TEA BREAK BY THE FORGE

The forge is a hot and noisy place—but it has it’s quiet moments too, and even that blast of red hot flame pumped up by the bellows can quiet down and brew a nice pot of tea.

DSCN3871 - Inle Lake Forge

The events leading up to Galileo’s house arrest were full of such hot air too as the modern world was in the forge, so to speak, and the hammer blows were hard.

But now we can stop and use another sort of hammer, like delicate compost that flakes in your hands like spring snow to lift up your plants and make them flower. Think about that — let those hammer blows flower like that kettle on the fire.

………………………………………
There was a huge amount of hot air generated in the Vatican in the decade leading up to Galileo’s censure in 1615. But it’s very important to remember how complex the riddle was. Galileo understood very well the Curia’s position, as the records show, and tried his best to explain why placing the sun at the center of a Copernican “solar system” could be reconciled with a theocentric, Ptolemaic interpretation of the same phenomena. And I think almost certainly the Church leaders understood both sides of the argument as well, though its pastoral obligations led the Curia to assert that it was a simple either/or issue which had to be decided on the basis of Authority, not Science. For that was the primary function of the Church, and still is — to serve the struggling Faithful by defending their Faith with Theology.

The paradoxes of life are unthinkable to the majority of people who are, like me, better at imagining perfection than at observing facts. On the other hand, gifted souls have always understood that as human beings we have intellectual as well as sense-based faculties, and I feel sure that primitive people had a much deeper understanding of the human condition than we give them credit for. I mean, do you think the naked little Good-fella didn’t understand and use the power of the intellect to thrive with so little for 30,000 years in the harsh Australian desert, or the Bushman in the equally harsh Kalahari? Or the Inuit in the ice? Or the Navajo? Do you think they weren’t intelligent or inspired enough to understand who they were and how to look after themselves for such a long time and in such a positive way?

I have none of those gifts myself — my eyes are blind to what I feel sure they saw, and some still see, indeed my intellectual powers are dwarfed by comparison with theirs. That’s why I turn to them, for a deeper understanding of my own isolation and poverty. And of course I turn to anyone whose words I can read too, or whose paintings I can look at, or costumes, or drama, or dreams even — for a glimpse that would make me, like Wordsworth, less forlorn. And of course I turn to great misunderstood scientists too to understand my own misunderstanding, and wasn’t Galileo Galilei the greatest and the most gratuitously misunderstood of them all?

When at last the Church rehabilitated Galileo over 300 years later, Pope John Paul II called it “a tragic mutual incomprehension,” which indeed it was — the pie has two halves but at the time everybody ended up with just half, and that’s all most of us are left with too, needless to say. On the other hand, I feel sure there have always been human beings who were able to reconcile the mind-boggling contradictions of the whole pie of life, like the fact that, despite all appearances and ‘proofs’ to the contrary, the soul exists in many places at once, in the theocentric mind for a start, then in the heliocentric body, and then everywhere, and of course, most certainly and most mysteriously of all, nowhere. Even more importantly, such human beings have always understood that such realms were 1.) not separate and b.) non-existent in the sense that we experience the soul nowhere but in our own largely wishful, self-centered thinking. And I feel our understanding of all that is dwindling, that our modern minds are ever more conditioned by the demands of our well-serviced, well-exercised and well-medicated bodies. Indeed, we’ve got to the point now where we can only think like our bodies work, i.e. with minds fastened like railway bogies to our underbodies, strictly in one mode and strictly zapping down hi-speed rails. And as a poet I would say that the alternative to that way of thinking isn’t old-fashioned Mysticism or Theosophy either, what is more New Age fantasies about Purity, Spiritual Energy and Past Lives, etc. — which are all self-serving and equally materialistic. As a poet I’d say that wherever the soul is has got to be nowhere like that, indeed I’d say it’s got to be much closer to that no place where God lies stone dead.

Which is precisely how the language I’m looking for does it, and why such words are more important today than they have been ever before. It’s all we’ve got left yet we’ve only just started using the word in our times as a tool like a hex, jinx or spell.

One other inkling. In my experience, what might be called wise people have never been much interested in the idea of an individual soul what is more eternal life or personal salvation. It would be so selfish for one thing, to be alone with oneself like that for so long. And who would deserve it for another? Even a saint would surely have doubts about that, indeed, above all a saint.

By definition, Wisdom is associated with coming to terms with the paradox of birth as a brief prelude to death on the one hand, and life as the sole immortality on the other. Wisdom knows there is nothing in religious dogma but approximations and carrots, that in reality everything’s just nothing, and that nevertheless that nothing’s love. Yes, love, an embarrassing little Hallmark platitude of a word like that, yet still it creeps in if you’re Wise. On the other hand, to say it better or more truthfully requires that hardest of all things to be, a fool.

Like Emily Dickinson on the subject, and who could ever say it better than this?

……

…………….The Soul selects her own Society–
…………….Then–shuts the Door–
…………….To her divine Majority–
…………….Present no more–

…………….Unmoved–she notes the Chariots–pausing–
…………….At her low Gate–
…………….Unmoved–an Emperor be kneeling
…………….Upon her mat–

…………….I’ve known her–from an ample nation–
…………….Choose One–
…………….Then–close the Valves of her attention–
…………….Like Stone–
……………………………………………………..Emily Dickinson (1862)

……

And does she mean Samuel Bowles? Does she mean sex?

Yes, I think so. That too. Because I think she knew herself both as a woman and as this painting by the Latvian painter, Normunds Braslins, in gold leaf and egg tempera:
……
Normunds Braslins - Girl Large ………………………………….Normunds Braslins, Riga, Latvia (1962- )
……

So that’s it, everybody. Of course this thread was from the start exploratory and still isn’t sure what it’s trying to say, though it might have this morning, Monday, March 17th, 2014.

That’s because much to my amazement I found myself yesterday face to face with a prostrate figure on top of a mountain, and if any Sunday moment wants to capture the whereabouts of the soul I think it’s going to have to be shaped, contoured and colored something like that.

…………………………..I’ve known her–from an ample nation–
…………………………..Choose One–
…………………………..Then–close the Valves of her attention–
…………………………..Like Stone–

I’ll try to get to that again when I can, but it’s not easy.

Christopher Woodman

………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD

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27 Comments

  1. March 22, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Thanks for that, Dawn — a very positive contribution, and I’ll try to work some of that in as soon as I can.

    ~

    It’s such an odd little poem, “The Soul Selects” – one day it seems so easy that there’s almost nothing to say about it, another day it seems so huge there just isn’t enough space to deal with it all. Indeed, “The Soul Selects” is like litmus paper — it’s as if I can test the state of my soul by touching my tongue to it first thing in the morning. If words and images rise up in response to the poem then I’m blessed for the day, or at least haunted, which is a blessing of sorts — because true blessings are almost never free of regret, which is how we know they’re blessings and not just “great moments.” But if nothing comes up at all, if I’m tongued-tied by the poem, then I’m deaf and dumb for the day, and a burden to everybody including myself and our three dogs.

    Another thought. “Impenetrable” doesn’t mean “imponderable” in a poem like this, I don’t think, just that whatever it is can never be fixed like “sprawling-on-a-pin”-fixed, i.e. tied down, explained, confessed, or consummated. I would say that’s what Emily Dickinson means when she says her soul selects a lover and then closes her heart like a tomb – and whether or not it was also sexual, which I think it was, doesn’t really matter as it’s the “unappeased” part of the yearning that’s important. Try Alain-Fournier for that, or more recently John Fowles — Le Grand Meaulnes is where Fowles went as a very young man to get started on The Magus, for example, as did many others including Scott Fitzgerald and Eliot. Indeed, the story of the two Dickinson houses, The Homestead and The Evergreens, is as turbulent, erotic and mysterious as any of those authors could come up with, including “The Wasteland!”

    And of course it also goes back to Dante and Petrarch, and even earlier to the Troubadours.

    And maybe because I’m haunted by the same sort of yearning, this powerful impetus goes for me all the way to among two of the greatest love poets of all time, at least in my experience, Emily Dickinson and Edna St Vincent Millay. Although the latter didn’t shut the door of her bedroom very often, she never stopped rolling her stone either — at least that’s what I think she did, whatever closing the valves means. And they both loved women just as much as they both loved men.

    Christopher
    ………………

    Edna St Vincent Millay

    ………………
    …………..And all at once things seemed so small
    …………..My breath came short, and scarce at all.
    …………..But, sure, the sky is big, I said;
    …………..Miles and miles above my head;
    …………..So here upon my back I’ll lie
    …………..And look my fill into the sky.
    …………..And so I looked, and, after all,
    …………..The sky was not so very tall.
    …………..The sky, I said, must somewhere stop,
    …………..And—sure enough!—I see the top!
    …………..The sky, I thought, is not so grand;
    …………..I ’most could touch it with my hand!
    …………..And reaching up my hand to try,
    …………..I screamed to feel it touch the sky.
    …………..I screamed, and—lo!—Infinity
    …………..Came down and settled over me;
    …………..Forced back my scream into my chest,
    …………..Bent back my arm upon my breast,
    …………..And, pressing of the Undefined
    …………..The definition on my mind,
    …………..Held up before my eyes a glass
    …………..Through which my shrinking sight did pass
    …………..Until it seemed I must behold
    …………..Immensity made manifold;
    …………..Whispered to me a word whose sound
    …………..Deafened the air for worlds around,
    …………..And brought unmuffled to my ears
    …………..The gossiping of friendly spheres,
    …………..The creaking of the tented sky,
    …………..The ticking of Eternity.

    ……………….. Edna St Vincent Millay, Renascence, lls.15-44 (1912)

  2. March 23, 2014 at 10:17 pm

    Like Robert Frost’s “Directive,” “Renascence” is one of those poems a student only encounters if blessed with a gifted teacher, and that can happen even in your local high school if you’re lucky, you don’t have to wait until graduate school when you’re full of promise and a career is beckoning. But the fact is that “Renascence” rarely comes to one at a time in life when one is really ready for “renaissance,” and I mean like the peeling off of one’s own skin, a total breakdown perhaps, a cancer or terrible recovery, or the joy in discovering it doesn’t matter in the end, or perhaps just finding you’re old enough that death is right by your door. That’s why “Renascence” is a poem you probably have to come back to when all else has failed you and you realize for the first time that poetry is not just a hope but actually the only hope.

    With “Renascence” you have to be prepared to “back out of all this now too much for us,” as Robert Frost put it in “Directive” — and that isn’t ever going to be easy and almost certainly will never be the next step in anybody’s professional development either. Because it’s about “back in a time made simple by the loss / Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken” — and that’s devastating, devastating.

    The fact is that it’s not easy to pursue one’s career as a teacher of poetry or even as a poet and suddenly realize that the message is far more important than the messenger — or the recipient of the message even, i.e. the reader, student or person to whom the message is supposedly intended. The message is the message, and the message is only for you.

    Ditto “The Soul Selects,” which says just that. Because there are things you just can’t teach in a social situation like a classroom what is more write about in books or essays to be published in public. Indeed, there are things that make it almost impossible to go on as you were before — there comes a point when you realize you simply can’t teach what students don’t yet know at all, and I mean in the sense that a teacher of the blind can never teach a blind person actually to see, or a deaf person even to have an inkling of Mozart.

    There are plenty of things the blind or deaf person can teach you, don’t worry, but you’ll never know what they are as long as you can hear and see.

    Here are the first 26 lines of “Renascence” now — see how they number and ask yourself why the number is Three. Then ask yourself why the Soul selects its own society, and why that number is One. Finally, ask yourself if you take those numbers seriously. Can you be that simple in fact? Can you read these poems written by two relatively inexperienced and unprofessional women seriously, and one of them only 19?

    ………………
    …………..ALL I could see from where I stood
    …………..Was three long mountains and a wood;
    …………..I turned and looked the other way,
    …………..And saw three islands in a bay.
    …………..So with my eyes I traced the line
    …………..Of the horizon, thin and fine,
    …………..Straight around till I was come
    …………..Back to where I’d started from;
    …………..And all I saw from where I stood
    …………..Was three long mountains and a wood.
    …………..Over these things I could not see:
    …………..These were the things that bounded me;
    …………..And I could touch them with my hand,
    …………..Almost, I thought, from where I stand.
    …………..And all at once things seemed so small
    …………..My breath came short, and scarce at all.
    …………..But, sure, the sky is big, I said;
    …………..Miles and miles above my head;
    …………..So here upon my back I’ll lie
    …………..And look my fill into the sky.
    …………..And so I looked, and, after all,
    …………..The sky was not so very tall.
    …………..The sky, I said, must somewhere stop,
    …………..And—sure enough!—I see the top!
    …………..The sky, I thought, is not so grand;
    …………..I ’most could touch it with my hand!

    ………………. Edna St Vincent Millay, Renascence, lls.1-26 (1912)

    Christopher

  3. March 24, 2014 at 10:16 am

    I said I would try to return to what Dawn Potter said on her own blog about her relationship to Emily Dickinson — you’ll find the URL to that in the first comment above.

    ~

    Dawn understands me very well, up to the point she wants to understand me, at least, and she knows I’m blown away by the fact that she actually lived in “The Homestead” in the early years of her marriage to Tom — that she actually slept in the bedroom beside the bedroom that Emily slept in, if you could call it that. And I suspect Dawn also understands what I mean in the Post that introduces this thread, and above all what I’m implying about “The Soul Selects” when I couple it with the modern icon in gold-leaf and egg tempera by the Latvian painter, Normunds Braslins.

    “Tiny” is the operative word in what Dawn writes, and “tiny” is just the right word for me too — as it’s also the right word to describe both the style and the tenor of 19 year old Edna St Vincent Millay’s “Renascence.”

    So what do we do about that? What do we do about the fact that tiny people writing in tiny spaces about tiny, even precious things can sometimes incorporate the universe even as Stephen Hawkings incorporates the universe in his tiny gollum-like body perched a bit sideways like a small bird in the electronic cage that we call a “wheelchair,” of all things, as opposed to a chariot. Or Robert Frost, regressing to tiny in what remains of a ruined dollhouse in “Directive?”

    ~

    Here are the last lines of “Renascence” now, skipping over the 156 lines in between that describe the immensity of the living world 6 feet above the grave (you can click here to read the whole poem).

    And what about the numbers, then, the projections, hypotheses, theosophies even, or “Higher Worlds?”

    All I can say is, thank God she isn’t into Goethe or Rudolf Steiner, Madame Blavatsy or Ousepnsky, Ralph Waldo Emerson, D.T.Suzuki, Ron Hubberd, Timothy Leary, Alan Watts or The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Thank God she’s just a small, red-haired woman in a beautiful dress over there at the edge of the garden with the new novel we’re all just reading too — “no wider than the heart is wide,” “no higher than the soul is high.”

    Winslow Homer 'The New Novel'

    ………………

    ………………
    …………..The world stands out on either side
    …………..No wider than the heart is wide;
    …………..Above the world is stretched the sky,—
    …………..No higher than the soul is high.
    …………..The heart can push the sea and land
    …………..Farther away on either hand;
    …………..The soul can split the sky in two,
    …………..And let the face of God shine through.
    …………..But East and West will pinch the heart
    …………..That can not keep them pushed apart;
    …………..And he whose soul is flat—the sky
    …………..Will cave in on him by and by.

    …………….. Edna St Vincent Millay, Renascence, lls.203-214 (1912)
    ………………

    Christopher
    ………………

    (“The New Novel” by Winslow Homer was discussed in another context here.)

    • Dawn Potter said,

      March 24, 2014 at 7:34 pm

      Christopher, as soon as I posted my link, I regretted it, but your blog doesn’t give commenters the option to delete their comments, which is why it remains. My only reason for posting it was an unformed perception of two minds struggling in disparate ways for some grasp of the inarticulate. Dickinson happened to come up as a metaphor for both. To be explicit: I have been wrestling with depression all winter. At this point in time I am focusing on staying cogent and coherent in my everyday tasks. If you could bring yourself not to hector or to assume that I have a secret agenda, I would be grateful. Sharing the link was clearly a misstep and I apologize.

  4. March 24, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    Not a misstep at all, Dawn — that’s why I gave myself so much time to reply to what I thought you were saying. And I think I did too — I hate almost everything I write at the moment even before the ink is dry, but I know that if I stop I’ll be even worse off than not trying at all, and suspect you’re the same. And by replying to you with “Renascence” I was able to relocate my own thread.

    C.

  5. wfkammann said,

    March 28, 2014 at 1:18 am

    Robert Frost wrote:

    “The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader. I know people who read without hearing the sentence sounds and they were the fastest readers. Eye readers we call them. They get the meaning by glances. But they are bad readers because they miss the best part of what a good writer puts into his work.”

  6. March 28, 2014 at 7:36 am

    ………………….

    ……………THE LISTENERS

    ……………‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
    ……………….Knocking on the moonlit door;
    ……………And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
    ……………….Of the forest’s ferny floor:
    ……………And a bird flew up out of the turret,
    ……………….Above the Traveller’s head:
    ……………And he smote upon the door again a second time;
    ……………….‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
    ……………But no one descended to the Traveller;
    ……………….No head from the leaf-fringed sill
    ……………Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
    ……………….Where he stood perplexed and still.
    ……………But only a host of phantom listeners
    ……………….That dwelt in the lone house then
    ……………Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
    ……………….To that voice from the world of men:
    ……………Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
    ……………….That goes down to the empty hall,
    ……………Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
    ……………….By the lonely Traveller’s call.
    ……………And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
    ……………….Their stillness answering his cry,
    ……………While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
    ……………….’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
    ……………For he suddenly smote on the door, even
    ……………….Louder, and lifted his head:—
    ……………‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
    ……………….That I kept my word,’ he said.
    ……………Never the least stir made the listeners,
    ……………….Though every word he spake
    ……………Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
    ……………….From the one man left awake:
    ……………Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
    ……………….And the sound of iron on stone,
    ……………And how the silence surged softly backward,
    ……………….When the plunging hoofs were gone.

    ………………………………………………….Walter de la Mare (1912)
    ………………….

    ……George Tooker, The Listeners

    ………………….

    ………………
    …………………..US AND HER

    …………………..She breathes on our window—
    …………………..she cannot see us clearly
    …………………..so she writes our outline
    …………………..on the misted pane.
    …………………..She makes our eyes
    …………………..darker than they are,
    …………………..she makes the candles
    …………………..shine brighter.
    …………………..Then she makes us lie down
    …………………..and tells us all the stories
    …………………..that come true.

    …………………..We stand up months later—
    …………………..we are transparent as glass,
    …………………..we are honey,
    …………………..we are water.

    ………………

    Christopher

  7. wfkammann said,

    March 28, 2014 at 9:15 am

    The Fox Sisters and the Birth of Spiritualism

    ….The Fox Sisters

    “And so it was on the evening of March 31, that the family had gone to bed early in the hope of finding the rest that had been eluding them. The sounds began shortly after they retired, and increased quickly in volume and intensity. What was different on this evening, however, was a moment that is now legendary in the Modern Spiritualist church. One of the girls called out to the sound: “Mister Splitfoot, do as I do.” She then proceeded to clap her hands three times, and the source of the sound responded in kind by rapping three times. That simple but critical decision to address the source of the sound as though it possessed intelligence and comprehension had ripple effects that persist to this day.”…

    “For those who believed, Spiritualism offered evidence of the continuity of life—of life after death. Communication with those who had “passed over” was likened to the invention of Samuel Morse and was even christened “the spiritual telegraph.” As the century progressed and so many young men were lost to the Civil War, killed far from home and often with little information to send back to relatives, the desire to communicate and find closure beyond the grave had an extraordinary pull.”

    A friend’s mother in Salzburg was a Pendlerin (a woman who tells fortunes using a pendulum). After the second world war mothers and wives would bring pictures of missing soldiers to her and she would determine whether they were living or dead. If the pendulum did not move; they were dead.

    • wfkammann said,

      March 28, 2014 at 9:18 am

      I had a reading with this woman in Austria and she told me that I would return to the States and meet a friend of her daughters; and return with her to Austria and marry her. That one was right on!

  8. March 28, 2014 at 11:19 am

    That’s beautiful, Bill — but as hard as I try I can’t see the connection between either of your comments and the two poems combined with the engraving that came just before. Of course you may just mean that there are spirits in the house in Walter de la Mare’s famous poem, and that therefore the subject is spiritualism. My own feeling would be that even in the poem it’s the traveller who is the focus, not the house, and that the mystery that haunts the poem lies in the mystery of the man with the “grey eyes,” “the one man left awake,” as he’s called, not in the ghosts. Indeed, I’d say that the house is haunted because the man is haunted, and that that’s what makes “The Listeners” so profound, and why one never gets bored with its riddle what is more to the bottom of it. The poem is an occult manifestation in itself, one might even say, hidden, secret, but you can’t hear it as you might some rapping in a closet or under the table in a Victorian seance, or get an answer from it, even with a pendulum.

    I deliberately combined the de la Mare poem with the George Tooker engraving to bring such listening into “the world of men,” because of course the painting is a painting about listening as much as it is about hearing, and they’re not the same. An awful lot of listening can take place even when you hear nothing.

    Of course Robert Frost meant what he says about the ear in relation to a writer’s craft in particular, and he’s dead right — though of course we all have different ears and are tuned to different rhythms, registers, dialects, intervals and diction. But in poetry we also listen beyond the words, I’d say — we can also hear something that’s not just a product of craft, and quite frankly that’s what I listen for most.

    So much depends upon William Carlos Williams’ famous red wheelbarrow beside the white chickens, we all know that, but that’s not because it’s such a brilliant description, which it’s not, or such a brilliant poem, which it isn’t either, but simply because the poem has somehow seized our profoundest attention.

    That’s the mystery that interests me, that’s the haunting — and as in so many of Wlliam Carlos Williams’ poems, it’s not because they’re so well-written. It’s because we let them!

    Dawn Potter said just above, “My only reason for posting it [the URL at the start of this thread] was an unformed perception of two minds struggling in disparate ways for some grasp of the inarticulate.” I think that’s what it is as well, as painful as that may be.

    Christopher

  9. wfkammann said,

    March 29, 2014 at 12:39 am

    Christopher,

    In the simplest sense you might say that the body is our “house” and that within it is the spirit. This “mind/body problem” is the haunting.

    When we project this “problem” on the world we get a demon in every place; in every tree; in every stream etc. (Padmasambhava)

    It seems certain that what we call intelligence is part of the world around us; in fact, many animals and plants have intelligent abilities far beyond our own e.g. bears can smell objects 18 miles away.

    The limits of our senses or our intelligence is not the limit of the “reality” of the world. In that sense, Christopher, there is always a mystery lurking. The poem is about fulfilling a promise; about returning even if all the witnesses are dead and gone.

    You fixate on “spiritualism” and forget that even though the Fox Sisters admitted that the knocking was a fraud they still took “the spook house” to Lily Dale where it stayed in the grove until it burned down in the 50’s.

    As Robert Frost said:

    “For, dear me, why abandon a belief,
    Merely because it ceases to be true,
    Cling to it long enough, and not a doubt,
    It will turn true again, for so it goes.”

  10. March 29, 2014 at 11:14 am

    “Superstition, like belief, must die.” says Philip Larkin in “Church Going, and then asks, “And what remains when disbelief is gone?” And that’s a really challenging question.

    Stage 1.) Belief is gone;
    Stage 2.) Superstition is gone;
    Stage 3.) Disbelief is gone;
    Stage 4.) xxxxxxxxxxxxx remains.

    It’s step #3 that’s the hard one, getting rid of the disbelief without falling back into superstition etc. It’s moving forward and beyond disbelief that’s so difficult.

    So what does remain when disbelief is gone?

    Today we are most interested in what we call “reality,” starting as we do from the assumption that human senses are dependable and modern minds unfettered. We are “empirical,” we say, we accept as “real” only facts uncolored by primitive, old fashioned, unscientific prejudices and fantasies. We are sensible, we assume, and see the world in a serious, sensible, practicable way.

    So here’s the crunch. On the basis of our contemporary assumptions, step #4 is literally “inconceivable” because the “literal” world upon which our minds as well as our senses are based is no longer in control. What happens at Stage #4 is an experience that is “uncertain,” in Werner Heisenberg’s sense – contradictory, paradoxical, absurd, unreliable and endlessly unrepeatable. A realm for lovers certainly, but also for subatomic physicists, cosmologists, shamans and other madmen like artists and children.

    Yes, and if Stage #4 is an option for human beings at all, I feel sure that it must have been an option available to a mind as profound and unfettered yet frustrated in his spiritual life as Galileo’s.

    ~

    I don’t know what it is, but I feel sure Stage #4 is there, even for someone as limited as myself. I also don’t think it’s so rare. I think the Fox girls visited it, yes, for sure, and I know well a devout and extremely practical pastor who secretly believes that Jahweh is not the same being as the one he preaches and his parishioners worship, that in fact there have been many such superior personages descending to earth in space-ships at intervals and that we will eventually all go the same route. I also know a sincere Jesuit Priest who is an atheist but down on his knees at the Mass everyday, and of course even Thomas Merton never had a vision or received any confirmation from above as he so dearly desired. And then there’s the contemporary Gnostic theologian, Elaine Pagels — she lost her faith at the death of her son and wrote a book called “Beyond Belief.”

    And of course there’s Robert Frost in Bill’s quote from “The Black Cottage.”

    In “The Black Cottage,” a similar priest to those above remembers how he readjusted things a bit to protect the faith of the old lady who once lived there. He thinks about going where she had dwelled himself, and in so doing dreams of a life such as the crazy Desert Fathers led — as did Thomas Merton in another sort of desert in Kentucky.

    ………..“I’m just as glad she made me keep hands off,
    ………..For, dear me, why abandon a belief
    ………..Merely because it ceases to be true.
    ………..Cling to it long enough, and not a doubt
    ………..It will turn true again, for so it goes.
    ………..Most of the change we think we see in life
    ………..Is due to truths being in and out of favour.
    ………..As I sit here, and oftentimes, I wish
    ………..I could be monarch of a desert land
    ………..I could devote and dedicate forever
    ………..To the truths we keep coming back and back to.
    ………..So desert it would have to be, so walled
    ………..By mountain ranges half in summer snow,
    ………..No one would covet it or think it worth
    ………..The pains of conquering to force change on.
    ………..Scattered oases where men dwelt, but mostly
    ………..Sand dunes held loosely in tamarisk
    ………..Blown over and over themselves in idleness.
    ………..Sand grains should sugar in the natal dew
    ………..The babe born to the desert, the sand storm
    ………..Retard mid-waste my cowering caravans—”

    ………..“There are bees in this wall.” He struck the clapboards,
    ………..Fierce heads looked out; small bodies pivoted.
    ………..We rose to go. Sunset blazed on the windows.

    Remarkable, “the sand storm / Retard mid-waste my cowering caravans—”. And with listeners too.

    ~

    “Great God, I’d rather be a Pagan suckled in a creed outworn!” cries out William Wordsworth, longing like all of us for a glimpse of something that would make him “less forlorn.” And wouldn’t one have liked to be a fly on the wall when Coleridge was talking in the early hours of the morning?

    Fortunately you don’t have to be a fly on the wall for Emily Dickinson as she did all the recording of the important stuff so scrupulously herself.

    Christopher

  11. wfkammann said,

    March 30, 2014 at 3:59 am

    1. Belief is gone. Belief that there is something permanent and unchanging; that there is some him/herself unchanging Being who created it all. Wisdom dispels the fundamental ignorance of a self or a soul or of any permanent part to anything. (this, I would say, is enlightenment)

    2. Superstition is gone. Perhaps like the animists we attribute a spirit to the place; to the stream, tree, etc. This reaction to the world is not as fundamental as a belief in a permanent thing. We DO hear noises in the haunted house and we may even “see” ghosts. By superstition we may mean knocking wood, crossing yourself etc. Unlike belief, to live without superstition may be an actual loss since it is part of our response to the “conventional reality” we live in. When I knock wood I carry on a family tradition I learned from my Irish grandmother; so what’s wrong with that?

    3. Disbelief is gone. Once you realize that your belief is based on ignorance and there is nothing permanent there, there is no need for disbelief unless you want to teach others to give up belief or unless you equate disbelief with that realization that what we thought was permanently there is gone. (an instance of “emptiness”) i.e. disbelief in the sense “I can’t believe my birth-house in no longer there.”

    4. As the old Zen Koan goes: “Before enlightenment, chop wood; carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood; carry water.” The post enlightenment state is one where the “dependent nature” of all phenomena is the same as their lack of any permanent part. Nothing changes but you and you had always been changing.

    You will cry that this is smug and meaningless. Too simple. No desire, joy, love or agony, pain or hate left. No, it’s still all there but the backache is simply the result of chopping wood and carrying water and not because someone made you do it. It is all beyond the emotions and ignorance that limit us.

    You seem to want to have your ignorance and eat it too.

  12. March 30, 2014 at 10:34 am

    There’s some wonderful stuff there, Bill — and I’ve read it a number of times.

    But I still don’t understand what’s wrong with wanting to have your ignorance and eat it too, which I would describe as a most fertile dilemma as we all know that the wise man is of course a fool, and the more so a fool the wiser he gets until he breaks his staff, burns his books, and hitch-hikes home. Indeed, Prospero is a beautiful example of what you say I want, as I would like to say Galileo was too but in the latter case I just have to guess as, unlike Emily Dickinson, there are no records to consult.

    The problem with the Buddhist formulation, at least on the philosophical level, is not just it’s lack of joy, love and agony, as you say, Bill, but it’s dryness, or “aridity” as the Medieval nuns and monks called it, acedia in Latin, the most painful and intractable obstacle to meditation as well as to sex, prayer, art, writing, marriage or just plain survival when your a human being. I think Robert Frost is playing with this obstruction too in “The Black Cottage” as he spins out the priest’s riff on what might be called a voluntary surrender to one’s own ignorance, i.e. a decision to believe “as if” one really did believe. That’s why Frost’s imagery goes into the desert – at least, that’s what I think. In fact I’d be delighted if someone challenged me on that, how I can make the glide from the general desert imagery at the end of “The Black Cottage” to the 4th century Desert Fathers specifically. Any takers?

    (Please, please get back to me if you’ve got some ideas on this.)

    Just to say that one of my favorite books on all this is The Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton, a delightful (yes – humorous, whimsical!) little compendium of the Desert Fathers. And that old paperback is right up there on my shelf beside Zen and the Birds of Appetite by the same author — two precious New Directions paperbacks I’ve carried with me ever since the 60s. And then there’s Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance next door — does anybody still read it?

    What Buddhism has done about the “dryness” inherent in its philosophy is to embrace so much of the purple magic and animism that the religion encountered as it migrated eastward over the Himalayas to China, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, and California. So the original Indian Buddha of Compassion, Avalokatesvara, for example, becomes an erotic female goddess in Tibet, then the ravishingly beautiful Mother of God, Kwan Im, in China, and finally the big hearted, radiant Savior God of Pure Faith called Amitabha Buddha in Japan. The irony is that the Amitabha cult assumes there is a distinct soul to save, and that contradicts the basic tenet of Buddhist philosophy which is that there is no soul in the first place, and therefore nothing to save. (There is quite a lot about Tara, Kwan Im and Amitabha Buddha on this site already here and even more so here – just scroll down a bit to find it. As it’s not really the subject of the present thread I’d prefer not to get into it further at this point.)

    “For so it goes,” as Robert Frost has his priest say in “The Black Cottage,” and I love it all. Indeed, I’d say there’s nothing in any human formulation but images in the end, and of course the soul doesn’t exist at one moment, and then is worth dying for at another, and of course there’s always the woman out there with open arms who will either save you or devour you, depending on the fashion.

    And when you come right down to it there’s nothing left for anyone but a bowed head, even for an atheist, and it will always look like this:

    Millet, The Angelus……………………………………………….Jean-François Millet, “The Angelus” (1859)

    Christopher

  13. wfkammann said,

    March 31, 2014 at 2:11 am

    1915 Frost

    “The Black Cottage”

    ………………But suppose she had missed it from the Creed
    ………………As a child misses the unsaid Good-night,
    ………………And falls asleep with heartache…

    How many nights, Christopher? The desert in the passage you quoted just above, though, reminds me of our recent trip to Morocco.

    We visited the ancient city of Sijilmasa within sight of the snow covered High Atlas Mountains. The end and beginning of the caravans to Timbuktu and beyond. He would be a monarch. I don’t see desert fathers here so much as Shangri la. Honey in the walls. The loss of innocence; the doubting of Jefferson’s ideals. Finally, the ability to say that some deserve less.

    Yeats locates “The Second Coming” (1919) “somewhere in the sands of the desert” as well. Isn’t this where Frost was four years before?

    ………………A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    ………………A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    ………………Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    ………………Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    ………………The darkness drops again; but now I know
    ………………That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    ………………were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    ………………And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    ………………Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

    Bill

    • March 31, 2014 at 8:08 am

      I stream-lined the quotes a little in your comment, Bill — I hope you will forgive me. I deleted “The Black Cottage” quote because it had just been put up at some length the day before, and in addition I omitted those parts of “The Second Coming” that didn’t have to do with the desert imagery you were discussing.

      As I made such a mess of it, I’ll hold off on my own reactions and hope you will go on.

      Indeed, I’d love to hear more about what you had in mind when you posted “The Second Coming” as a response to “The Black Cottage.”

      I also don’t quite get what you mean when you ask me, “How many nights, Christopher?”

      I suppose it’s sort of like my poetry — I put it up as a kind of prayer and there’s never any response, just silence, as if there were nothing there. I suppose you could say that my prayers have to be better expressed and set to a more catchy or at least aesthetically acceptable score if God is to pay attention, what is more if the child in me is to feel safe and loved enough to fall asleep. As it is I thrash about all night, and in the morning my poems like my mouth are ashes.

      As in these two much discussed paintings by William Holman Hunt. Am I the importunate neighbor who’s hammering away too late at the door, or the well-intentioned but deluded suppliant knocking at a door that has never been, and never will be, opened?

      William Holman Hunt, The Importunate Knocker………….William Holman Hunt, “The Importunate Neighbour” (1895)

      ……………………Holman Hunt - Light of the World (1854)
      ………………….William Holman Hunt, “The Light of the World”
      ………………………………… (original version – 1854)

      Or is it actually, as I suspect, truly like this:

      ……
      ………..The Soul selects her own Society–
      ………..Then–shuts the Door–
      ………..To her divine Majority–
      ………..Present no more–

      ………..Unmoved–she notes the Chariots–pausing–
      ………..At her low Gate–
      ………..Unmoved–an Emperor be kneeling
      ………..Upon her mat–

      ………..I’ve known her–from an ample nation–
      ………..Choose One–
      ………..Then–close the Valves of her attention–
      ………..Like Stone–
      ……

      Christopher
      …………………….

  14. April 1, 2014 at 10:41 am

    ……………………………….BEYOND DISBELIEF
    What my last comment is also about is what happens when religious imagery is used to think, feel, and understand beyond disbelief – that is, when thought goes into realms which are assumed to be foolish not only by one’s contemporaries but even by oneself — like Galileo continuing to think about God’s stable, perfect, purpose-built Creation as it is described in Genesis even after proving with his own eyes that the earth is peripheral, temporal, and moves. In other words, great minds can also be foolish — “God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world, yet still it moves!” – sort of like that. And the irony is that I think most human beings feel like this even if they speak and act differently in public, like W.H.Auden going regularly to Mass, or Dorothy Day becoming a nun (she was so beautiful too, and she loved so passionately both her man and the daughter they had between them). Or Graham Greene, the Catholic atheist, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, Franz Wright. How many can you name that either did, do or would like to do the same? And how many would you never guess?

    It’s so obvious to me that my last comment is not particularly religious – yet still I know that when most people look at it they’re going to shake their heads and feel sorry for me. “Oh dear,” they’ll say to themselves, feeling embarrassed, “Christopher does have a religious problem, doesn’t he,” or at the very least, “Oh my, he’s a closet Catholic!” — just as Bill still thinks I mean that Galileo caved in under pressure from the Curia whereas I think Galileo was foolish enough not to have had to!

    What I’m talking about is the moment where one’s whole culture and education not only censor one’s thought but set limits on what one is permitted to imagine to be true. And that’s the plight of people who describe themselves as atheists, I think — they want you to know that a.) they have no truck with God and b.) don’t believe in anything but the facts. And I’d call that just “disbelief,” i.e. a reaction against “belief,” and I’d also say that that is out of the frying pain and into yet another belief-system-fire which recites as it’s creed, “I don’t believe any of the above — I’m a Scientist!” And that’s an enormously limiting creed, I’d say, as it dismisses just about everything human beings have ever achieved, glimpsed, or embraced as the truth throughout human history, not to speak of the fact that it also seriously limits one’s own ability to think more than one truth at once what is more to read poetry that matters.

    And of course my phrase, “imagines the truth,” waves a potent red flag in our time too, because we’re “empirical” and we know the truth is not what we imagine but what we “see.” On the other hand, my position is that we can do both — without rejecting science we can, like the great Galileo, simultaneously a.) look at and b.) imagine the truth, and I’d also say that most cutting-edge scientists do just that all the time.

    And here’s the real mind-bender-moment in all this — I’d say that one can use the imagination in what might be called a “negative capability” sort of way — “that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason – Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.”

    And you know where that comes from, of course. And needless to say, you also know that the same author wrote that beauty is truth, and proved it.

    And in the same context, not just of beauty but of imagining the truth without getting irritated by contradictions, here’s the only poem of mine Bill has ever told me he liked, at least a little. (I wish the world could learn how to read more of me like this. But don’t worry, world, I’ll never stop knocking — I just wish you’d get out of bed because my unexpected guests are hungry!)

    ……
    ……WHEREIN THY GREAT STRENGTH LIETH

    ………..“This ring is a crown of thorns!”
    ………..she cries
    ………..
when hers would fit

    ………..inside of his if not hung upon

    ………..the tree of life,

    ………..her neck.

    ………..Down there between her quiet
    ………..
breasts it hangs, warm and round,

    ………..while his is cold,

    ………..slabbed out 

    ………..upon a wooden block—
    ………..tressed gold,
    ………..a crux of three different strands,

    ………..white for youth,
    ………..yellow for age, 

    ………..and red for overcoming age.

    ………..His out-thrust finger aches

    ………..to be so crowned, 

    ………..the thorns stick in his throat
    ………..and make a god’s harsh words

    ………..instead of love.
    ……

    Christopher

    ……

  15. wfkammann said,

    April 2, 2014 at 1:31 am

    Yes, I do like that poem. It is comprehensible. To compare a triune wedding ring to a crown of thorns and then the sticking in the throat and the harsh words instead of love. Yes, that all speaks to me. The title is ambiguous: his strength; her strength; someone else’s strength? It is simple; not too many images or thoughts.

    Finally, on Galileo:

    Milton met with Galileo and included him in Paradise Lost: a poem with a Ptolemaic universe dealing with the big issue of “justification” (as if there were an excuse for God!)

    As I mentioned above, the limitation of the senses assures that there will always be abundant mystery and things unknowable. The ignorance and hubris that makes us think that we can know an unchanging; non-relative “truth” is the basis of the human comedy.

    When my son Matthew was about to go off to college we took a road trip through NY State; then down into Pennsylvania where he was born; further along the Blue Ridge Highway to Charlottesville and back to NYC. In Jamestown, where I was born, I wanted to show him the tennis courts where my brother and I had spent so many hours and years.

    When we got there I experienced the shock of emptiness. The clay courts where we had played were not there. Just an empty field without even a fence around it. The expectation of permanence was smashed. The hope of sharing this part of my life was thwarted. Desperately scanning the field I spotted one lone net post among the weeds. “Look, look,” I said, “there’s a net post.” “You see, there WAS a tennis court here.” See my post above on “The Great Stone Face” for another discussion of this.

    So if you want to believe that Galileo saw the old model as meaningful, if untrue, good for you. Have your ignorance and eat it too. He certainly was forced to recant and it was NOT a high point for the Catholic Church. If you choose to bow to such power or rationalize it, that’s your business.

    Milton didn’t jump ahead into some kind of science fiction either, did he?

    The Dalai Lama says that the old cosmology involving Mount Meru, although scriptural, is outdated and should not be taken as literal truth. He even gave a grant to Emory University to develop modern science texts for use in Tibetan monasteries in India. There’s still plenty of unknown to go around.

    Never occurred to me that you might be a closet Roman Catholic, but then I do remember a church in Paris with beautiful music that you attended religiously.

    • April 2, 2014 at 11:00 am

      Saint-Gervais behind the Hôtel de Ville — Les Fraternités de Jérusalem, a modern order of monks and nuns that has decided that the true Desert today is at the center of the city. I went to mass there everyday for a year. If you beg me I could show you some poetry, none of which has been published.

  16. April 2, 2014 at 10:22 am

    Hoist with your own petard, I’d say, Bill:

    “the limitation of the senses assures that there will always be abundant mystery and things unknowable. The ignorance and hubris that makes us think that we can know an unchanging; non-relative “truth” is the basis of the human comedy.”

    I mean, how can you approach my poem with such a comfortable, all’s-right-with-the-world, populist high-five like that, as if “comprehensible” were the touchstone of successful art?

    Which it so rarely is.

    What’s so great about “comprehensible” if our mental equipment is so limited? If it’s comprehensible it’s almost certainly also simplistic, isn’t it, tidied-up, pigeon-holed, inboxed-outboxed, reduced to the lowest common denominator in the D.I.Y shop? It’s not the easy parts but the inexplicable absences, the unknown presences, the glitches where the real search begins in all art, the gaps, the holes, the cave-ins, the inexplicable “haunting” as Emily Dickinson called it. The merely comprehensible doesn’t support haunting at all, just Disneyland family-fun. (You might look back at our discussion of Norman Rockwell — how he transcended The Saturday Evening Post and made it fly with his inimitable ironies, sensitivities, and humor. A very great artist, I’d say, who goes so much farther than he had to. Have a look again at “Shuffleton’s Barber Shop” to see what that means. And there’s a discussion of more of that if you scroll down from here.)

    Even “The Listeners” isn’t “comprehensible” — unless one short-changes it with a spiritualist reading. But the moment you sense that the stranger on the horse is also a ghost, not just the ghosts, and that it is he that brings with him the listeners like ghosts that live in his own personal history, then the whole poem opens up to being heard — but it doesn’t say what it means. The ghosts in the poem become the incomprehensible mysteries of the soul, and I’d say that that’s the level at which all great poetry is always felt. It’s the incomprehensible part that makes it poetry, after all. Otherwise just call it narrative and tell it in prose (though most great short stories and even novels also operate on the level of poetry, but you have to let them…)

    And your quibble about the title really gets to me, Bill — “Wherein Thy Great Strength Lieth?” Do you think that’s just the title of a story? Well, there’s no narrative in this poem at all, and though it uses wedding rings in its imagery it’s not about husbands and wives or even about marriage – it’s about something much more shaky and shocking than that. Any reader naturally will bring his or her own experience of love and marriage to bear on the rings (our own listeners are always there, after all), but that just deepens and localizes the metaphor, and makes it more urgent, and relevant, if we can stand it. The experience you bring to the poem doesn’t the least bit say what the poem is about – if it did that would just be déjà vu all over again. So why bother?

    “Comprehensible?” In what sense? “A god’s harsh words instead of love?” Is that where thy great strength lieth? Really? And if so, is that sort of strength “comprehensible,” I mean, is it easy to understand just like that? If so, it sounds pretty perverse to me, or not quite honest at least. I just wouldn’t believe it if that were all — as the method acting-teacher says to the student who tries too hard.

    I wrote the poem, and I love it and often recite it to myself. On the other hand, I haven’t a clue what it means – which is why it keeps on asking me to listen to it over and over again.

    ~

    Here’s another “title” poem of mine that almost everybody likes, even Dawn Potter. And what’s “comprehensible” about this one? Indeed, what’s comprehensible about anything that matters, and most of all, what’s comprehensible about sex?

    ……
    ….HE MISTAKES HER KINGDOM FOR A HORSE

    …………….He heard horses
    …………….when she meant writing,

    …………….he heard sweat,
    …………….the creamy lather where

    …………….the taut skin
    …………….works against the leather.

    …………….He heard writing
    …………….when she meant

    …………….riding her journal,
    …………….the words a broad back

    …………….beneath her, pressed
    …………….up and caught between

    …………….her long phrases and the
    …………….need to be heard by him,

    …………….the naked verb,
    …………….the taut joy ridden

    …………….but prepositional,
    …………….the taut thorn,

    …………….a word, a horse
    …………….working between them.
    ………..

    Christopher

    NOTE ADDED LATER: published in The Beloit Poetry Journal (Fall 2009). Nominated for the 2010 Pushcart Prize.

  17. wfkammann said,

    April 3, 2014 at 6:32 am

    No, Christopher

    I’d say that some level of comprehensibility is the key that lets you into the spook house; without it, you’ll never enter. Your sexy horse poem is a success for the same reason. Once inside there may be numerous levels, depths and heights implied or stated: beautiful sounds; great thoughts and emotions. But first you have to get them in the door.

    Think of the profound irony; sarcasm and illogic which makes the opening of the Second Book of Paradise Lost. You are drawn in and then delighted by the layered rhetoric.

    ……………Blake

    To imply that the only only thing worth knowing is the thing we cannot know is cynical. Things now beyond our senses and understanding are not the subject of poetry since they are by definition unknowable. Generally poetry deals with the things that everyone knows like the sexy horse above.

    • April 3, 2014 at 11:03 am

      Why is it cynical if it’s true?

      Show me the person who really knows who won’t tell you that the more a person knows the more that person is likely to feel humbled by his or her ignorance. The cynic is the one that makes fun of people for trying, and of course the cynic stays at home.

      You defeat yourself in your last sentence because obviously you haven’t a clue what “He Mistakes Her Kingdom for a Horse” is about. You equate “knowing” with having one single thought or idea about something, like “sexy horse.” Then you label it neatly and you’re done.

      Poetry says it in quantum clusters that move in two or more contradictory directions at once while remaining absolutely motionless — which is sort of what “He Mistakes Her Kingdom for a Horse” is about too, isn’t it?

      C.

      • wfkammann said,

        April 4, 2014 at 4:42 am

        Reminds me of the old line: “How can you be two places at once, when you’re not anywhere at all.”

        It could very well be that I am trying to understand quantum poetry with a telescope, or divining rod. I don’t have the right tools to do this type of poem justice.

        After all, “He Mistakes Her Kingdom for a Horse” was nominated for a prize; so, I wouldn’t work so hard defending it. And implying that I’m a boor is like beating a dead horse. Lighten up and post some more poetry.

  18. April 3, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Bill—
    Your problem is that you’re so concerned with being one-up you’re incapable of being vulnerable and, even worse, mock the vulnerability in others.

    A poem is always vulnerable, and any poem can be hurt by a cynic who lives in a fortress armed with cheap shots, like referring TWICE to my poem as about a “sexy horse,” which it isn’t on any level.

    That’s a cheap shot, and I’m not in a position to suffer it, and won’t.

    I remember very well that awful moment in 2009 when Tom Brady went for James Wright in a similar way — James Wright, of all people, such a true poet as well as such a fragile yet generous soul. Do you remember what Tom said??

    “A Blessing” by James Wright is maudlin crap, perhaps the worst poem ever published. The lust for horsies and the ’break into blossom’ trope is embarrassing in the extreme.
    “Northern Pike” is a close second: “we prayed for the muskrats.”
    “I am so happy.” — Good grief!”

    I felt very uncomfortable with that side of Tom, and you do the same with my poetry all the time. Like chopping up my poem in the “Make It New” thread without ever giving a thought to its title, not once, what is more reading it carefully. And then setting the whole 1st section of the poem aside because you thought it was “Good” and subsequently turning 180° and dismissing it because you decided it a.) should have been about The Odyssey and b.) the images were illogical.

    Your last comment just above was along the same lines, as was the one before it. “It is simple,” you said about “Wherein They Great Strength Lieth,” “not too many images or thoughts” — whereas there are 12 distinct images in a 21 line, 79 word poem!!! Indeed, a critic might well say it was overloaded, which would be hard to defend if the images weren’t so meticulously interwoven in the verse and the thrust of the poem so passionate. Indeed, it’s a good poem because it has integrity, which almost all my poetry does (I hate myself when I’m cute and cut myself right out when I am).

    “It is simple; not too many thoughts” is what you said, and I want to know what poem you were reading? Because the one I wrote called “Wherein They Great Strength Lieth” is a whole compendium of thoughts, epochs, and revelations in every sense of the word and on almost every level. I mean, with a title like that what would you expect?

    When it comes to poetry you just say the first thing that comes into your head, and it’s usually Milton or Blake. Well, neither Milton or Blake are anywhere near the zone in which “He Mistakes Her Kingdom for a Horse” exists, and your trotting them out is mock-heroic, to put it generously.

    I don’t want to stop, but I can’t continue with so much mockery and willful distortion because I don’t have a reputation or any readers to stand up for me. I’m all alone stark naked when I put up a poem of mine here, and if the only person who comments on my work says nothing about it except that it’s malformed and twisted, and they haven’t even read it?

    I know you’ve supported me in other ways, Bill, but only on an intellectual, game-play level, and though there is that element in Cowpattyhammer, I don’t want it to be all on that one note, which is boring. And particularly not when it comes to specific poems which I love, including my own.

    There are more and more people following this thread – oh how I wish you’d come in and tell me, “Don’t stop!”

    Christopher

  19. April 4, 2014 at 10:10 am

    Dear Followers,
    I’m very grateful to those of you who have sent me e-mail encouragements in response to my plea, and I do understand that it’s not easy to take part in such an exposed forum, particularly when so much of it feels as if it could get decidedly uncomfortable.

    Oh dear.

    Some specific responses to you good people:

    1.) Yes, of course such a blog is a meditation in itself, and I’ve learned a great deal in trying to say things I’ve never said before or, in some cases, even been able to think about alone in my thoughts. This sort of writing is about self-discovery, for sure, and I thank you for having been there to make it possible, even in your silence. Because I really do feel that you’re there.

    2.) One of you observed how much you respect the way I rewrite my comments even after they’ve been posted, and that you find the evolution of my thoughts and sharpening up of my language of great interest in itself. Thanks for noticing that, as that’s a very important dimension to me. WordPress has that option for commentators too but it has to be activated by the Administrator, i.e. me. Let me know if you’d like that facility and I’d be very happy to put you on the list — no pressure to use it, but you could if you ever wanted to…

    3.) Another follower sent me a note about Spinoza’s insistence that God couldn’t interfere with Natural Laws because He had made them as they were, and I just wondered why that couldn’t have been said in a comment, it was so relevant to Galileo’s dilemma? The person also said that “He Mistakes Her Kingdom for a Horse” uses language and passion to create sexual tension and show the differences between men and women — he wanted to reassure me that somebody at least had understood my poem, and I’m grateful for that. But why not go on and connect the narrative level with the title, for example, and surely the riding/writing dynamic is operative too, particularly as the imagery is all parts of speech, not just parts of the body? If someone had ventured to make those observations in a comment the poem might have been saved from Bill’s “sexy horse” remark, which in the end is all it got. Of course it has won a prize, but it still got a little bit hurt.

    4.) I am particularly encouraged by the fact that some young writers are now following my blog, and I promise to try to model some things for you that might be even more helpful in your development. Just remember that I didn’t publish my first poem until I was 52, and that I’m still trying to get my first book published at 74. That may be a daunting prospect as well, but when I remind myself of what that actually means in my life it makes me very hopeful. Indeed, I’d be very pleased if what I’m doing here makes you young writers more hopeful too.

    5.) Finally, I’m most grateful of all for the critical suggestions. I know I do jump around too much, and will try to stay more focused. I promise to get back to “Renascense,” for example, which I left hanging badly, as well as the desert imagery in “The Second Coming” compared to that in “The Black Cottage” — which was published just 4 years earlier, as you point out, and of course in England. And “The Soul Selects.” Promise. And fewer excursions ditto — “big splashes,” you call them. Got it.

    With very best wishes and more thanks to you all — I feel so much better!

    Christopher

  20. April 5, 2014 at 11:22 am

    You can just keep clicking on the photo inside the photo to see what I’m doing today, and if you look carefully you’ll see I’m being watched.

    ……………………….CW Baw Plaa 300
    ………..

    I’m up to my waist working in the mahogany colored water of our baw plaa — a baw is any well or pond, the two being synomynous in a terrain where the water-table is just a foot or two below the surface of the earth you walk on — if you dig a pond you dig a well, and vise versa. This is typical of Chiang Mai, the capital of the old Kingdom of Lanna, “The Land of a Million Rice Fields.” The surface of the landscape floats on the water just beneath it — which is why all the traditional houses in the area are on stilts. Plaa means fish, so this is a ‘fish well,’ in other words a ‘pond.’

    I’m trying to clear the check-valve for the pump pick-up which supplies the fountain in the photo that you found inside the photo — hope you took the trouble to go as far into that as you could and that you spotted the snake and the two frogs. Chiang Mai water doesn’t move as there are no hills, so it’s all variations on ochre to black or, if stirred up by farmers or big cat-fish rooting in the mud, a rich brown. By shooting the water up into the air we revitalize it — we give it a big breath of fresh air and a thorough wash in the sunlight. And at this time of the year when it’s so hot and dry, the fountain creates a breeze too, and there are moments at this time of the year when we feel we wouldn’t survive without it.

    So that’s a nice sort of break for everybody, not just for the fish but for the frogs, the snakes, the boatmen and water spiders, and the millions of tiny little iridescent fish like in your aquarium with the bubbler. And then the really big koi that we’ve been living with for almost 20 years now, close friends. Indeed, I think it’s a race between me and them as to who’s going to get out of here first.

    Christopher