course, but the moment that she saw it she turned her head away and took me home. “Don’t even look at it,” she said, “don’t ask or even think about it.” And she’s never mentioned the house again and I haven’t mentioned that I’m still delicately and sensitively watching it out of the corner of my eye either. I ride by perhaps once a week and pretend to look the other way but I’m not.

    So dangerous is a house like this that no workman would ever lay his hands on it even if you dared to try to buy it. Yes, the monks could come but even then nobody would accept a stick if only because everybody else would look at you with such horror — how could you be so foolish? No, don’t even ask about it. Don’t even think.

    And what if you needed the land for something else?

    Take it to the Wat with 9 monks in attendance and stack it up in a corner. Nobody will look, don’t worry, and every stick will be there in the Wat forever.

    Christopher

    Another, not quite so dark but just as empty and unthinkable:

    Haunted House #2

  41. wfkammann said,

    March 4, 2014 at 7:31 am

    Navajo Hogan

    On the Navajo Reservation they believe in Ghosts or Chindi and if someone dies in a house or hogan it must be abandoned. As a result, today people are taken to the Hospital to die so they don’t have to abandon the house.

    “Many cultural taboos are associated with the hogan and its use. Should a death occur in the structure, the body is either buried in the hogan with the entry sealed to warn others away, or the deceased is extracted through a hole knocked in the north side of the structure and it is abandoned and often burned. A hogan may also become taboo for further use if lightning strikes near the structure or a bear rubs against it. Wood from such structures is never reused for any other purpose by a Navajo.”

  42. March 4, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Thank you for that, Bill — I should imagine that just about all people in the world have similar customs with regard both to their dwelling places and those who die within them.

    Where I live it is customary for old people to die at home, and I found it very moving to be with my Thai family during the two year period when my father-in-law was dying in the little room off the main living space downstairs. A doctor was never once called during those two years, nor was the suggestion ever made that the old man be moved to a more suitable place, whatever that might be. And when he finally did breathe his last breath the whole family was there around him massaging his hands and his feel while giving him permission to go well whenever he was ready. And what they were doing, of course, was massaging their own hands and feet as well and giving themselves permission to let their father go. For that’s the true mystery of human death, that when it’s not done properly a haunting may take place within the soul of those who are left behind. For it’s within our own hearts and minds that we are haunted when we cannot let things go, and most of all those we love and cannot live without, or even those we hate. Indeed, sometimes whole communities are haunted thus, even whole nations.

    At death in the house where I live the body is immediately stripped, washed, shaved or made-up, dressed in clean clothes, and then wrapped tightly in whatever cloth is available with just the face remaining visible – all done by the family at home. The body is then laid in a simple wooden coffin and a beautiful shrine-like structure is constructed all around it with wood, cardboard, tin foil and colored paper and then covered with banana leaves, ferns, flowers, and fairy-lights so that it looks like a little royal palace. For three days the body lies there at home while everybody in the whole village camps out around the house preparing food together, eating, talking quietly, and chanting with the monks – and the message is always : “Everything’s fine here. You can go. We’re fine and you don’t need to worry about us. You can go now.”

    When the moment comes to burn the body the monks come with a white cotton rope which they tie around the coffin and its trappings. The whole thing is then lifted onto a cart and the rope passed on hand by hand first to the monks and then to the family and on to as many people from the village as can get a hand to it – there may be 100 people drawing along the cart to the fire. And the monks say over and over again: “You’re fine. You can go. We’re here to help you go and everything’s fine.” And that goes on right to the flame – an open coffin, an open face, an open log fire. And the moment the flames appear the whole crowd turns away and walks quietly back home without looking back. Nobody looks back even for a moment, and the spirit goes.

    Hauntings happen when all that doesn’t happen. And the irony in this particular case is, of course, that in a Buddhist context there is no soul to go anywhere yet those who are left behind can still be haunted by it.

    That’s just a fable – there are countless variations all over the world. And of course there are many other kinds of hauntings beside by ghosts of dead people just as there are many kinds of ghosts as well. When Emily Dickinson said all Nature is a haunted House, for example, she clearly didn’t mean that all Nature had the ghosts of dead people in it. And of course that’s a fable too.

    Christopher

  43. wfkammann said,

    March 5, 2014 at 12:00 am

    Animism puts a spirit in the place; in the tree; in the brook; in the mountain; and in all animal life. So, it is natural for Emily to say that the world is a haunted house.

    The more interesting part is the statement that the work of art is trying to be haunted: that a successful work of art becomes a house haunted by the spirits created by the artist or that the artist creates a world where the reader (observer/listener) is able to sense the spiritual or project it into the work.

    Are there works of art which are not haunted? What would be an example? Why is it not haunted?

    Is such a work of art inferior to one which is haunted?

    Animism is much older than Buddhism. You will remember that Padmasambhava subdued all of the demonic forces in Tibet; paving the way for the introduction of tantric Buddhism.

    Padmasambhava/Guru Rinpoche/Lotus Born

    Is an image like the one above possessed of a spirit? If so, is it a work of art? This question is in response to your contention that Thailand is a craft culture with no “art.”

  44. wfkammann said,

    March 5, 2014 at 12:28 am

    To begin to answer my own question, I propose Mozart’s “Musical Joke” as an example of a work of art which is not haunted. The banality of the music; the senseless repetition; the strained harmonies are meant to make you groan in agony and laugh at the intentional grotesque absurdity of the music. It is, however, for a person not trained to get the “joke” perhaps only a slightly boring piece of music, until the end, that is, which is like a loud fart (in case you still didn’t get it).

  45. March 5, 2014 at 7:15 am

    What you say just doesn’t make sense to me, Bill. How does “Animism” put a spirit in the place?” Animism is just an anthropological term which describes how some people see the world and, as a result, lead their lives. It’s a term used by scientists who look at primitive people from the outside, and it states that such people believe there are spirits in trees, brooks, and mountains. The term doesn’t do anything at all beyond making that observation, and certainly doesn’t put spirits in nature, as if it were a god. Such observers just look and talk, that’s all, and they don’t look or talk very well either because it’s all based on hypotheses couched in unverifiable and almost certainly wrong statements about people they study from the outside and therefore don’t understand at all. Because primitive people don’t put spirits in nature. The spirits are in nature already and these people can see them there. And who are we to say they aren’t? Just because we modern people don’t see them either? You mean because they don’t show up on our dials like acupuncture points, quarks and bosons?

    What you say would be equivalent to saying Galileo put the earth in its orbit around the sun whereas God put it at the center of His Creation, setting up a personal dispute between them. And the distinction is crucial — putting it that way you make Galileo an alternative to God, as if Galileo had created the world himself, whereas the two models are both descriptive and refer to alternative realities human beings imagine in different ways even to this day. Are you simply going to dismiss all those countless millions who see things you just can’t? Because that would be both unkind and foolish.

    And then you say, “So” — “So, it is natural for Emily to say that the world is a haunted house.” And why is that “natural?” I want to know. Because animism puts spirits in nature it’s natural for Emily Dickinson to see them there? Is that what you mean?

    And that’s a very serious challenge, Bill – indeed, it’s based on everything I’ve been trying to affirm throughout this thread, including trying to get you to read my poem, “In Praise of the Still Unweighed,” as I wrote it and not as you say I didn’t. The poem says it’s wrong to strip away the wraps, and at this instance it says it’s wrong for you to say, “Hey, it’s just animism!” That’s a violation of the secret life within the soul of Nature and everything else, and it’s also a violation of everything Emily Dickinson ever wrote. I mean it’s almost like your explaining her love poetry by saying that of course she was a lesbian, and we discussed that one a lot!

    C.

  46. wfkammann said,

    March 5, 2014 at 7:26 am

    Christopher,

    Yes, Galileo is a perfectly good substitute for God and his view does not do away with the idea of a God since it was “only” human beings who thought God put the earth in the center of creation in the first place.

    When I first met Ida she asked me my favorite color; I said “blue.” After a while she said, “Well, aren’t you going to ask me my favorite color?” I was so embarrassed by my lack of social graces (which I often am) that I replied “No, I don’t have to ask you, I know what it is, it’s yellow.” Of course, it was yellow and having asked for help (which I sorely needed) I was certain that it was. So, don’t assume that animists are somebody else that we can’t understand. Speak for yourself.

    As I mentioned above, from a certain viewpoint there IS spirit in all things. I asked a couple of good questions above and gave an example. Do me a favor and take a moment to respond to that.

    Thanks,

    Bill

  47. March 5, 2014 at 8:20 am

    What were the questions I didn’t answer beside the one that asks if there existed poems that were not haunted?

    That’s a good question and I will reply to it, though answer wouldn’t be my word of choice, more like like look at it respectfully from a distance with my hands behind my back, not just barge in with my two big feet and camera.

  48. wfkammann said,

    March 5, 2014 at 8:34 am

    Emily said the world is a haunted house. You dispute that.
    Emily said that art is trying to be haunted. You say nothing about that.

    I give the example of Mozart’s Musical Joke as a piece of art that is NOT haunted. You seem stuck in your own head.

    • March 5, 2014 at 9:29 am

      Firstly, what’s a haunted house? I’ve talked quite a lot about one or two now but you will notice I never said what one was. I have no idea if the houses I showed you were haunted because people died there or not — nobody would tell me, and I suspect nobody knows either. Indeed, as soon as you put a name on it it’s gone anyway — and if it’s not gone it’s got you!

      I know of two other houses that are “haunted” but are definitely not haunted by the dead. I will tell you about them when I can.

      Also Emily Dickinson used the word Nature, not the World. She also never said “ghosts” what is more “the dead” or even “spirits.” She simply said “haunted,” and we have to start there.

      The whole thread is about “art is a house that tries to be haunted,” and if you look back you will see it really started “here”.

      C.

      • wfkammann said,

        March 6, 2014 at 10:33 am

        And what do you say about Mozart? It’s really like pulling teeth.

  49. March 6, 2014 at 9:35 am

    Thanks for coming back in, Kay — even if your comment did arrive in a funny place. If you ever have such difficulties again, just repost your comment and I’ll be pleased to delete the misplaced one. Indeed, leave me a note and I’ll make any readjustment you want.

    About gift-wrapped vulgarities, almost all my favorite poets do this at times as it’s a way of mucking out the stable of one’s own vanities, prejudices, uncertainties and other self-conscious poses. W.H.Auden came up with some really embarrassing smut you don’t even want to think about like rimming, as of course did Byron, Donne, almost all the Elizabethans and Chaucer, just to skim backwards, and in his own way so did even T.S.Eliot, even in the pure “Wasteland” what is more in “The Wasteland” before Pound bowdlerized it. And there are all those French poems — really, you don’t know where to look!

    Artists leave sketch books which are unpublishable, needless to say, as well as reputations right up there with Caravaggio. Irreverence is essential to health on all levels, I’d say, for nothing can be ever sole or whole that has not been rent.

    Which is why this place is called cowpattyhammer .

    And I wouldn’t say what’s going on here was particularly “erudite” either. Indeed, if it’s heavy it’s not because the scholarship is heavy with show and tell but because shoveling it out involves moving such a lot of shit.

    C.

  50. March 6, 2014 at 10:40 am

    I may have contributed to Bill’s assumption that by “haunted” I meant possessed by the ghosts of the dead because I responded to his Navajo ‘Hogan’ graphic with a digression on how Thai culture ensures that the dead leave when they go. Indeed, I loved his account of the Navajo rituals, which are truly profound and inspiring, and I got a bit carried away.

    In fact I don’t think Emily Dickinson meant that the souls of the dead possess Nature specifically at all, but rather that there is a quality in Nature that is similar to the other-worldly presence one feels in a haunted house. It’s a feeling of a place being inhabited by someone or something else, and the uncanny part is that there is no rational explanation for this sense of ‘other’ being there – but it’s there all the time anyway, and will never go away. That makes modern human beings feel very uncomfortable as we are wired to dominate or ‘own’ our surroundings. We put fences around our property, walls around our dwelling places and then a door with a bell or knocker that says, “This is my house and if you want to come in you’ll have to ask politely for permission.”

    No primitive society would ever have the arrogance or folly to do that. The land is already owned everywhere in the primitive world from Patagonia to the Arctic Circle and even where I live in the foothills of the Himalayas. And it has been like this since time immemorial, indeed since long before human beings arrived on earth what is more thought it might be nice to own it. Private property is, in fact, a very new innovation in human society, indeed some anthropologists say it was the step that permitted man to develop first agriculture, then cities, then nation states, and then, but only just very recently, democracy.

    The great American Constitution was the first and noblest human effort in the whole of history to sanctify Private Property, and therein lies its genius. For that is the single inviolable right in the American Constitution that underlies all the other rights we take for granted — the right to own what we have as our own.

    Haunted things cannot be owned in that sense because they are already both owned and inhabited.

    I feel very strongly that Emily Dickinson’s “haunted house” image is a metaphor, and as such we must be very gentle with it and let our imaginations lead us, not our well-informed but often clumsy analytical predispositions — a demolition job more often than not, and as irresistable as a wrecking-ball. My feeling is that it’s a great mistake to be too literal with such statements as we just end up with a pile of rubble like the world we live in almost everywhere today. As I said.

    Christopher

    • wfkammann said,

      March 7, 2014 at 11:32 am

      It is NOT my assumption that haunted means possessed by spirits of the dead. I posted something by Mozart. I think it means spirit-filled and an “inspired” work of art would be similar. An uninspired work of art like Mozart’s joke can be talked about eternally but will never be filled with spirit. Some poetry is like that too.

  51. March 7, 2014 at 7:17 am

    I said I knew of two houses that were haunted but not by the dead.

    The first was built by my father-in-law out of teak trees he cut down with a two-man saw and dragged out of the forest with bullocks. That was sometime in the 1950s, but nobody in the family is sure because nobody could read or write at the time, and there was no road, telephone or electricity connecting them to the outside world. The family had fled from the violence near the famous bridge over the River Kwai which the Japanese were building as part of the railway from Singapore to Rangoon to supply the imperial army’s invasion of British India. The large extended family walked into the jungle for a month with everything they owned along with their animals until they ended up near the border with what is Burma today. The land was not mapped or owned by anybody, and the family had no idea where they were. Even to this day there are no proper title deeds in the area as the fields were cleared out of virgin forest.

    Before the house was even finished there were strange noises coming from it, and when my mother-in-law saw hair growing out of a crack in one of the huge teak posts that supported the corner of the house, the family abandoned it altogether. Nobody would rebuild or even touch it, and eventually it was given away to a foreign timber gang who loaded the whole thing onto a trailer and dragged it away. The load got only 2 miles down the dirt track when it slid off the edge of the bank. The logs slipped off and rolled down the hill straight into the temple where they remain to this day.

    The feeling is that the trees couldn’t support habitation but also didn’t want to move away. Also that they were in some way holy as they ended up in the Wat.
    ………………

    Yaam & Paht

    Yaam and Paht Chaleekanha, my wife’s grandparents, led the extended family into the jungle in 1943. They had 17 children so they could build a whole house all on their own with ease. The photos was taken about 1975 when Yaam was well into his 80s. Although illiterate, Paht was the only ‘doctor’ in the community and taught my doctor-wife Homprang all that she knows about medicine.
    ………………

    ~

    The other haunted house was until recently a large cement edifice in Chiang Mai which was never inhabited. Designed to be the only hotel right by the Chiang Mai railway station, it would cater to an uncomplicated market and should have been an easy success. But before it was even opened a rumor spread that it was haunted, and despite changes in management and a number of face lifts it never shook off the reputation, and of course nobody would work there. After 25 vacant years it was summarily demolished and a park constructed in its place just last year — the haunting was so serious no investor would risk financing a new building on the site.

    Christopher

  52. March 8, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Dear Bill,
    I accept what you say both about the Mozart and about inspiration — valuable, and we’ll get back to all that for sure.

    On the other hand, reading back over our exchanges on “haunted houses,” there is no doubt that in the beginning you did assume such houses were called “haunted” because they were haunted by ghosts, and that ghosts were the spirits of dead people. That’s certainly the way most modern people think, very few of whom have ever taken haunting seriously what is more looked at such dwelling places in cultures were haunting is a major presence in the community. I liked your Navajo example very much and got a bit carried away by it, and I apologized for that. But I don’t think I misrepresented what you said about it – and certainly we are nowhere near finished with the implications. Indeed, we’ve just started. (I put up the old photo of my wife’s grandparents because I wanted us to consider real people, not primitive people. I wanted us to look at their feet.)

    On another, equally important subject. I was very interested when you wrote:

    “Yes, Galileo is a perfectly good substitute for God and his view does not do away with the idea of a God since it was “only” human beings who thought God put the earth in the center of creation in the first place.”

    I liked the direction this was going very much, but I still think you were misreading what I said just before, or perhaps not misreading it but reinterpreting what I meant. Because I was talking about the possibility of the earth being in two places at once, for want of better words, and you are talking about an either/or position.

    Here’s what I actually said to you.

    “What you say would be equivalent to saying Galileo put the earth in its orbit around the sun whereas God put it at the center of His Creation, setting up a personal dispute between them. And the distinction is crucial — putting it that way you make Galileo an alternative to God, as if Galileo had created the world himself, whereas the two models are both descriptive and refer to alternative realities human beings imagine in different ways even to this day. Are you simply going to dismiss all those countless millions who see things you just can’t? Because that would be both unkind and foolish.”

    I felt that you were doing the same thing with Nature when you said that “animism puts a spirit in the place,” which it clearly doesn’t. Just because anthropologists say that primitive peoples put spirits in nature doesn’t mean they actually do. It just means that anthropologists can’t see what primitive people see, that’s all, so they say primitive people are “putting the spirits there,” sort of like they are simple and are, of course, deluding themselves (not all anthropologists in the field actually do, I suspect, but most people reading what anthropologists write think they do). And I say that that assumption is “unkind and foolish,” because countless millions of people can actually see such spirits all over the world, even today. Just because the anthropologist “believes” such people put them there doesn’t mean the spirits aren’t actually there, it just means the anthropologists can’t see the spirits themselves. So in a way, it’s the anthropologists who are the limited ones, not the primitive people. It’s the anthropologists who are “just believing,” not those who see the spirits with their very own eyes!

    And my big question is, could Galileo have been able to reconcile the conflict between a cosmos in which the earth is in a very minor position with a cosmos in which the earth was deliberately created at the very center of everything? And if he could, what would be the “secret” to that astonishing “theory of everything,” as the cosmologists call it today even if they can’t quite finalize it? That’s my primary question, and of course, I don’t know the answer even if there are moments when I’m getting close, and that might happen when I’m listening to Mozart fart, for example — or Olivier Messaien’s organ groan and grunt, or the whales make love in Paul Winter’s Missa Gaia.

    Which is why I’m so interested in Emily Dickinson whom I feel lived at the heart of that same secret in her bedroom upstairs in Amherst — and who wrote as clearly as she could about it for those whom she eventually left behind, including me. She never did make that decision for Christ, everybody knows that detail about her life which is so difficult to fathom considering the time at which she lived. But that wasn’t because she didn’t believe in Christ, God, and the World-To-Come, it was because she was able to see both sides at once, and for her the two sides were equally real, valid, and attractive. She didn’t “decide” between them because she preferred to sit on the fence, so to speak. The world was so much with her yet she could at the same time see Proteus rising from the sea — which put her streets ahead of Wordsworth. And who would give that up?

    A fence which I think Galileo found to sit on too alone for 8 years at Il Gioiello — yes, a very different mind but one of equal genius.

    Here’s a few lines from a longish poem I wrote recently about the connections between Galileo and Emily Dickinson. It also includes Eve, Heloïse and Simone Weil, three other women whom I feel are right up there with Galileo too. And Galileo’s daughter figures as well — you can read Suor Marie Celeste Galilei’s letters to her father if you want to understand better the fence he sat on.

    (The imagery is from “My Life it Stood a Loaded Gun” — the earlier parts of the poem make this association very clear. As the poem isn’t published I can’t put up the whole of it).

    ………………
    ………………O spare us this disquiet
    ………………is the front-line prayer
    ………………the girl alone upstairs in white,
    ………………powder, glint and mettle in a corner,
    ………………utters when her lover’s-faith like yours
    ………………is lost at last, or bold enough,
    ………………guards the miracle of lasting out the hour
    ………………not as fact but as it were
    ………………a going-off forever.

    ………………Like your brilliant astronomer-father’s
    ………………cry of unrequited faith,
    ………………“Yet still it moves!”
    ………………God’s awkward gift of nothing left
    ………………sufficient dawn to wake us all
    ………………today and not wait on some
    ………………louder, mightier morrow.

    ………………Spare us, O Lord,
    ………………spare us the despair
    ………………of all those surpliced days
    ………………circled round tomorrow.

    ………………

    Christopher

  53. wfkammann said,

    March 9, 2014 at 5:09 am

    Christopher,

    The demons that Padmasambhava subjugated in Tibet were not spirits of the dead but spirits of places. Animists experience spirit as a part of the world. The brook; the tree; etc. all have spirits, genii, as guardians or imps. From the Hindu point of view the material is derived from the mental and spiritual. The idea is anti-materialist and therefore “unscientific.”

    When Emily calls nature a “haunted house” I don’t think she means haunted by spirits of the dead (although that is part of it) but rather filled with spirit (inspired). The work of art strives to create a world which is also spirit-filled (inspired).

    I remember a picture you drew and placed in the laundry room on Court Street/Brooklyn. The picture was meant to discourage you from throwing dryer lint into the sump depression in the room. Certainly scared the hell out of me. Now that drawing was “inspired” and served its purpose much better than a Don’t Throw Lint Here sign. It was a real haunted house.

    ……………… The grass does not appear afraid,
    ……………… I often wonder he
    ……………… Can stand so close and look so bold
    ……………… At what is awe to me.

    ……………… Related somehow they may be,
    ……………… The sedge stands next the sea–
    ……………… Where he is floorless
    ……………… And does no timidity betray

    ……………… But nature is a stranger yet;
    ……………… The ones that cite her most
    ……………… Have never passed her haunted house,
    ……………… Nor simplified her ghost.

    ……………… To pity those who know her not
    ……………… Is helped by the regret
    ……………… That those who know her, know her less
    ……………… The nearer her they get.

    ………………

  54. March 9, 2014 at 11:33 am

    Pre-Note Added Later: I didn’t see the poem above before I put up the following as Bill posted it later. It’s perfect — precisely what I mean. Thanks, C.

    ~

    Bill,
    I’m with you almost all the way there except for the crux of the matter — “The work of art strives to create a world which is also spirit-filled (inspired).” It’s that final little glide from “spirit-filled” to “inspired” which is problematic and, to my way of thinking, trips up your whole argument.  It’s the brackets, as the English call them,  that throw the spanner in the works, implying as they do that there’s an equivalency between two things, e.g. football (soccer), or infantile paralysis (Poliomyelitis).

    Of course the two words have fascinating connections historically and etymologically, but they aren’t the same in general usage at all, and I doubt most artists, myself included, would be comfortable with the idea that we were providing a dwelling place for spirits to live in, or even to accommodate “the Spirit” in the Judaeo-Christian or even New Age sense. That’s out of the frying pan and into the fire – that’s “Spiritual Science” all over again, and what we’re doing, I hope, is working toward a hunch, a perception, perhaps even a bit of vision that can “cut through spiritual materialism” (we discussed that in some detail in relation to the title of Trungpa Rimpoche’s book above).

    To me that sort of thinking is too familiar, Bill. It’s a short cut to explain things we can’t explain, because of course I know you don’t mean that the artist puts a spirit, ghost or even “the Spirit” in the “inspired” artifact. Arthur Koestler didn’t mean there was a “ghost in the machine” either,  but used that wonderfully fertile image in his title to explore a hunch about scientific thinking. The Ghost in the Machine is a philosophical treatise on a way of thinking, not an anthropological research paper, just as Emily Dickinson didn’t mean “Nature is a haunted house” in the Halloween sense. She didn’t mean that the artist tries to put a “ghost” or “spirit” into his or her art in the primitive sense, and “put” is the operative word here once again, as if a modern writer could write like a primitive shaman or a witch doctor as observed by an anthropologist. That would be reductive in the extreme, though a few modern poets are still trying. And of course she didn’t mean the Holy Spirit either, having never made that “decision” and, for all practical purposes, living the life of an apostate. What she did do is become an enormously disciplined and self-critical poet, and she did this by dedicating her whole life to expressing what she actually experienced, not what she had learned or even what she was supposed to know. That’s what makes her poems so difficult in the sense of endlessly fertile and challenging — so much of the time Emily Dickinson is expressing things that even she doesn’t know herself but is in the process of trying to find out, draft after draft after draft for years and years. And by trying so hard and so conscientiously she actually managed to express the inexpressible more than perhaps any other poet has ever managed to do, and in doing so her poetry became truly and inexhaustibly haunted.

    Because it’s the human aspect of the trying in which the haunting takes place in art, it seems to me, it’s the individual human being trying, that’s where it’s at – the patience, the commitment, the silent concentration, the act that becomes almost like a prayer without purpose, contract, hope, or indeed any objective or even belief. Indeed, ‘prayer beyond belief’ might be a way of describing Emily Dickinson’s kind of trying, and to me that’s what it means to be human.

    And I hate to say it but I find the Mozart fascinating, Bill, and I have listened to it all the way through three times now with great interest, amusement, pleasure and curiosity. Because you can hear Mozart trying in it, you can hear the intention, you can hear the exploration of what great music isn’t and in the process you get a little glimpse into what it can become. It’s fescinnine farce, but so are some of the best moments in Shakepeare – Mozart as Caliban or Bottom!

    Like the hapless yet inimitable little poem “The Red Wheelbarrow,” or even less artistic, “So Much Depends Upon” – or indeed almost any W.C.Williams poem for that matter. W.C.W. wasn’t a naturally gifted poet and he knew it, indeed one feels that everything he wrote is valuable as it was such a struggle against his own limitations, lack of imagination and tin ear. And he never stopped trying because that’s what he did, and we love his poetry all the more for it because we also love him. Like we love John Clare — or every word that Anne Frank ever wrote in her childish hand, a wonderful example.

    “So much depends upon” indeed, which is one kind of haunting. “Sitting on the fence” is another, like struggling all alone for a lifetime, like living with eternity “not as fact but as it were
/ a going-off forever” everyday — that’s from the last poem I put up just above, and I’d be so pleased if anyone noticed.

    And the point about those lines about the salmon was not “the return,” Bill – it was about how a human being sits on the fence with one leg an ocean fin and the other bone dry in the landlocked water. So how’s that sort of “quickening” done between two limbs so hopelessly ill-adpated to each other, and so out of touch? That’s what I want to know.

    ……….
    ……….“Yet still it moves!” the old beard raves,
    ……….the moon girdling a softer quarter
    ……….the impossible return,
    ……….ocean fins quickening the landlocked water.

    ……….

    Christopher

    • March 9, 2014 at 1:17 pm

      NOTE TO THE ABOVE: The Emily Dickinson poem Bill quoted just above usually begins like the following — there are so many versions to her poems perhaps the one Bill found didn’t include it. But the image of water as “a neighbor from another world” is so similar to my idea of “ocean” as opposed to “landlocked” water I’d love to include those verses too, and as they elucidate the rest of the poem in such an important way I’ll go whole hog and give you it all again.

      And just to say I’m so happy we have arrived where we are. My own feeling is that it has been worth the effort, and hope that some of you visitors will feel the same. The problem is that you have to be so ‘attentive’ to hold on to such perceptions — it’s as if you have to do a three day fast and several hundred prostrations before you can even start to read such poetry, and I mean every time anew!

      C.

      ……….What mystery pervades a well!
      ……….The water lives so far —
      ……….A neighbor from another world
      ……….Residing in a jar.

      ……….Whose limit none have ever seen,
      ……….But just his lid of glass —
      ……….Like looking every time you please
      ……….In an abyss’s face!

      ………. The grass does not appear afraid,
      ………. I often wonder he
      ………. Can stand so close and look so bold
      ………. At what is awe to me.

      ………. Related somehow they may be,
      ………. The sedge stands next the sea
      ………. Where he is floorless
      ………. And does no timidity betray

      ………. But nature is a stranger yet;
      ………. The ones that cite her most
      ………. Have never passed her haunted house,
      ………. Nor simplified her ghost.

      ………. To pity those that know her not
      ………. Is helped by the regret
      ………. That those who know her, know her less
      ………. The nearer her they get.

      ……………………………………Emily Dickinson (#1433, 1877)
      ……….

      Christopher

  55. wfkammann said,

    March 10, 2014 at 1:08 am

    Inspired may mean receiving the breath of life. The idea that electricity can substitute for breath results in Frankenstein’s Monster.

    We don’t need to breath until we’re “born.” The placenta takes care of all of that just as a heart/lung machine may for a while when we’re dead.

    I remember seeing my secretary brain dead on a heart/lung machine at a Catholic hospital. Her game little body dancing in the clutches of the monster. Her cheeks were rosy but there was no one home. It was good for her family which needed time to all gather round her; confess their sins and say good-bye.

    …………………………………………..ANIMA MUNDI

    The lines “That those who know her, know her less The nearer her they get.” may explain why the poet never left her room. Contact with Nature’s haunted house and her ghost is mystically overwhelming. She’s known better at a distance and only expressible through a metaphor.

  56. March 10, 2014 at 7:33 am

    What’s distant about metaphor?

    Distance of the sort Emily Dickinson is talking about is caused by over-familiarity — the world is too much with us, explained, defined, and in alphabetic order from A to Z, all inclusive and all in order.

    Metaphor lets us start all over again from scratch and see it new. Art is the metaphor that haunts the house, and the more carefully tuned the metaphor the more radiant the haunting.

    “Mystically overwhelming,” most certainly. But be very careful, because like the coat over the back of the chair in the child’s bedroom, turn on the lights and everything is familiar again.

    If you want to sleep with the lights on, that is. If you’re afraid or find it too hard or not going in the direction you think it should. Not sensible enough, perhaps even embarrassing.

    C.

    NOTE ADDED A MINUTE LATER:

    ……………….. But nature is a stranger yet;
    ……………….. The ones that cite her most
    ……………….. Have never passed her haunted house,
    ……………….. Nor simplified her ghost.

    ………………..
    (“simplified”????????????????)

    ………………

  57. wfkammann said,

    March 11, 2014 at 12:21 am

    I wrote: “She’s known better at a distance and only expressible through a metaphor.” I didn’t say there is anything distant about a metaphor.

    As my junior high English teacher taught us: “In simpler terms, a metaphor compares two objects/things without using the words “like” or “as”.” All the world’s a stage. Any attempt to sum up Nature could only be by comparison: like an expression of enlightenment.

    To pass her haunted house seems to assume that you are existing outside it. Simplified: got me.

    I think the Anima Mundi above is worth a second look. The soul is chained to heaven and earth; one breast the sun; one the moon and an extra crescent for good measure. When you look for the spirit of Nature it is nearly always a woman.

    ………………

  58. March 11, 2014 at 8:18 am

    …………………………..But nature is a stranger yet;
    …………………………..The ones that cite her most
    …………………………..Have never passed her haunted house,
    …………………………..Nor simplified her ghost.

    What a coup! She must have struggled over that last line for years and been so excited when something so unexpected dropped in there, lifting the whole poem to an almost unimaginable level. Art-as-a-house-that-tries-to-be-haunted at it’s most sublime, I’d say.

    “Simplified” = purified, distilled, clarified, free from impurities or unnecessary complexities, without complications, additives, accretions or conditions, direct, open, honest, childlike, simple like a fool or an idiot. Before anything has a name. Before it’s been defined or categorized or placed on the shelf with a label identifying the ingredients.

    “Purity of heart is to will one thing” = “simplified.”

    “Simplified” ≠ “defined.” It’s before things are defined, separated out, multiplied, compared, dualized. Why, it’s prelapsarian!

    ~

    Those who really know what a haunted house is in our culture know everything and are called grown-ups. They’re our parents and teachers because they’re reliable people, clear and well-educated who know the difference between superstition and reality. None of them ever pass a real haunted house, just a house that they’ve heard might be, or been told by the maid or the gardener, or that some people had written was at one time thought to be by people from another country, and needless to say who didn’t speak much English.

    ~

    The poet as a hierophant, a god even, or even God as Bill suggested about Galileo, and metaphor as her angel.

    ~

    Wikipedia:

    “The English ‘metaphor’ derives from the 16th-century Old French métaphore, which comes from the Latin metaphora, “carrying over”, in turn from the Greek μεταφορά (metaphorá), “transfer”,[2] from μεταφέρω (metapherō), “to carry over”, “to transfer”[3] and that from μετά (meta), “between”[4] + φέρω (pherō), “to bear”, “to carry”.[5]”

    ~

    Metaphor is the bridge that joins the unjoinable. It’s Galileo bearded like our father’s angel in heaven at the one extreme tumbling to the maiden with silt-lapped limbs and shining pubis on earth below at the other. Whatever that sort of tumble or stumble or fumble might mean.

    ~

    Emily Dickinson sees EMPTINESS in nature – it’s “floorless!” she says, almost as if it were a haunted house. A bottomless pit, a well so deep you can’t hear your pebble strike the bottom. It’s the house without a floor, it’s the drop in the floor of the gallows, it’s a worm hole in space through which infinity yawns. It’s the haunted abyss in a small glass jar.

    Christopher

    ………………

  59. wfkammann said,

    March 11, 2014 at 8:39 am

    ……It’s all I have to bring today (26)

    ………It’s all I have to bring today—
    ………This, and my heart beside—
    ………This, and my heart, and all the fields—
    ………And all the meadows wide—
    ………Be sure you count—should I forget—
    ………Some one the sum could tell—
    ………This, and my heart, and all the Bees
    ………Which in the Clover dwell.

    ………

  60. March 11, 2014 at 9:47 am

    Thanks for that, Bill — that’s exactly the small glass jar I mean. And here’s another.

    ………
    ………A DROVER

    ………To Meath of the pastures,
    ………
From wet hills by the sea,
    ………
Through Leitrim and Longford, 

    ………Go my cattle and me.

    ………I hear in the darkness 

    ………Their slipping and breathing –
    ………I name them the bye-ways 

    ………They’re to pass without heeding;

    ………Then, the wet, winding roads, 

    ………Brown bogs with black water; 

    ………And my thoughts on white ships 

    ………And the King o’ Spain’s daughter.

    ………O! farmer, strong farmer! 

    ………You can spend at the fair; 

    ………But your face you must turn 

    ………To your crops and your care.

    ………And soldiers – red soldiers! 

    ………You’ve seen many lands; 

    ………But you walk two by two, 

    ………And by captain’s commands.

    ………O! the smell of the beasts, 

    ………The wet wind in the morn; 

    ………And the proud and hard earth 

    ………Never broken for corn;

    ………And the crowds at the fair, 

    ………The herds loosened and blind, 

    ………Loud words and dark faces
    ………
And the wild blood behind.

    ………(O! strong men; with your best 

    ………I would strive breast to breast, 

    ………I could quiet your herds 

    ………With my words, with my words.)

    ………I will bring you, my kine, 

    ………Where there’s grass to the knee; 

    ………But you’ll think of scant croppings 

    ………Harsh with salt of the sea.

    ……………………………………..Pádraic Colum [1881-1972]
    ………

  61. March 11, 2014 at 10:08 am

    What I want to say next applies equally to great simple poems like the two just above — and honestly, I don’t know which I prefer, “great simple” or “great transformative” verse. Of course you can argue they’re exactly the same as you can also argue that all human ‘making’ is open to the usual inflation, abuse, fakery and pretention…

    ~

    As so often in great transformative poems, the words gain their power from a very unusual encounter, indeed an almost daemonic conspiracy between them, as if they were haunted.

    …………………………..But nature is a stranger yet;
    …………………………..The ones that cite her most
    …………………………..Have never passed her haunted house,
    …………………………..Nor simplified her ghost.

    There are two sentences joined by a semi-colon here, and that alerts the reader that what’s coming next will in some way parallel, amplify, or deepen it. The second part will explain why “nature is a stranger yet,” or at least explore it in other images. So we should expect “stranger” to be the focus as much as “nature,” which it is.

    “Stranger” = unfamiliar, unknown, the other, the unexplored, unfathomed, unplumbed, as of yet not defined or perhaps not even noticed, like a phantom or an “invisible man” — (Ralph Ellison too!)

    The sentence after the semi-colon has three finite verbs, “have never passed,” “cite” and “simplified” incorporated into a simple clausal construction. Those who have never passed her are the ones who a.) “cite her most” and b.) have not “simplified” her. That’s a bit of shorthand, of course, as I’ve left out the direct objects, but I don’t think anyone will disagree with the drift as the direct objects are all images for the same thing: Nature = haunted house = ghost = stranger. (Metaphor is another language as well as another mode of thought that thinks in a language that lies at the threshold of thinking, opening as it does the doors of the floorless house.)

    I suspect that Emily Dickinson found the word “cite” first — those who “cite” nature are unaware of how she is also “haunted,” that’s the drift. So we have to know what citing is.

    To “cite” = to quote evidence as in a citation, i.e. refer to footnotes, legal arguments, social or historical precedents, results of scientific research, widely accepted facts, empirical evidence, i.e. to cite what you already know, to cite what the majority believe, to cite what is acceptable in your community, to cite what is considered by experts you respect to be true including your parents.

    And that’s where “simplified” dropped in, I feel sure, “simplified her ghost” as her stern and remote father would never have been able to do (though somehow he managed to love, admire and support her even at such a distance, his peculiar daughter up there everyday all alone haunting his house, and ours, in her famous white dress more like the negligée of a lover in waiting than a nun).

    Finally, the poem says those who cannot see the haunting in the house are the ones who are unable to simplify the ghost, not the other way around. That’s a mind-boggling paradox right up there with what Jesus says about becoming a child again.

    And who’s to say a mind as great as Galileo Galilei’s didn’t come to terms with that paradox too?

    He had eight years to do so, after all — with very little else to do.

    And if he had wanted to, would he have been able to write a treatise on the subject as powerful and persuasive as the Sidereus Nuncius or the Dialogo ?

    Not unless he could also have invented a haunted language something like that of Emily Dickinson. Because what makes Emily Dickinson so extraordinary is her ability to make the impenetrable so relatively comprehensible, but of course it took her far more than 8 years to do that.

    Christopher Woodman