HOW BAD IS THE DEVIL?

Mantegna 466

At the very end of his life, Andrea Mantegna inscribed the answer to the question on the tree in this delicate cameo-painting of Delilah snipping away at Samson’s hair — as if the fountain next to the tree weren’t clarification enough.

If it’s hard to read the words on the tree, you can click on the tree itself to read them more easily — and if that’s still not enough you can click yet again on the bigger picture. Then it’s a piece of cake — that is, the riddle’s a piece of cake, not the beautiful, dignified, introspective young woman trimming the hair of her grizzled, old, pumped-up and psyched-out lover, the act that reduces all men to the divine fools they are destined to be. Because the Divine Fool is the true message of the Samson story, it seems to me, that is if you read the details of the story very carefully — or, alternatively, if you carefully and exhaustively read your own life, or even read me if you know where to look — which is why I am writing what follows, to find out.

I’m going to leave some space on that now, for reflection.

[ADDED A WEEK LATER]

My reflections on Mantegna’s dictum, foemina diabolo tribus assibus est mala peior, are developed day by day in the Comments below, and if you are interested in such things I hope you will be able to read them with as much hope for an answer as I posted them. On the other hand, if you’re impatient you can skip ahead to a specific discussion of HOW BAD IS THE DEVIL IN THE END.  But fasten your seat belts as you scroll down, because jumping ahead is going to make for a very fast ride!

And those of you who start at the beginning, be warned as well: the discussion that follows thrives on hair-pins and other sticky corners, and very often paints itself into untenable places as well — I do hope you’ll be charitable and forgive me for all the dead-ends. I’m an Old Father William, and all I can tell you is that this is how it goes. Indeed, that’s part of the riddle of knowing where you are in the space you inhabit, and it doesn’t much matter whether it’s on earth, in space, buried in your own person or in some other idea or dimension, or perhaps even suited up in a New Age space-vehicle transitting infinity to arrive where you actually are, like in Carl Sagan’s Contact.

Wrapped up in your own cocoon like Eve, in other words, even if you’re a man and not yet ready to be that beautiful, powerful, and fey. Or a snake with your own tail in your mouth like Satan in the Garden of Eden — indeed, you may even be impatient enough to want to go straight to the discussion for men and women who are no longer inhabitants of the Garden of Eden but would like to know what really happened back then.

……….1.) CLICK HERE TO START AT THE BEGINNING OF THE END.

Or if, like most of my friends, you’re more interested in my own demise as a soi-disant angel and poet yet again you can begin at that end:

……….2.) CLICK HERE FOR THE END OF WHAT WAS ACHIEVED IN THIS THREAD.

Or if you’re really impatient and just want to know what happens at the various ends:

……….3.) CLICK HERE FOR THE SECOND TO LAST POSTSCRIPT.

And finally, if you don’t want to begin at any end but just keep on fooling around like Old Father William:

……….4.) CLICK ON THE END OF HIS NOSE TO SEE HOW EVERYTHING GOES.

Christopher Woodman,
Chiang Mai, March 3rd, 2016
….

THIS THREAD IS CONTINUED IN THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW.

 

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70 Comments

  1. December 16, 2015 at 11:56 am

    As Peter Abelard insisted both before and after he tutored Heloïse, there are at least two ways to answer important questions like “How bad is the devil?” One can see that while looking at Mantegna’s little cameo of Delilah, for example, and then examining what was inscribed on the tree. The same can certainly apply to the little 15th century bronze aquamanile depicting the philosopher Aristotle with Phyllis riding on his back — Phyllis, the beautiful consort of Aristotle’s most distinguished pupil, Alexander the Great.

    Aristotle recommended that the young Alexander concentrate on philosophy, and to do that well, Aristotle insisted, Alexander would have to be good. Indeed, that dilemma became a major trope in the 15th and 16th centuries along with the numerous depictions of Delilah’s relationship with Samson on the one hand and Judith’s with Holofernes on the other. They loved the fact that Aristotle’s insistence that Alexander the Great be good ended up with the philosopher being tutored by Phyllis as above, and even today that’s hot stuff!

    Looking at the little, 500 year old bronze figurine (it’s a ewer for hand-washing) from one angle, one might well ask, “Is philosophy that good?”

    On the other hand, turning one’s head slightly to the side and examining it from another perspective, one might equally well exclaim, “Is philosophy that bad?”

    (When I asked a young American student last night around the table, “Would you like some wine?” he replied, “I’m good.” That perplexed me — if somebody says “I’m fine” I get it.)

    You may be tired of it, but I’m afraid I’m not, and as I really don’t have to worry that much about boring my readers as nobody reads me anyway, let me be frank.

    As you already know, I wrote the following little poem twenty years before it got published. Indeed, as you probably also recall, “He Mistakes Her Kingdom for a Horse” was rejected over and over again during those years, indeed more times than I had fingers on both hands to scold it for being that bad. But you may not have realized that it was about Aristotle and Phyllis as well — I don’t think I mentioned that before, probably because I was too embarrassed.

    But I’m afraid there’s still more. I always had a special feeling for “He Mistakes Her Kingdom for a Horse” as I do for all my old lovers, even the ones who hurt me the most, them especially, I think, and I never gave up on the poem — until suddenly, poof, it was good! And now that the poem has appeared in print, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has even been praised in these pages, I find that it has started to address me again, its guardian and mentor, in an entirely new voice, more persuasive, authoritative even, as if it had been released from my own limitations as just another old fuddy-duddy tutor. And now the poem is talking, talking, talking, and I have to admit that even at 76 I never get tired of what it seems to be saying even as it too is getting older. Just like the little bronze 15th century aquamanile with Phyllis riding on the back of her illustrious philosopher-lover, and giving him a good old wack on the buttocks instead!

    So how bad is the devil anyway?

    ……….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.

    …………………………………………. The Beloit Poetry Journal, Fall Issue, 2009

  2. December 17, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    I spent the last 48 hours writing and rewriting the Aristotle & Phyllis post, and do hope you’ll give it one more reading. Also I hope you’ll tell me it was worth it.

    As a little incentive, and just so you’ll know what I’m getting at, here’s a haiku on the same topic — it’s the last section of an unpublished poem called “LA FIESTA BRAVA” that I don’t think you know and which will be central to this whole thread. And do take note that it’s THE END, which I hope will make more sense as we proceed.

    …….

    ……………………..IV. THEY SHOOT & TELL
    And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords,
    and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his
    death were more than they which he slew in his life.

    ……………………………………………………………………..Judges 16.30
    ……………………………Go, boys,
    ……………………………bid the soldiers
    ……………………………shoot & tell the girls
    ……………………………God’s secret’s
    ……………………………Adam’s
    ………………………………………….hair.

    …….

  3. December 18, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    But everybody knows this next one. It’s the VIth part of a long poem called “Connemara Trousers” — I’m putting it up again here because the poem still gets flack from female readers, and I want to see if I can clarify it further by placing it in a wider context. (You can let me know how it’s doing.)

    As you may recall, “Connemara Trousers” is based on an old, black and white photo I found 25 years ago in Galway, the Republic of Ireland. It shows a group of barefoot boys in a school yard c. 1900, with the younger ones dressed in skirts — “to disguise themselves from the faeries,” the hand-written note on the back of the photo reads. (You can see a copy of the photo here.)
    …………

    ………..VI. WHY THE FAIRIES DON’T MESS WITH GIRLS

    …………………….Because they give up
    …………………………..and then they tell,

    …………………….Because they change the rules
    …………………………..and then they change sides,

    …………………….Because they plan the end
    …………………………..and then abandon the game,

    …………………….Because they have no honor
    …………………………..and hardly ever dream,

    …………………….Because they don’t go too far
    …………………………..and always play for real,

    …………………….Because they only play
    …………………………..and only play for real.

    ……………………………….What charm
    ……………………………….could distract
    ……………………………….such sense?

    ……………………………….What spell
    ……………………………….could trammel up
    ……………………………….such perfidy?

    ……………………………….What hand
    ……………………………….could palm
    ……………………………….such weight?

    ………………………………………………….from “Connemara Trousers”
    ……………………………………………………(The Kenyon Review, 1992)

    …………

    Note Added Later:
    I would just like to add that the genius of such ‘feminine’ politics could change the world, couldn’t it? The willingness to stop the game and realign the sides, for example, so that nobody has to be humiliated or lose? Or the unethical guile it requires to halt those bloody duels that have to be fought to the death to uphold masculine honor, WWI for example, (think Sykes-Picot!)? Indeed, the wiles of women are genius in comparison to warped masculine principles like never give-in and don’t cry!

    (Three times worse than the devil indeed when the devil is masculine!!!)

    I got a lot of the ideas for this poem from In A Different Voice by Carol Gilligan (1982), also by watching the development of my 3 daughters at Michael Hall, the Rudolf Steiner school in the south of England where I taught, directed plays, fell in love, and wrote poetry while I looked after them, or vise-versa as the case may be.

    Christopher

  4. December 19, 2015 at 10:41 am

    WHAT’S SHE LIKE, THIS WOMAN, THIS GUARDIAN ANGEL, THIS SAVIOR?

    Caravaggio_Judith_Beheading_450

    I’m a man so I’m going to say it like this – from a man’s point of view, from a man’s own quantum angle.

    Bear with me, because if I don’t say it like this it’ll come out all wrong, hobbled, backward and upside-down – or inside-out like some rational man’s fantasy. Perhaps it might even come out as prejudiced and narrow-minded, limited like the views of Adam before Eve sorted him out in the Garden, for example — or perhaps like the goodness Aristotle had in mind for his young star pupil, the one who, despite the great tutor’s best efforts, turned out to be Alexander the Great!

    Indeed, I’m going to say it as a man down on my knees with Phyllis, and even more urgently with Caravaggio’s extraordinary, game-changing Judith (look at her!) as my lover and best friend. (Oh my, how could a man ever get over a woman like that? And you know what it is for me? It’s the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, the bare arms even more than the brow. Indeed, even the old servant-woman who has seen everything can’t believe what such a beautiful young thing can do to such a big man!).

    So here goes.

    For me there is something profoundly disturbing about women, indeed, it’s an experience almost as perverse and disturbing as real life. And when I say “real life” in this context I mean Real Life, not the scientific definition of it, not the chemical properties of matter, or the anatomy of the kidney, not the function of the liver, the structure of our chromosomes or the mechanics of our sight, not even the neurophysics of such thoughts as these, such crazy, walkabout-dreamings. I mean, what it’s really like to be here on earth as a person – I mean what it’s really LIKE? Because that’s the key word we use, isn’t it? Isn’t that what we say  when we try to explain things that really matter about personal experience, not what something is but what it’s ‘LIKE?’ For a human being it’s always not this, not this, not even this either. It’s an approximation, a hunch, something that’s never quite there in itself or repeatable, something which can only be guessed at, stammered over, fumbled around with in similes and metaphors. (Forget telescopes, think kaleidoscopes, think holograms or your first motion picture!)

    Any human being who has the courage to look knows that he or she isn’t just an assembly of structures and circuits but a projection, a light-show, a mirage. We are walking shape-changers, hallucinators, phantom fell-walkers, demons/angels/small children/old nutters in the park that never come back in or go out. Yes, we’re the ones who are never located in the city, or reproduced, or written down in however many text books or whole libraries of novels — or inscribed on however many of the fastest, most byted hard-drives in all the corporate offices and space stations combined in the world. Indeed, each one of us is a unique, unregulated internet, yes, just as indefinable and humongous as that. And that’s exactly like the ‘LIKE’ we always say when we try to talk about life, and also like that NOT-A-HARD-DRIVE image as well.

    That last picture pretty well sums it up when it comes to women, I think, because we men know women simply aren’t ‘hard,’ for one thing, and, though they ‘drive’ us wild, they simply can’t ‘drive’ a car (hear it? the incomprehension? the wonder? the admiration and desire? the frustration? the earthy, celestial, everyday divinest of comedies?).

    Hysterical!

    Ask any man. Ask Samson, or Aristotle, or Peter Abelard. Ask any poet or artist with a golden tongue. Or ask yourself, or even ask me!

    Real life on the human level has nothing to do with the way things ‘work’ any more than it has to do with the ‘parts,’ or how often a ‘function’ can be repeated to be sure it was there in the first place now that it’s gone. And the biggest irony of all is the fact that the imagination has always had a much deeper, healthier and more secure grasp on the true nature of things than the empirical faculties under any regime of reason.  Indeed, if you want really to know what’s what as far as human existence is concerned, ask an Aboriginal, a Shaman, a Tuareg wrapped up in blue robes in the desert or an Inuit deep in furs in the Arctic, or a Hmong still at home with the Ua Dab in Montana or New Jersey. Ask a Tibetan in the Dordogne or an Ethiopian in Toronto, ask any crazy old Jungian in Manhattan, the Cotswolds, or Taos. Ask Crazy Jane, ask the Muppets. Then put it all in your pipe and smoke it out loud while laughing your head off.

    Right off the wall!

    That’s the man talking, and maybe he’ll say a woman is three times worse than the devil — foemina diabolo tribus assibus est mala peior as Mantegna dutifully etched it on Samson’s tree even while painting his beautiful Delilah so true and right next to her fountain. He does that because of the mystery in a woman’s inside-outness, what it does to him, I mean, to be mirrored like that in someone so utterly other, to be so close yet so challenged and disrupted? Yes, and what else can a man do when he allows her to cut off his hair, or even his head for that matter. What else but this?

    ……………Samson Overturns the Columns
    ……………………………………………………Marc Chagall (1958)

    Christopher

  5. December 20, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    ………………..THREE TIMES WORSE THAN THE DEVIL?
    …………………………(a draft, a sketch, a medley…)

    …………..Dod Procter  Standing Nude
    ………………………………………………..Dod Procter (1892-1972)
    ………………………………

    ………………………….AFTER THE ODYSSEY

    ……………………………….The Sabbath leaven
    ……………………………….of her wet skin
    ……………………………….lightens up
    ……………………………….the entry of the hero.

    ……………………………….His huge archaic chest
    ……………………………….and scaffold shoulders
    ……………………………….still bloody with
    ……………………………….suitors
    ……………………………….quicken like a girl’s
    ……………………………….as she returns
    ……………………………….with naked authority
    ……………………………….brazen from the shower.

    ……………………………….Loosening its valor
    ……………………………….her green scent
    ……………………………….scatters his muscles
    ……………………………….like snow-flakes—
    ……………………………….her wine-dark eyes
    ……………………………….flash spring water
    ……………………………….dash the bulk
    ……………………………….the torpor
    ……………………………….from his fluttering limbs.

    ……………………………….His stature explodes
    ……………………………….in a shudder of blossoms.

    ………………

    …………….Leo & Sophia 300
    ……Lev & Sonya Tolstoy — the last wedding-anniversary photo (1910).

    …………………………..

    ………………….AFTER THE BATTLE OF BORODINO

    ………………………………..His faltering flint
    ………………………………..sparks unease

    ………………………………..confusion in the valley
    ………………………………..the bleached smell

    ………………………………..of wet copper
    ………………………………..tongues charged

    ………………………………..with too much sheathed spite
    ………………………………..to seize the bit between them

    ………………………………..her ruined throat
    ………………………………..the silence of what

    ………………………………..cannot be rectified in strife
    ………………………………..greening the ruck between them.

    ………………

    ….Spencer, Tiger Rug
    ……………………………….Sir Stanley Spencer, “On the Tiger Rug” (1940)

    That all reads better to me, I confess.

    Needless to say, everything’s here. I’m a huge admirer of Dod Procter the painter, for example, and fascinated by impossible ‘homecomings’ as well, however they pan out. I’m also passionate about Leo Tolstoy and Sonya Andreevna. I admire them both equally as individuals and as artists, and find their extraordinary marriage just as inspiring as I find it disturbing — I had that marriage in mind already when I was talking about Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice (query: have any two creatures ever been more unsuited to marry each other than a man and a woman???). The quirks of Stanley Spencer also thrill me — Spencer was of the same generation and artistic background as Dod Procter, and in a sense I’m part of that generation too, having lived my life in much the same way and landscape, including my marriages. Finally, I can’t think of any visual artists who inform my work more than Stanley Spencer and Dod Proctor — they’re both touchstones for me in my own struggle, and whenever I lose my way I go back to them for a breath of fresh air and guidance…

    ~

    So how am I doing in all that, then? Is anybody else up here with me, or are we all still down on the rug?

    Christopher

  6. December 21, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    THE POWER OF WOMAN & THE FOLLY OF MAN.

    To begin this new chapter, I want to show you Lucas Cranach’s take on “Judith with the head of Holofernes” (1534) by way of contrast with the Carvaggio (1598) I showed you before. Both are striking expressions of one of the most popular tropes at the time, Judith’s assassination being thought of as superlatively good, indeed the very antithesis of the nasty betrayal of Samson by Delilah.

    JUST ADDED, December 21st: The power of woman vise-a-vis the folly of man indeed, of woman to cut off the head and/or hair of the man and the folly of the man to praise her with one hand and revile her with the other!

    So which of these women do you admire most, or desire, or would like to have as a friend or a colleague or even to wed? And which one is anathema, to you personally? If the question makes no sense to you in your own experience, and I mean your experience as a man even if you’re a woman, what might you be missing? Where might be your blind eye?

    And I guess I really mean, where have you been?

    For me frankly I’m ravished by Caravaggio’s Judith and would love to have been a fly on the wall to observe and take notes on Phyllis in her relationships both with Alexander and with Aristotle. But the following one gives me the creeps…
    ….

    ….Lucas Cranach Judith/Holfernes

    This Lady Judith is a beautiful, fair-skinned, unmistakably Flemish young woman with a high plucked forehead and neat girlish breasts. If we had just this depiction to go by we might be surprised to learn from The Bible that Judith was in fact a “widow,” i.e. a sexually experienced woman — which the child-like figure with the down-cast eyes in Lucas Cranach’s painting would at least appear not to have been, and which might well have been part of her secret. Because sex is at the heart of the Holofernes story as well as the story of Samson, indeed sex powerful enough to have knocked each of those towering lovers out cold!

    In addition to sexual expertise, Judith would have had to possess not only enormous courage but exceptional diplomatic skills in order to do the deed she did. She would have had to cross the enemy lines to get to Holofernes tent for a start, he being the brutal commander who was besieging her people — look out the window and you’ll get a glimpse of the terrible 16th century killing-fields she would have had to traverse to get to him. Following that she would have had to seduce and then kill him alone in his bed — that was her brief, after all. Obviously Judith would have had to get hold of a sword big and sharp enough to cut through such a neck, and the arms for it too, as Carvaggio so dramtically depicted in his version of the act, and so turns me on.

    But there’s something in Cranach’s account quite new and perhaps even more unnerving than the size of the sword combined with the feyness of the wielder: the sinister, gauntlet-like gloves on her hands — which I find personally more frightening than the sword, as if Judith were a monstrous, iron-clad spider — or a sixteenth century trans-gender warlord!

    Indeed, I find this Judith more frightening than Carvaggio’s, as I said, despite the lack of blood and raw trauma.

    Like Phyllis and Delilah, Judith entraps, manipulates, and destroys a man of heroic proportions, but in Judith’s case the seduction is deemed to be good as it’s good for her people. And, of course, all three stories are read as commentaries on the even more fundamental story of Eve’s demolition of our ancestor, Lord Adam, two of the heroines being for Adam and the other against Eve. In a sense, needless to say.

    So which is which in your case, in the context of your life?

    In mine it got rewritten a lot this morning — and then came back down to this, another part of the poem called “La Fiesta Brava” from which I quoted above. (The poem is from my book called Gold Leaf on the Waters! and introduces the long poem, “Connemara Trousers,” that contains “Why the Faeries Don’t Mess with Girls” as well.)

    ………………………….II. TWO EARS AND THE TALE
    How canst thou say, I love thee, when thy heart is not with me? Thou
    hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy
    great strength lieth.

    ………………………………………………………………………..Judges 15.16

    …………………………….The next morning he
    …………………………….was careful to point out
    …………………………….spurs on cocks and cowboys
    …………………………….simply elevate the heel—

    …………………………….“Like desire in reverse,”
    …………………………….he explained, settling back
    …………………………….into that least safe redoubt
    …………………………….where dogs either cower
    …………………………….or bite

    …………………………….and where Achilles
    …………………………….knew best his mother’s
    …………………………….most uncompromising touch
    …………………………….that left him so abused
    …………………………….he could no longer prick
    …………………………….the sides of his intent
    …………………………….or step outside and smoke
    …………………………….or smote the sky
    …………………………….or lie
    …………………………….or shed a single tear
    …………………………….for all that fallen flesh.
    …………..

  7. December 23, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    ………………
    ……………………THE LIMITS OF POWER & KNOWING IT

    …………….

    It’s such an ordinary thing, a sign like this, indicating that a place, position, rank, or even a whole activity is closed to women — being a priest, for example, a fireman, a combat soldier, a husband, or a doctor even (as recently as my own own mother’s childhood this was true). Of course, the prohibitions are changing, but we still encounter “Lady-Cannot-Enter” as an unwritten bottom-line (or glass-ceiling) almost everywhere, and indeed, most of the time we hardly notice. What can we do, after all, as the restriction is usually pretty obvious. Women simply aren’t strong enough for some things, after all, or command the authority either — or have the stamina what with their periods and all that.

    Men say.

    Where I live on the Buddhist mainland of South East Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Burma), there are signs to this effect almost everywhere, and nobody bats an eyelash, it’s so obvious to the people. Indeed, the signs are most often in English because they’re for ignorant foreigners like me, not for the people who know. And this is just the tip of the iceberg in the region as there are so many more dangers posed by women than the signs could possibly tell. For example, South East Asian men stay scrupuously away from laundry which might otherwise overwhelm them — a man never passes under what might turn out to be a clothes-line, for example, as even accidentally walking under a bit of feminine apparel hung out to dry would be utterly ruinous for his manhood!

    And after all, what sort of man wouldn’t care about that? And more than that, what sort of woman would marry a man who didn’t know how to look after it, like never to get near laundry, for example. Pretty much QED, a woman would say.

    Twenty years ago, when I was first married to my all-powerful Thai wife, Homprang Chaleekanha, we rented a small house right next door to a piece of land on which to build something for ourselves — the house was very convenient because the garden was surrounded by a wall with a gate at the back with direct access to the building site. On the other hand, it would have been even more convenient for me had I been allowed to step out the backdoor of the kitchen. Instead I was instructed to use the front door and then walk back along the side of the house to the gate at the far corner. It was only later that I realized I was being protected from my own ignorance, as I would surely not have known how ruinous it could have been for our marriage had I ducked under the clothes-line at the back.

    Took me years to figure that out as nobody thought someone as ignorant, tall, big-nosed and pale-skinned as me would ever understand the basics of real life. The fact is that I simply wasn’t to be trusted with my own well-being, and with my own manhood in particular. That was woman’s stuff!

    It was years later that I began to come to grips with all this, which meant to understand that in Thailand, far from being a person with no power, a woman had all the power, that indeed the caveats were based on the assumption not that a woman was inferior to a man but that a man needed protection from her!

    The crucial moment for me was when I took one of my wife’s students on a bicycle tour of the temples I liked best in our neighborhood. She was a professional South African sangoma, that is one of those traditional healers that most South Africans still go to as the doctor of choice. But what was striking about Vicki was that she was not only from an old Afrikans family, but completely white — i.e. a white, Dutch, witch-doctor woman practicing traditional medicine in Africa!

    There was one temple in our neighborhood at the time that interested me in particular. Wat Chedi Liem is famous because it includes in its compound a huge, towering, 1000 year old chedi (stupa, pagoda), indeed the oldest in Chiang Mai. In 1998, to my astonishment, I watched this magnificent, venerable artifact stripped down to a pile of rubble, and then entirely rebuilt. And needless to say I had very mixed feelings about this ‘remake’ as in the process of creating such a perfect, gleaming, white and gold sacred pinacle, an ancient ruin of great importance had been destroyed. I didn’t yet understand that for Thais, and indeed for most of the earth’s people with living spiritual traditions, it is gleaming perfection in the present that expresses the true spiritual value of a holy construction, not the crumbling, discolored, romantic hulk that remains of a murky past. Indeed, sacred sites are being constantly rebuilt all over Thailand to this day, which is why Thai temples remain so contemporary.

    Even more striking for me at Wat Chedi Liem was having the opportunity to watch an entirely new holy building being built right from the ground up, a building so beautiful and refined in every detail you would never guess it could have been built today. Furthermore, the building was an Ubosot, that is an Initiation ‘chapel,’ the most sacred structure in the Wat. Used only for the initiation of new monks, an Ubosot can never be entered by lay people, and a visitor rarely gets even a glimpse of the interior. Even the enclosure around an Ubosot is restricted, and you must take off your shoes before you even enter the courtyard.

    I was excited to show my witch-doctor friend the extraordinary craftsmanship of this new building, and expected to be able to enter the site as usual and watch the craftsmen at work as I had been doing for over a year. But that day with Vicki was different. The building had been finished since I was last there, and in the entrance was a new sign saying: “NO LADY ALLOW.”

    Well, I was mortified and found myself apologizing for having brought Vicki all this way only to have her humiliated. “NO LADY ALLOW,” that was the wording in the 1st draft on the sign, and it seemed to me a slap in Vicki’s face not just at the hands of Thai culture but of the whole of Thai Buddhism! And I went into an immediate, panicky, soft-shoe, over-the-top spiel about the Hinayana, the Theravada, Thai culture as essentially Brahminical, repression in the Thai psyche, feminist politics, etc. etc. — in other words the lady in me truly protesting way, way too much, I was that disappointed and shocked!

    And my friend Vicki, this white, Afrikans, witch-doctor woman, just stopped me right there. “Christopher,” she said, “do you think we women don’t understand that? Why, all of us know who we are, we know our power, we know what we can do. I mean, I could wreck the place if I walked in there, any woman could, completely.

    “Let the men have their security,” she said, “let them have their safe haven. Because we women, we’re well, and we’re not bothered by all those men shutting us out, because they’re right to be afraid!”

    NOTE ADDED LATER:
    If you haven’t already done so, click on the sign at the top of this post and see what Vicki’s not afraid of.

    [to be continued after this]

    C.

  8. December 24, 2015 at 10:39 am


    LA FIESTA BRAVA

    …………………………..I. SAMSON IN THE PLAZA
    And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun
    went down, “What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a
    lion?” And he said unto them, “If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye
    had not found out my riddle.”
    ……………………………………………………………………….Judges 14.18
    …………………..We say the one-armed
    …………………………………..clown’s no sport,
    …………………………………………………..his act’s too maimed
    …………………..by the sharp flower
    …………………………………..jabbed between
    …………………………………………………..his shoulder blades,
    ……………………the spreading mantle of
    …………………………………..his mystic blood
    …………………………………………………..an insufficient cloak
    …………………..to mask the great
    …………………………………..thrust and deadweight
    …………………………………………………..of all that clumsy sex
    …………………..he drags around
    …………………………………..the holy pit for her,
    …………………………………………………..she who flashes under-
    …………………..neath the red skirt
    …………………………………..her glistening regard
    …………………………………………………..lathered up with joy
    …………………..that God’s own Romeo
    …………………………………..will die for it at
    …………………………………………………..5 o’clock—as round
    …………………..and round he goes,
    …………………………………..tongue so thick with
    …………………………………………………..dirt and sacerdotal ire
    …………………..he cannot breathe—
    …………………………………..until that towering intent
    …………………………………………………..becomes her gaping
    …………………..church-door sheath,
    …………………………………..slides up to the
    …………………………………………………..hilt of her pride
    …………………..and drops the whole
    …………………………………..quick-step tragic rap
    ……………………………………………………flat on its back—olé!

  9. December 29, 2015 at 8:21 pm

    ………………I deleted my Xmas comment myself just yesterday,
    ………………December 28th — it was awful.

    The problem is that if an author writes a good poem like “La Fiesta Brava,” and it is a good poem, he or she can never come up with other words to speak for it even on very closely related, fascinating, well-written, surprising, original and highly delicate topics — as I have tried to do in this thread. Even the most inspired additional words can never take the place of a reader for the poem itself — if a poem isn’t read it hasn’t happened, and my poem has never been read at all by anybody.

    A poem is a poem, after all, and once it’s out there in the public domain the only interested party is the reader, period. Indeed, the author who tries to add to what his or her poem says is a hustler, and his or her intervention an admission of failure.

    Which I admit — because the poem isn’t out there to be read at all by any, as Sarah Coleridge said.

    In a few days I’ll post the whole of the poem in order — that would be good.

    Perhaps I’ll also select a bit of the post I just deleted, just to show you what I thought could be said. Because then you’ll know it couldn’t

    Adieu, Christopher

  10. December 30, 2015 at 11:02 am

    So here’s the whole of “La Fiesta Brava,” and I do hope you’ll take the chance to read it as I wrote it — indeed, there’s no place in the world you can read it as I wrote it but here.

    It’s an odd poem, in some ways an anti-poem even.

    I came face to face with its strangeness when I tried to take the poem apart and present it backwards — and then got completely stuck on Part I after Christmas. Because the poem is much more tightly constructed than I’d realized, moving as it does from a coarse Big-Bang-Conclusion in Part I to the small, still, curtsey-like introduction at the end. Moreover, at the crux of the poem in Part III there’s no poem at all, and indeed, the poem’s own poetry is upstaged throughout by the poetry of the King James Version of The Old Testament. I love being upstaged like that, and indeed I’m sure that’s why I wrote it. But it certainly caught me out when I wasn’t watching — as I hope it will catch you out too, and bend you down too as it still does me.

    Finally, I want to thank the host of good friends who came caroling at my gate early this morning. I was up but still in my dressing gown at the time, so I couldn’t come out. But boy did I notice!

    With love and happiness to everybody,
    Christopher

    ……
    LA FIESTA BRAVA

    ………………………….I. SAMSON IN THE PLAZA
    And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun
    went down, “What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a
    lion?” And he said unto them, “If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye
    had not found out my riddle.”
    ……………………………………………………………………Judges 14.18
    …………………..We say the one-armed
    …………………………………..clown’s no sport,
    …………………………………………………..his act’s too maimed
    …………………..by the sharp flower
    …………………………………..jabbed between
    …………………………………………………..his shoulder blades,
    ……………………the spreading mantle of
    …………………………………..his mystic blood
    …………………………………………………..an insufficient cloak
    …………………..to mask the great
    …………………………………..thrust and deadweight
    …………………………………………………..of all that clumsy sex
    …………………..he drags around
    …………………………………..the holy pit for her,
    …………………………………………………..she who flashes under-
    …………………..neath the red skirt
    …………………………………..her glistening regard
    …………………………………………………..lathered up with joy
    …………………..that God’s own Romeo
    …………………………………..will die for it at
    …………………………………………………..5 o’clock—as round
    …………………..and round he goes,
    …………………………………..tongue so thick with
    …………………………………………………..dirt and sacerdotal ire
    …………………..he cannot breathe—
    …………………………………..until that towering intent
    …………………………………………………..becomes her gaping
    …………………..church-door sheath,
    …………………………………..slides up to the
    …………………………………………………..hilt of her pride
    …………………..and drops the whole
    …………………………………..quick-step tragic rap
    ……………………………………………………flat on its back—olé!

    ………………………….II. TWO EARS AND THE TALE
    How canst thou say, I love thee, when thy heart is not with me? Thou
    hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy
    great strength lieth.

    ………………………………………………………………………..Judges 15.16

    …………………………..The next morning he
    …………………………..was careful to point out
    …………………………..spurs on cocks and cowboys
    …………………………..simply elevate the heel—

    …………………………..“Like desire in reverse,”
    …………………………..he explained, settling back
    …………………………..into that least safe redoubt
    …………………………..where dogs either cower
    …………………………..or bite

    …………………………..and where Achilles
    …………………………..knew best his mother’s
    …………………………..most uncompromising touch
    …………………………..that left him so abused
    …………………………..he could no longer prick
    …………………………..the sides of his intent
    …………………………..or step outside and smoke
    …………………………..or smote the sky
    …………………………..or lie
    …………………………..or shed a single tear
    …………………………..for all that fallen flesh.
    …………..

    …….

    ……………………III. A WOMAN NOT LIKE ANY OTHER MAN
    There hath not come a rasor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite
    unto God from my mother’s womb; if I be shaven, then my strength will
    go from me, and I shall be weak, and be like any other man.

    ……………………………………………………………………………Judges 16.17

    ……….Connemara 350

    _____________________
    A photo of a group of boys in a schoolyard somewhere in Connemara.
    c.1900. On the back there is a handwritten note that explains that
    the younger boys were dressed in skirts “to disguise themselves from
    the faeries,”

    …….

    ………………………….IV. THEY SHOOT & TELL
    And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the
    lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he
    slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.

    ………………………………………………………………………Judges 16.30
    …………………………………..Go, boys,
    …………………………………..bid the soldiers
    …………………………………..shoot & tell the girls
    …………………………………..God’s secret’s
    …………………………………..Adam’s
    …………………………………………………hair.

    …….

    ……………….from Gold Leaf on the Waters! a book of Poems & Relics
    ……………………………© Christopher Woodman (2016)

    …….

  11. December 31, 2015 at 9:44 am

    THE TRASHED COMMENT RESTORED — what I took out.

    (Wrestling with “Samson in the Plaza” — some of the things I wasn’t able to say at Christmas.)

    …that’s a hard place to arrive at, God’s body-guard down like Vladimir Klitschko. And all the fans there too, a fabulous day for the beautiful and the initiated. And everybody’s on the side of the Enforcer, of course, whatever he does, even if he misses or tumbles, or farts, which is normal, but as the spectacle wears on and the Finest, the Best, the Sable Champion, Dark Knight, the Midnight Lord of Life, yes even he, begins to sag under the weight of all those stabs in the back, they start to see him as he is, flawed, weak even — the Fool, the Pretender. At the very end he just stands there, legs splayed out, head hanging low, ready. After it happens the crowd applauds what remains of the magnificence they came to affirm, then turn away back to work — and the wreckage dragged off, dead as the devil on Sunday.

    (“And he bowed himself with all his might,” that’s what The Bible says.)

    In the poem it’s still Saturday afternoon in Pamplona, of course, though it could be the mall in L.A. The time is just a little over an hour after 5 pm, and Number-One’s already black-hawk-down, belly-up, incontinent, and missing two ears and a tail — if it’s good he is, or, even better, really, really bad!

    That’s all in the poem if you look at it. Indeed, if you’re a man and a bit cynical you might say, o.k, but it’s got some good sex in it too, “Samson in the Plaza.” That’s what we men say because we can take a lot of humiliation in exchange for good sex. Or good anything, for that matter.

    Which is what the Devil offers, isn’t it, good sex or the equivalent in place of heaven: Opera, War, Revelation – Poetry even? Isn’t that what Satan offers Eve in the garden, the secret of being really good at something that’s not trained, licensed or government-regulated, indeed, so good it’s “unreal,” i.e. all in the mind? i.e. NOT in the Garden of Eden? [I think I say that really well in my Letter to Paddy.] Because isn’t that precisely how Delilah offers her body to be plowed by the man inside the big tent, how she lets her body be filled by him with everything that God believes in like Looks, Goodness, and Prophecy, as if her lover were truly God’s right-hand-man even as he is, the Stooge, the  Booby, that clueless mug Adam? Isn’t that why she cuts off his hair as if he were a great big field of wheat and she a scythe to mow him? Because once the field has been plowed, harrowed and watered you have to go home, don’t you, if you want it to flourish? I mean, is there any other way to reap the fruit of such heavy, uncompromising zeal? Aside from remaining a virgin, or fallow?

    A dilemma which is there on every level, I’d say, but most of all wherever there’s marching — all this sin and brimstone stuff, all this do-unto-others and preaching as if we were soldiers!

    But what about the love of life, love of love, love of risk, love of winning and losing regardless — the yearning to be here on earth as if already in heaven, to be hallowed like a god with a jawbone in the arena of personal life? To be transcendent while still living and not just waiting on hope as if you had to be old, or dead, or at least get published before you could even get started? As if you had to wait and  obey before you could ever become Alexander the Great?

    “O blessed fault, O sacred sin of Adam!” the priest cries out in the Mass — because even he knows that without bad first there can be no good under heaven.

    Which is complicated, as Andrea Mantegna clearly recognized when he described Delilah as three times worse than the devil and then painted her as patient and careful as a sister or mother while grooming a father or lover all bashed-up and hung-over.

    As if she were preparing her man for sainthood — a monk freshly shaved, decked out like a girl.

    Here’s Caravaggio’s take on it, Samson’s  head as round and exposed as Delilah. And the hands of them both? Oh my, what we men have got coming!

    Caravaggio Delila 450


    Christopher

    P.S. Don’t forget that you can often click on my images to get to the heart of the matter, like “Lady Cannot Enter.” Indeed, more than once.

    P.P.S. Happy New Year to all my faithful friends who bear with me.

    ………………………..Completed January 3rd, 2016)

  12. Dawn Potter said,

    December 31, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    Happy New Year, Christopher.

    • January 1, 2016 at 11:33 am

      Happy New Year to you too, dear friend — you’ve been much on my mind as I’ve worked on this thread.

      Yasnaya Polyana 400

      In another life perhaps we’ll get to spend New Years together around this same table at Yasnaya Polyana, and we won’t misunderstand each other either because we’ll be as selfless and single-mindedly attentive as the others.

      I got the idea from Tom’s photo of the table he prepared in his shop for your dinner in Harmony this Christmas. Would love to have been there.

      Christopher

  13. January 4, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    For my four most patient and helpful dear friends:

    ………………1.) for Bill, il miglior babbino cantore;

    ………………2.) for Matthew, il miglior figlio palombaro;

    ………………3.) for Ida, il miglior mentore femmina;

    ………………4.) for Dawn, il miglior fabbro.
    ….

  14. January 4, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    ON THE ROAD TO HAY.

    Yes, Jane Eyre, that’s where we’re headed.

    Jane on the road to Hay and the ‘Gytrash’ named Pilot. No more afraid, grown-up or retiring than Amira Willighagen, no more out of her depth, stressed or interested in answers. Just doing it, and therefore it’s easy. Just making it up as you go. (You can click here to read again my “Letter to Paddy” — if you don’t remember.)

    “L’errore nasce sempre dalla tendenza dell’uomo a dedurre la causa dalla conseguenza.”

    ………..POST HOC, PROPTER ERGO HOC

    ………………“Two magpies,” she wrote him
    …………………………..on shore again in February.

    ………………He propped them up above
    …………………………..the herb jars in the galley

    ………………all that winter while she
    …………………………..traveled overland in Africa—

    ………………others hung there too, almost
    …………………………..a dozen as the days lengthened

    ………………and the bright green shoots
    …………………………..shone like spring in porthole pots.

    ………………He lay more naked in his letters then
    …………………………..but the light-sick moths powdered

    ………………his thighs, made his eyes
    …………………………..dapple and water as if he missed her.

    ………………Then she wrote again about
    …………………………..small birds that migrate pole to pole

    ………………and told him he really ought
    …………………………..to have more Arctic dreams.

    ………………It was then he began to notice
    …………………………..the way the sheets twisted oh so

    ………………tight like water-wings about him.
    …………………………..He wrote her twice to Porto Ferraio

    ………………but the letters came back
    …………………………..to an empty berth and bits

    ………………of white silk on the bulwarks
    …………………………..as if he’d undressed or cracked

    ………………in the terrible rush of the hatch—
    …………………………..the brightness of a sheltered reach

    ………………perhaps, the ease with which
    ………………………….mayflies rise on the silvery stream.

    ……………………………………………..from Galileo’s Secret,
    ……………………………………………..© Christopher Woodman (2016)

    C.

  15. January 6, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    I wish I could dash on, but I just can’t, and I do hope you’ll give me a bit of time to get started on this next step, which is about Jane Eyre — a step which is really difficult, indeed harder than the task I set myself in the thread about Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red. [if you’ve forgotten that you can find the gist of what I was trying to say almost exactly a year ago here.]

    Indeed, I’d love you to read Savage Beauty (do I dare? do I dare?) over again, and if possible to read what I said even more carefully, as if I were famous and you’d just found an old notebook of mine in an attic, and that means as if I mattered, not just what I wrote – that it’s what I mean, not just “how I express myself” or, even worse, “how I write.” Because that’s my bottom-line and hope-of-hopes, that I can say what’s on my mind to you, and that even if you don’t understand it completely you will feel that it matters, regardless. Specifically my hope is that I may come to understand Jane Eyre better myself, not just as one of the greatest English novels, but the most important for me personally, that it matters in the sense of opening personal doors for me that have never been opened before by anyone anywhere ever. And that your own doors may be opened a bit too even if they don’t lead at all into the same chambers or experience as mine. For the openings the thing, and the trajectory.

    Which is what I mean about Amira Willighagen too, this little, inexperienced girl of 9, that what she sings is more astonishing and uplifting and perfect even than the same magnificent Puccini aria when sung by Maria Callas. And what do you do about that when it comes to matters like training and experience, practice, technique and maturity? Of course you don’t dismiss Maria Callas, the perfect voice, one of the greatest and most accomplished singers of all time, but you realize that what Maria Callas sings is, in a sense, not all that this particular song means – or how it means – or what it can come to mean for you or for some slip of a girl — or for me.

    That’s why I’m still so nervous about my dear and accomplished literary friends whenever I write, and why I was so hurt by their refusal to listen to my song when I first sang it here at full, fearless volume two years ago. Indeed, I’m still trying to tempt them to listen to me as if I had something to say, not just as an over-grown adolescent, a clown, a clumsy antagonist, or, more to the point, the last existent badger to be baited for sport in a copse in Wessex, as quaint as that. What I want is for them to get down out of their big, grownup armchairs and listen to me as if I were a fully-developed girl-child of our times like Amira Willighagen and not just coming along nicely at school, thank you, and therefore worth some extra-curricular professional guidance.

    ~

    That big table at Yasnaya Polyana above is silent because Sofya Andreevna is speaking, and look at the calibre of the persons around it, and their eagerness to hear what she says, even the man with the long white beard. And look where she’s sitting? The fact that the greatest novelist of all time, Lev Tolstoy, fled from her a short time later to die homeless in a series of remote railway stations, that’s “Samson in the Plaza” all over again, isn’t it? And what do we do about that?

    Sophia & Leo, wedding photo 1862
    ….Sofya Andreevna and Lev Tolstoy about the time of their wedding, 1862.
    ….So who have we got here?

    Sophia at Railway Window 1910
    ….Sofya Andreevna trying to keep an eye on her husband at the Astopovo
    ….railway station where he died in 1910. It was one of the first great tabloid
    ….scandals — all of Russia was on tenterhooks.

    And that’s not to say that the woman is stronger than the man or vise versa, or indeed to say anything about sex what is more about who’s worse than the devil, though both sex and the devil are intimately involved in every such charade. It’s to say that in the end the best we can do is try to express what we don’t mean like J. Alfred Prufrock, or what we do mean like Mr Rochester, and that there’s nothing at all amiss or humiliating or lacking in being the tongue-tied ROCK that just sits their and roils up the stream, that the message is conveyed equally by the water as by the rock, as it is by both the fountain and the scissors in Andrea Mantegna’s Samson & Delilah.

    Christopher

  16. January 8, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    THE UNTUTORED CHILD AMONG THE DOCTORS

    Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) was a contemporary of Andrea Mantegna and equally steeped in the ethos of the time — he was everywhere and knew everybody from Erasmus to Leonardo da Vinci. But look at him now, through our own eyes, I mean, and see if he’s not able to speak the language of women as it’s spoken in this thread, of Judith, for example, and I mean Aristotle’s beautiful antagonist as much as Alexander the Great’s consort and Carvaggio’s magnificent assassin. And can’t you hear the voice of Delilah, Jane Eyre and Sophia Andreevna, confident, bossy and clear as any Currer Bell? And doesn’t he sometimes even look like Amira Willighagen, being so young, beautiful and at ease with his perfect song at full volume? And the index finger? Where does that little boy’s digit point to right from the start, where does that trajectory go? And whatever do the doctors know about that sort of thing, or the critics?

    I mean, do you think it has ever been easy, all this stuff between men, women, the devil, and God’s boy-girl with the finger?

    But who talks about these things? Even at the time Charlotte Brontë, despite the enormous success of her first published novel, was considered “coarse,” and my argument would be a.) why isn’t she still? and b.) what’s wrong with that?

    After all, Thackeray walked out on her!
    ………………….</span

    Albrecht Durer - Self Portrait at 13 (1484)
    ………….Albrecht Dürer. Self-portrait at the age of 13 (1484)
    ………………….

    Albrecht Durer Self-Portrait 1493
    Albrecht Dürer. Self Portrait (1493). Perhaps to introduce himself to his
    fiancée, he has written beside the date, “Things happen to me as it is
    written on high.” He’s 22, and he’s holding a thistle.
    ………………….

    Albrecht Durer - 14 year old Jesus in the Temple 1494-7
    ………….Albrecht Dürer. The 14 year old Jesus in the Temple (1494-7).
    ………………….

    Albrecht Durer - Christlike 1500
    ………….Albrecht Dürer. Self Portrait (1500) The Salvator Mundi at 28.
    ………………….

    Albrecht Durer Christ Among the Doctors 1506
    ………………….Albrecht Dürer. Christ among the Doctors. (1506).
    ………………….

    Christopher

  17. January 9, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    COARSE LIKE THIS

    And I mean “coarse” like a hole in the ground!

    ……………………Albrecht Durer - A Quarry 1498 -400
    ……………………………………Albrecht Dürer, A Quarry (1498).

    For how we squirm and we wriggle to stay out of the mess, how spooked we are, and troubled, indeed, driven mad by it. Why, we don’t even know which we find more disturbing, the origin of life or its terminus, the vulva or the grave.

    This is the terrible coarseness that haunts us at Thornfield Hall, the awful spectre of lust, abortion, torture, and mutilation exiled to the attic over our heads, the vagina dentata in a straight jacket, never allowed out. Indeed, we civilized human beings will go to any length to keep our lives neat — and then we end up bored and sanitized, the big-bang of our existence a whimper sealed in cling-film, numbness in figures, frost on a dial, anti-depressants, prozac, bland, sanitary and commonsensical. And if today a tiny drop of the muck we can’t admit to squeezes out we call it delusion, error, ignorance, depression, neurosis — and we behave as if it were three times worse than the devil in that earlier discourse, or that life were a disease to be cured in our own, lobotomized version.

    For how should we speak as sensible human beings if we tolerated filth, as if love had anything to do with farm animals or pornography? How would we recover our civilization, our self-respect, our ‘humanity’ as we call it?

    The fact is that by definition we are seriously limited, seriously censored, and seriously biased, and almost everything we do bolsters up our false sense of self — who we think we are, where we think we are going, and how we are convinced everybody ought to behave.

    But when we have to face up to the “quarry” out of which we are hewn, why we flinch and we flutter like sissies. All of us know this dark cleft in ourselves, men just as well as women — yet so few of either sex get around to exploring what it actually is what is more how to redeem it, if indeed that’s what we need to do. Why, some top-quality minds even faint at the sight of “the origin of life,” as John Ruskin did on his wedding night. Almost no artists painted it for him, after all — which is one reason why the great art historian was so ignorant, and existentially so damaged! Yes, and why most people aren’t going to be prepared to include it in a discussion of Jane Eyre either, even today.

    …………………..L'Origine 1866 - 250
    …………………..Gustave Courbet: L’Origine du Monde (1866)

    But not Charlotte Brontë herself, Gustave Courbet’s exact contemporary, and an equally brave and dynamic explorer. Indeed, Charlotte Brontë remains one of the great exceptions to our almost universal squeamishness, who never pulls punches or flinches or covers up even in her purplest passages, even when the going goes way, way over the top as it so often does. And what an irony that is, that the Charlotte Brontë who was considered “coarse” in her own Victorian times should be considered a bit “Victorian” in ours, and her novel a refined classic for young readers. In reality the Victorians felt intimidated by the very grown-up, muscular handle of Charlotte Brontë’s spade, an implement for digging dark holes in the ground, in other words — indeed, they called her vehicle a spade more forthrightly than we do!

    For has any writer ever dug deeper than Charlotte Brontë? Has any writer ever found better the language and imagery which is needed to excavate the “quarry” that is the “origin of the world” without reducing it to mere sex at the one extreme or mere philosophy at the other, i.e. managed not to ‘objectify’ it in either direction, not to tie it up in neat, manageable ‘graphics’ in our modern sense, a ‘power-point presentation’ for the sophisticated reader who wants to talk about it? Because this is the greatest irony of all about Charlotte Brontë, and her greatest triumph, that the sex in Jane Eyre is never objectified because every bit of it is so highly charged, tangible and obsessively personal — indeed, I don’t know a more compulsively erotic novel! On the other hand, Charlotte Brontë manages to protect and at the same time elevate the deep, terrifying mystery in her work, and I mean “mystery” in the original sense of the word. Indeed, Jane Eyre never floats off into the opposite extreme of disembodied, intellectual, synthetic “meaning:” allegory, symbolism, mythology, higher worlds, or even, God forbid, higher criticism. (Most of the “higher” stuff that gets written about it is post-modern clutter, and buries the red room and the shattered old chestnut in graduate school blather.)

    Think about that — the fact that I can actually say all this about Jane Eyre ! And if you’re not sure, go back and read it again, right from the big bed in the Red Room with the precocious girl in the straight-jacket to the black yet radiant bed for the woman at the end. And that doesn’t have to mean in the arms of a husband either — in the context of the whole book that’s obvious.

    I hadn’t read the last chapter for many years, and when I did quite recently I understood why I scarcely recalled it. Jane Eyre is not about the plot, about “what happens,” but about the unfolding of a woman in herself, and that most certainly does not have to be achieved in conventional domesticity. Indeed, the last chapter feels as if it might even have been dictated by a publisher who wanted not just to clean it up a bit but to sell the book. I don’t think that’s true, but if you read the novel as I’ve been reading it it could have been!

    Christopher

  18. January 11, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    THE BLESSED FAULT continued…

    That was really hard, that last one, and I’m exhausted. Indeed, it took me almost 48 hours to get it done, and the last bits didn’t fall into place until 3 am this morning, January 11th. So I do hope you can go back and read it one more time, the last three paragraphs in particular.

    What was so hard was to be “graphic” enough and still not to “objectify” either the ideas or the images, the two key elements in my essai — to use that wonderful word from Montaigne, for it was he who invented the brief, personal discourse I’ve been using. In fact I’ve been living with Sarah Bakewell’s truly superlative HOW TO LIVE: or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (2010) for months now, and in my own humble way I’m doing a Bakewell/Montaigne thing in all these Cowpatty excursions. Yes, and I freely admit I’m just as obsessive as Montaigne ever was, and just as incorrigible. “Tools” and “cracks” occupy such a lot of Montaigne’s reflections, for example, and there isn’t a trace of the romantic in him either, nor does he fly off into the Platonic ether any more than I do, or hypostasize theories. So “tools” and “cracks” it is from Albrecht Dürer’s finger to Charlotte Bronte’s spade, and everybody equally digging it up.

    And digging it up was Montaigne’s obsession as well, revision that is, rewriting even passages that had been published a number of times, and were already favorites with his extensive and admiring public. I constantly tear up my best laid roads as well, so much so that I end up getting somewhere I never intended. Which was probably true for Montaigne as well, I feel sure, and probably why he did it too.

    I struggled in particular over how to incorporate the two graphics, the Dürer and the Courbet. I was so afraid of giving the impression I just wanted to shock on the one hand and afraid of overwhelming my words on the other. In the end I think I managed the balance as the words complement the graphics so well, at least I feel they do. Indeed, I don’t think my essais are shocking any more than Montaigne’s are — but boy there are moments!

    But I failed in one way. In trying to put my post together I couldn’t manage to integrate one silly bit of very famous fluff I thought ought to be included. I tried for days but just couldn’t.

    The sex organ of a man is simple and neat as a finger. . .but the feminine sex organ is mysterious even to the woman herself, concealed, mucous, and humid, as it is; it bleeds each month, it is often sullied with bodily fluid. . .a horrid decomposition. . .. Man dives upon his prey like the eagle and the hawk; woman lies in wait like the carnivorous plant, the bog, in which insects and children are swallowed up. She is absorption, suction, humus, pitch and glue, a passive influx, insinuating and viscous.

    That’s Simone de Beauvoir, of course, The Second Sex (1949), and I quote it from Joyce Carol Oates wonderful NYRB review (March 15th, 2007) of Joan Acoccella’s equally wonderful Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints (2007). Indeed, that’s company for a male writer who loves women to keep, that’s company that might even get him a pass!

    I don’t usually do this on Cowpattyhammer, but I’m going to let Joyce Carol Oates say the next part for me — partly, I guess, because I hope she can deflect some of the flack from my person.

    This is Acocella quoting a notorious passage from Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, and she is funny about it: “It’s like something out of a monster movie.” Her essay on Beauvoir and Sartre (“The Frog and the Crocodile”) is both sympathetic and unsparing, informed and gossipy; the occasion is a review of A Transatlantic Love Affair (1998), a collection of Beauvoir’s “fascinating” letters to Nelson Algren, with whom she had a love affair in the late 1940s, begun when she was thirty-nine years old: “the only truly passionate love in [her] life.” Acocella is admiring of Beauvoir without being blinded to her less than admirable behavior (in “helping out” her longtime lover Sartre acquire new, very young lovers, for instance), and reminds us that it is naive and unrealistic to expect artists to be ideal citizens:

    “In the recent flap over de Beauvoir we see again what might now be called the Philip Larkin syndrome: the insistence on the part of modern critics that celebrated authors’ lives be as admirable as their books. In the case of de Beauvoir one might answer, “Do as she said, not as she did.”

    My one reservation on these observations is that I think Philip Larkin’s life was, in fact, an admirable one both as a man and a poet, because the dirt means there’s always a glimpse of “High Windows,” even if you can’t see them. Indeed, it’s the scope of his trajectory which makes him such a true and enduring poet/friend to stragglers like myself, uplifting because he starts from down here near us.

    What do you think?

    (Are you there, my friend?)

    C.

  19. January 12, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    ………….Chagall Clothesline 350…………………………………….Marc Chagall, Window at the Dacha (1915
)

    Schopenhauer felt that a reader ought to approach a poem or work of art as if it were a prince – in other words, let it speak first.

    One might also caution a potential reader in this way. If you approach any artifact as a mere object to be evaluated in terms of how well it’s constructed, you might be a machinist or engineer but are probably not a designer. If you do the same thing with a painting or poem, you may be a teacher but probably not yet a painter or a poet. And finally, if style and coherence is what you teach over feeling, value and significance, you’re going to have to restrict yourself largely to the artifacts of your own community as you will assume everybody shares your assumptions about what things mean. On the other hand, my feeling is that some of the work of your best local artists is going to be hard to teach nevertheless, like Robert Frost, Hayden Carruthers, and Edna St Vincent Millay, all three of whom had strong views and eccentric personalities.

    If you always think in terms of how well a thing works, you must also look at whether or not you know how to use it, or even know what it’s for.

    And if it’s a question of how user-friendly a thing is, a passage of the purplest prose by a friend, for example, shockingly illustrated, ask yourself what it’s for even more courageously, yes, and give that friend a little extra tether as well, and some special time.

    “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world,” that’s what Schopenhauer says as well. “The task is not so much to see what no one has yet seen, but to think what nobody has yet thought about that which everybody sees.”

    Or in lighter words, my dear friend, “begin afresh, afresh, afresh.”

    That’s what jaded, vulgar, dispeptic Philip Larkin says.

    Christopher

    P.S. I took this post down for awhile because I didn’t want to get into an argument about Schopenhauer, who did indeed feel that women were three times worse than the devil. On the other hand, he felt a woman on her own could outstrip a man any day, which is what I’ve been trying to say in this thread — among many other things.

    Here’s what Wiki says about Schopenhauer’s reputation:

    Though his work failed to garner substantial attention during his life, Schopenhauer’s posthumous impact has proven profound across various disciplines, including philosophy, literature, and science. Those who have cited his influence include Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Leo Tolstoy, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Sigmund Freud, Joseph Campbell, Albert Einstein, Carl Jung, Thomas Mann, Jorge Luis Borges, and Samuel Beckett, among others.

    I will try in due course to explain to you why I’m so interested in him, and how I feel he can help in this context.

    C.

  20. January 13, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    DESPERATE PEDAGOGY:
    For my friend.

    Western Culture is the Precinct of Property, that goes without saying but is almost never said.

    So here goes, fool that I am — and please believe me, dear friend, I’m not a Marxist, or anything ism-istic for that matter. I’m just starting over, that’s all, which is all you can do when you’re right near the end. All you can do is look at how things have arisen in the first place, and if you do that you’ll notice there’s also nothing left but the end — and that’s really something worth considering. So I’d love it if you could bear with me a bit.

    A DISCOURSE ON PROPERTY

    It’s property alone that stands enshrined not only in all the great western religions but in the great western constitutions as well, unique as they are in their emphasis on the Rule of Law and the Rights of the Individual. All western constitutions, and the U.S. Constitution in particular, guarantee that the individual has the right to own and protect 1.) the self, 2.) the family, and 3.) property. Indeed, nowhere in the world or at any other time or period in history, has the concept of ‘private property,’ from your person to the yard around your house, been so enshrined and venerated. Indeed, it’s in the name of ownership that all our great western accomplishments have been achieved — and ditto, of course, been the cause of all our failures, litiginous, pedagogical, psychological, environmental and military. But above all, the obsession with ‘property’ has been responsible for our sense of personal despair, for we’ve built a whole world around owning it, yet everybody knows everything’s slipping away — and that makes us terribly anxious, and angry.

    It’s hard for us to see because we feel our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is self-evident, and simply can’t imagine it could be otherwise. Kill-joy, we call the pessimist, and if he persists we phone the doctor.

    Of course that’s over-stated, but it’s such a hard thought, and I’m saying it baldly just to get a tiny finger-hold on the slippery face of the cliff I’m attempting to scale – as I have been in every word in this thread whether or not I know where I am.

    That’s good so far, that’s what I mean.

    A DISCOURSE ON DISLOCATION

    In all other places and times in the world, the individual has been regarded as a fragment of the spirit, and the land as the spirit’s kingdom. For example, the idea of owning the land, or anything personal for that matter, was unthinkable to the Australian Aboriginals, the last remnants of one of the holiest people on earth. Indeed, ownership did not exist as a concept in pre-European Australia, and when the white farmers arrived with their livestock and began to fence off the land, the true inhabitants of the divine kingdom were pushed off the face of the earth, as even we say, and plunged into despair, alcoholism and insanity.

    And many Native Americans in both hemispheres have suffered the same fate, as have the last remnants of the first people of Europe, the Celts. A thousand years ago the Celtic people still preserved a memory of living in the spirit from Iona to Innishmore and Galicia, but in modern times were uncerimoniously pushed off the land and into the sea — and, of course, on to America. Which proved to be for almost everybody, including my own family, a long jouney from the frying pan into the fire.

    The “private property” aspect of western forced migration and/or cultural annihilation comes as a shock to many Americans who feel that the Home and the Owner are God-given Rights. That’s not what I’m writing about now, but if you’re interested you can read about it every day in the papers, or just Google “Trump.”

    A DISCOURSE ON HOPELESSNESS

    The enshrinement of “hope” is the more difficult aspect of this argument, for it is so engrained in our western ethos that we hardly notice it, like the air we breathe. For hope is the assumption that everybody has a goal, a career, and a pension to look forward to both socially and theologically. That’s written into our psychological constitution, so to speak, indeed so much so that a deficiency of hope has now become the illness we spend the most money on treating. And I mean Depression, of course, a word that’s related to the word ‘despair’ which itself comes from the French désespoir, without hope. And to treat it is exorbitantly expensive too, requiring as it does major funding not only for the tools and props of Big Pharma but for the therapists, psychiatrists, teachers, gurus and celebrity ‘coaches’ we hire to plan out our lives so that we can more easily and gracefully achieve our personal goals. Oh, and the nutritionists who help us to identify the mysterious new allergies that undermine us as well as to figure out the perfect daily regime and diet that will guarantee us personal beauty and success. And that’s not to mention the trainers, the head-hunters, the investment bankers, the stock brokers, the insurance agents and the retirement planners who we pay to smooth out the thorny path and give us a hand to heaven. That’s a lot of helpers, indeed, more than a king had retainers around his throne in the past.

    Too much? Oh, we need it, we need it — and I’m talking about my words, dear friend.

    And Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)? He was one of the first western thinkers to blow the whistle on all this – but his message was roundly trashed as depressing and negative, and in college Philosophy courses he’s usually labelled as a Pessimist. In relation to the more Positivist positions of most western philosophy, Schopenhauer is indeed a cold shower, and notorious, of course, for his attacks on women. Yet during my own lifetime Schopenhauer has attracted a very distinguished following – there’s a list quoted from his Wiki entry at the end of the previous thread.

    I’m not a philosopher myself, and indeed know very little about it – I only know what I know, which (and I’m not being modest!) is not very much. But in the last 20 odd years of living in South East Asia, I have come not only to understand but to make part of my daily life the following truths, all of which are key to what might be called Schopenhauer’s “Desperate Pedagogy.” Because like the Zen master’s, his pedagogy is “desperate” not in the sense of grasping after straws but of affirming that there are no straws to grasp, which there aren’t. Or in another, less familiar sense of the word “desperate,” once you’ve given up everything you might be happy.

    And that’s revolutionary, because it means everything you’ve been taught must be challenged, like up and down and even the nose on your face. And it has to be challenged with each breath that you breathe each moment, and you have to look at even the cracks between your thoughts. And I tell you, that’s not difficult once you can figure out how to get started, though of course it helps if your mind is slipping. You can tell it’s not difficult because little Amira Willighagen can sing it, Jane can put it on, and the boy-god everywhere in Dürer can point at it straight with his finger. And it throws up simple-minded language like this:

    Quotes from Schopenhauer:

    Change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal.

    The fundament upon which all our knowledge and learning rests is the inexplicable.

    Faith is like love: it does not let itself be forced.

    The alchemists in their search for gold discovered many other things of greater value.

    The man never feels the want of what it never occurs to him to ask for.

    It is difficult to find happiness within oneself, but it is impossible to find it anywhere else.

    We can regard our life as a uselessly disturbing episode in the blissful repose of nothingness.

    And I particularly love this last one, and hope I can get to it more effectively in the days to come:

    I have not yet spoken my last word about women. I believe that if a woman succeeds in withdrawing from the mass, or rather raising herself from above the mass, she grows ceaselessly and more than a man.

    I do hope this helps,
    Christopher

  21. January 15, 2016 at 9:45 am

    My friend, whom I love and admire as a person as well as a poet, finds me very difficult as a writer as well as a friend.

    The disjunct between us is a mystery to me, and to her too, I suspect – but I don’t think either of us has given up on the other even though we’re no longer on speaking terms.

    The problem is that we don’t speak the same language, and I’m going to do something very dangerous and talk about that. I’m going to talk about some of the disjuncts between us in terms of the language we use.

    And this is dangerous because I may be completely wrong, which if I am will destroy what little hope of rapport remains between us. And, of course, if I’m right it will be even worse, for there’s no going back from there.

    ~

    In something my friend wrote recently she includes a photograph at the end, suggesting that the photographer says what she had been trying to say better than her words. What she has been writing is not good enough, she feels, whereas for a sensitive reader the success of the writing lies precisely in the very human, very frail and very moving ambivalence that underlies it. And I don’t think we go to photographs for that.

    My friend feels that words are as objective as photographs, at least if they’re well-crafted they are. And there’s a serious disjunct there, because even if the photographer’s finger is shaking and her eye clouded with tears, the photograph will be still and dry.

    My friend also says that a description she wrote earlier in the same piece is not worth saving but for a single word at the end. “This faint glimmer of wind” [not her words, which are better] is a “great moment,” for sure, but that’s only because of the context, which is haunted as is all good writing of this sort, almost as if it were a confession, or love letter. It’s telling the reader something the writer can’t say in any but that particular context, and certainly not just in one safe, well-crafted word at the end.

    And referring to another passage she asks, “is ‘ungainly’ the wrong word?” Well, it’s not wrong if that’s what it still says after the writer is worn out with trying to find another one all night. The branches hang down with “awkward armfuls of snow,” she says looking out [not her words again ], which are heavy, yes, but they are also surprisingly light and “quiver,” she says. She says that she sees the tree’s boughs as the gesture of an aging hand, but I say that’s because she’s so tired. She’s ashamed to be home and writing, that’s my sense of it, to have that sort of green space and still to feel so barren.

    And I say what a blessing that curse is, and what writer isn’t under that incessant, intolerable shadow. Indeed, I am myself right now.

    But here’s another way to look at it, which I feel is also there in my friend’s description. Because the scene could have had child-bearing words, if the writer had felt more hopeful that is. The rounded shape of the boughs, for example, how they seem to support new life so unselfishly, how full and generous they are to carry the weight of all that new fallen snow — indeed, they may even twitch like a baby in utero. If the writer were feeling less ambivalent she might have said something like that. But it wouldn’t necessarily have been more true what is more, better — because that’s not what the snow in the branches was saying to her that morning. Obviously not, but it could have.

    Because what a good writer writes is never wrong, ever, and every little word and comma and qualifier counts, as do even the blunders. The great moments come only to fulfull the promise of the whole, and only then if we’re honest, open, humble and patient.

    And don’t talk too much either, and certainly not about it.

    Which I guess is the biggest disjunct of all between us — it’s very, very sensitive and I know I must be very careful, and brief.

    In real life we don’t live as if we were living. Life’s not an exercise to become fit or the mind a pot to be turned on some higher craftperson’s wheel. And another image: seeds are hard and small and germinate best alone in dark corners, indeed if you disturb them too early you damage their roots, and if you over-stimulate them later they shoot up and fall over.

    The fact is that I have come to feel more and more uncomfortable with the whole “process writing” movement — which is what we used to call it forty years ago. I was right in it too from the very start — I taught “process writing” in my own classes at a Steiner School in the South of England in the 70s, and then in the 80s went on to develop a whole curriculum around it as Head of the English Department at a High School in Brooklyn, New York.

    What disturbs me about the so-called “workshop” writing programs that have developed in conjunction with “process writing” is the assumption that we’re always creative if we just want to be, that we can always comment intelligently, that we can always remake what we do and, most important of all, will always be praised for it. And it’s that positivist quality that so bugs me now, and more and more so as I get older…

    [See my Discourse on Hopelessness, op.cit.]

    ~

    I love Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “Five Flights Up,” and not because it’s such a great poem either, which it isn’t. It’s because I know it so well, as if I’d written it myself, as if it were part of my life story too as it’s so obviously part of hers. And it’s the troubled part of the poem that I so cherish, not the craft (indeed, I don’t think it’s even that well-written. It’s sort of amateurish, isn’t it, as if Robert Creeley had written it, or me?)

    My friend never wants to admit that anything she writes is part of her. She wants her poems, her images and her voices even to be anonymous, and perfect — which I’d say really good writing rarely is, I mean even the best-lived life is so messy! Really good writing always betrays the writer and, if it’s really, really good, betrays the reader as well. Indeed, it should make us blush as if Crazy Jane had written it, not the Bishop. It should make us crazy like Hamlet, or weep our eyes out, fall in love with, and then bow down before Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

    ~

    Comments like these are for me like the cracks between the thoughts I was talking about at the end of my last post, each breath betraying my assumptions about safety and permanence, cutting the ground from under my clumsy, irreverent feet. And then I fall or fly or flicker, and I don’t care much which, or stomp off in disgust as I did with this whole essai yesterday (it lay deleted in my trash for 24 hours). But it’s good today, I feel, not what my friend says about aging hands, not plaintive, not resigned.

    Because what I’m talking about is never about aging but about what I can still see from here, or guess anyway (see my comment about “High Windows” above).

    ~

    Thanks for listening, and thanks above all to my friend, who haunts me. Indeed to all my best friends who are listening.

    Christopher

  22. January 17, 2016 at 9:40 am

    A BLACK CUPFUL OF LIGHT

    Let me start with this and then see if I can work back to where I was before I went off with my friend on that other path.

    ~

    Speaking of one of my favorite poets, Adrienne Rich once wrote:

    “Looking into a Jean Valentine poem is like looking into a lake: you can see your own outline, and the shapes of the upper world, reflected among rocks, underwater life, glint of lost bottles, drifted leaves. The known and familiar become one with the mysterious and half-wild, at the place where consciousness and the subliminal meet. This is a poetry of the highest order, because it lets us into spaces and meanings we couldn’t approach in any other way.”

    ………………

    ..THE BLACK MADONNA AT CHARTRES

    ……….Friend or no friend,
    ……….darkness or light,
    ……….vowels or consonants,
    ……….water or dry land,

    ……….anything more from you now
    ……….is just gravy
    ……….—just send me down forgiveness, send me down
    ……….bearing myself a black cupful of light.

    ………………………………………………..Jean Valentine

    ………………
    Of course poetry doesn’t always have to start as far down and out as that. I do love Jean Valentine, but some of her poems leave me feeling stupid, indeed they even make me feel I might give up on her at times. But I don’t because I believe so strongly in her, as one of my best friends even though I’ve never met her or even glimpsed her in the distance. It’s that I have come to trust her so much, as simple as that. It’s that I believe in her, I give myself over to her — and that’s really something. For me Jean Valentine has become a sort of hierophant, someone who I allow to lead me to places I don’t know, someone who I choose to lead me even into places as dark and insensible as in this poem. Indeed, whenever I hear her strings warming up I sit there entranced as if she were an ancient siren and me not tied to the mast.

    And I think all poetry should do that, at least some of the time it should — because we’re all so limited by what we think we know and, even worse, by what we think we ought to write about and be given a job for — because it’s the industry of it all that I so rail against, the modern American marketplace for poets that has so distorted our tastes and capacities.

    What poets really need is a good kick up the back-side if not a shove off the edge of the cliff, I’d say, not a boost back to school. Indeed, there’s nothing like never going anywhere after years and years of waiting at home alone for that.

    ~

    Listen to this Circe, listen to this simple, well-spun, silky, large-breasted, extravagantly-gifted voice that charmed the beast out of every man that ever she met on the cold hill-side!

    ……..

    ..AN ANCIENT GESTURE

    ..I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
    ..Penelope did this too.
    ..And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
    ..And undoing it all through the night;
    ..Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
    ..And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
    ..Suddenly you burst into tears;
    ..There is simply nothing else to do.

    ..And I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
    ..This is an ancient gesture, authentic, antique,
    ..In the very best tradition, classic, Greek;
    ..Ulysses did this too.
    ..But only as a gesture,—a gesture which implied
    ..He learned it from Penelope…
    …………………………………………………Edna St. Vincent Millay

    ………..

    Oh how many times worse than the devil is that, and all her hand-maidens strung up twitching on the clothesline that she could be in bed at last with her dark, blind, “one armed clown” of a man. And I’m not suggesting we should do that in our own personal lives either, just that it’s like that, how dangerous poetry wakes up in such arms, how when nobody’s there anymore and we’re lost it wakes us up at last.

    At least that’s my own experience on the cold hill side.

    Christopher

  23. January 18, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    I put up my poem, “Her Love at Chartres,” and then took it down again two hours later.

    Another very special friend e-mailed me a graphic that shocked me, not because it was so shocking in itself but because it made me realize that perhaps I was shocking others, as if I were obsessed with the nether regions, as if anything to do with the nether regions had something to do with graphic sex.

    And now I feel self-conscious, and I’m not sure I can go on. Indeed, I feel I’ve lost the thread, that the thread has been compromised and I have to go and wash my mouth out with soap.

    In my post called “The Blessed Fault” I tried to talk about the objectification of sex on the one hand and the objectification of philosophy on the other. I said Jane Eyre was one of the most erotic novels I had ever read, and went on to say that attempts to analyze Jane Eyre in mythological and symbolic terms were equally reductive, indeed as reductive as pornography. In fact, I didn’t say that but that’s what I meant.

    And now I feel a pornographer myself, and maybe I am.

    I’ll look in on it again tomorrow.

    C.

  24. January 19, 2016 at 11:23 am

    WORDS OF THE DEVIL – LIVING UNDER THE SHADOW OF GOD.
    A RE-RUN RE-WRITTEN WITHOUT PEDALLING.

    ………………………..[Christopher Woodman said,
    ………………………..April 8, 2014 at 12:13 pm]

    Gauguin - Brooding Woman 450…………………………Paul Gauguin. Te Faaturuma (Brooding Woman). (1891)
    ……………………………………..Click on it to see better who’s at the door.

    I guess he’s my favorite painter, along with Piero della Francesca. Because of course this painting is where I live too, and of course I can’t do any better on colors or details in my poems than he can in his paintings, though in my case it’s also a result of my lack of talent and judgment whereas in his it’s all genius. But Gauguin is like me in other ways too — he’s not to be fully trusted either because he can’t make up his mind what’s true and what’s false. Indeed, it’s all in the retelling, isn’t it, even what he sees right in front of his own eyes and feels with his hands, like this woman? I mean, can you trust any of it? Or what he sees behind her in the doorway? Or maybe he doesn’t but she does, like living under the shadow of God?

    …..
    ….THE BLESSÉD FAULT AND SINGULARITY OF LOVE

    …………………The soft violable parts
    …………………………..so neatly hammock up

    …………………in the bright shell we hold
    …………………………..in the palm of the hand

    …………………each night we gladly help
    …………………………..slip our still seamless flesh

    …………………back into the deep-unopened
    …………………………..even as the dawn chorus

    …………………sinks into the city sounds
    …………………………..and daylight finds us yet

    …………………again awkward virgins
    …………………………..in an old man’s kitchen.

    …………………But if some flaw or singularity
    …………………………..rubs its grief in us enough

    …………………to over-flow any green salt
    …………………………..marsh on a wet spring tide

    …………………we dive for life and breathe
    …………………………..with the neck and flash

    …………………with the luminous fins
    …………………………..that deify the fundament.

    …………………Then any small, flat stone
    …………………………..skipped over our heads

    …………………can flutter down through
    …………………………..the slanting depths and

    …………………bring us Gabriel’s news,
    …………………………..or roses, or the violent rain—

    …………………when sex mars the heavens,
    …………………………..God’s shadow moves again!
    …..

    ……….

    It’s at this point I get into so much trouble with my friends because I know either they’re blind or I’m crazy — which is why I fight so hard with them, of course, and refuse to lie down and be quiet as they tell me I should. They think I don’t lie down because I don’t listen whereas in actual fact it’s because I listen so well I know this is life and death for me as I’m almost out of time.

    For example, “Leda Takes Another Lover,” a poem we fought over toward the end of the thread called “Make It New” — you can scroll down to find it if you want to, but brace yourself, the discussion following “Leda Takes Another Lover” is truly awful. Indeed, in some ways I’ve never recovered.

    Because “Leda Takes Another Lover” is either the beautiful little Degas-like danseuse poem I think it is, or the terrible mess with the distasteful images and bad grammar of my friend’s assessment of it. And that’s a very big one for me indeed, because if it really is such a mess then my own powers of creativity, discrimination, and understanding are seriously marred, and I should simply “go to bed.” That’s what my friend Jimmy taught me to say to threatening dogs when I was out running around his house in upstate New York, and they did. Now I bicycle everyday in the rice instead and when I’m chased by dogs they don’t understand my language. Also they don’t have any beds to lie down in or even go inside a house for that matter, minor detail. So now I do what my Thai friends have taught me to do instead, which is just to stop pedaling. That really puts the fear of God in the dogs as they are only brave when they’re sure I’m running away. Stopping pedaling means to the dogs I’m taking a stand, and even though I’m still coasting along at quite a clip, they stop running behind me and very soon I’m far, far away. Works every time, and I guess that’s what I’m still doing here. Just coasting — and of course, hoping.

    Another problem is that I love my friends, and I can’t bear it when they bark at me as if I were a stranger or at least somebody who shouldn’t be there. On the other hand, I’m aware enough to challenge myself, and of course I consider the possibility that I’m the dog that’s doing the chasing and not the other way around. But if I am that dog I’ve wasted my life wrestling with poetry, and I don’t mean just with my own poetry either as I’ve only written it as opposed to loving it for 26 years. I was a poetry nut for 42 years before those last 26, indeed from the age of 8, to be exact, and as a result, boy do I know what this next painting is about. On the other hand, you wouldn’t catch me dead trying to explain it in words. Indeed, that’s why I write poetry instead of words, and the difference is that gulf between the barking dog and the bicyclist.

    Gauguin - Parau na te varua ino (Words of the devil). 1892.…………….Paul Gauguin – Parau na te varua ino (Words of the devil) . (1892)

    Christopher

  25. January 21, 2016 at 9:05 am

    YES, EVEN AS COARSE AS THAT

    As I explained to late comers, I put up that last poem a year and a half ago — when I was still hoping to talk to you. But like Amira Willighagen’s judges, you thought my voice might not be ready to hear as I hadn’t been properly trained, indeed that my sound might even hurt your ears — or at least offend your sensibilities, which it clearly did.

    In a sense the poem is about all that too, but I would maintain that the training we need to have something to say is less technical than it is circumstantial, and that however much we study and copy the ancients, imitatio as we used to call it in school, if we haven’t yet been split like the tree at Thornfield, or at least split enough to know we’ll never recover, which is what life is all about, after all, we are very unlikely to produce anything of value.

    The phrase I particularly like in the poem is “deify the fundament,” and I wonder if any reader is going to spend a bit of time with that one? And the word “sex,” of course — because without our earth being troubled by whatever that is, and I mean really troubled, badly, we’ll never write ourselves out of the Garden of Eden anymore than Samson would ever have found the strength to pull down the temple if he hadn’t been first betrayed by Delilah.

    Or in the case of Job, also a favorite of his God, don’t forget. Indeed, Job would never have reached his limits and thus achieved his own salvation had he not been betrayed by that very same God.

    Or Adam, stupid guy, who would never have amounted to anything without the genius of Eve.

    Christopher

  26. January 27, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    I’ve been been in Washington DC for 4 days — a Memorial gathering for my dear cousin, Mark Swann.

    I watched Lenny Abrahamson’s ‘Room’ three times during the 28 hour series of flights that took me there.

    When I arrived early in the morning the snow was just a breathless thought, but the huge plows lined up along the verges already had their engines running. I could see that from their exhausts.

    I spent the next 3 days watching the blizzard unfold outside my window.

    Yesterday I watched ‘Room’ twice more during the 30 hour return to Chiang Mai.

    Although I couldn’t catch much of the dialogue because of the roar of the engines, I’d watch it again right now if I could. Just to look so hard inside such a small space.

    ~

    I read over the whole of “How Bad is the Devil” first thing this morning, and understand better now what I’ve been trying to say. If you get a chance to see ‘Room’ you might too as both the little boy and the mother in the film have so much in them of what I see in Amira Willighagen and the young Albrecht Dürer. Both of them equally.

    Makes me weep for the beauty of life that’s so hard to understand, accept and endure.

    C.

  27. Dawn Potter said,

    January 29, 2016 at 7:38 am

    I like your last sentence a lot.
    ………………

  28. January 30, 2016 at 10:31 am

    Me too. Indeed, I haven’t been able to go on because of its long grey beard and glittering eye. And the caesura of course.

    (What a beautiful and creative circumlocution that is — or do we say “lie” when we’re making it all up?)

    Yes, and why do we have to struggle to say it again and again every day when it’s already been said for all time?

    (I’d love it if you could get to that in your next cable.)

    C.

  29. January 31, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    WRITING INTO YOUR MOTHER’S LAP

    Maybe I’ll answer that for you, the snow lying so deep where I live and the phone lines down and fairy lights dimmed under the weight of the ice. Maybe I’ll just assume your reply is lying on an old scratched desk somewhere at the back of the town, or perhaps shivering in the pouch of the delivery boy on his bicycle stuck in the drift down the road.

    ~

    So why do we write it again and again like that when it’s already been said once and for all and indeed so much better?

    I’d say we write and write it again not because of what we want to say, or how well we might express it, or publish or blog or send it to a friend or neighbor — but for the new-life labor, the faith involved, the patient dreaming of a thing back into some other fresher, younger life that’s not yet got a name to it — the digging in the garden of a life that’s not ours, the drawing of the net through the distant shimmering sea without end or splitting the ancient petrified trunk that’s the true living timber of our lives — the hewing and carting of the stone out of the quarry beyond time, world without end, and on to utterly selfless. Then we read it over to ourselves years later, even me, unpublishable, and wonder: “Who wrote that?” And if I’m patient and utterly dedicated I can marvel with the best of them: “How wonderful!”

    For writing on this level is selfless — we make it all up to be true, not to be sensible or pay the bills, not to go to college or the dentist, choose the right diet, design the right house — all those things are just engineering, after all, household management, whereas writing in the way I describe it becomes truly the truth if we can just keep on making it up for days on end, weeks, years even — until it’s done at last and, yes, even done with us, so to speak — the last shell of our person left behind in some deep Arctic snowdrift dozing off. Because such truth is way more important than the facts, or even more important than you, to be honest, what is more somebody as much of an empty old shell as me.

    Which is what Frank Lloyd Wright says, the archetypal designer: “The truth is more important than the facts.”

    Or Jorge Luis Borges, eternity’s archivist, demented quantum traveller: “Everything happens for the first time.”

    And best of them all, “Love! Love, until the night collapses!” (Pablo Neruda, Machu Picchu.) *

    ~

    And I wouldn’t argue that any of the above makes sense or has any practical value, yet it’s value is so obvious, isn’t it, so simple, profound yet accessible? Indeed, great writing is always like that, simple, plain, and true even when it’s written by just anybody, and never seen by anybody else but maybe by you — at least if it’s lucky enough to find you in a good mood.

    That’s the bottom-line for the writing I most value, that it has a long grey beard and a glittering eye even when it’s light-weight, uncritical, or makes you throw up – that it always has something to say that is both spell-binding and child-like. And of course you don’t understand a word of it, even if you’re the author, I admit that, because yes, I don’t understand a word of what I write after so much time, effort and hope. But how precious is that moment when I know the famous poem I’ve written is finished at last because it’s true, the proof being that it’s gone way beyond what I could ever hope to write or improve what is more begin to understand as I was before. So how should I tamper when by then I’m way out of my depth, to paraphrase J. Alfred Prufrock?

    That’s writing “like a child running into it’s mother’s lap,” I’d say — which is an image I just came across today in my local Thai newspaper:

    “If all we know of mind is the aspect that dissolves when we die, we will be left with no idea of what continues, no knowledge of the new dimension of the deeper reality of the nature of mind. So it is vital for us all to familiarise ourselves with the nature of mind while we are still alive. Only then will we be able to recognise it as naturally as a child running into its mother’s lap.”
    ……………………………………Sogyal Rinpoche, in The Nation today.

    Christopher

    ………………

    * NOTE:
    The three short quotes are from a 24pps pamphlet by the New Zealand poet, Raewyn Alexander, Made of Earth and Rain, Writing Poetry. (Auckland, 2015). The title of the pamphlet is from a work by Pablo Neruda, Regalo de un Poetica (A Gift from a Poet).

    ……….Raewyn Alexander Booklet

    Many thanks to you, Raewyn Alexander — the gentle voice in this pamphlet will save many a wretch, and even among them a poet as primitive, stubborn and uncooperative as me.

    C.

  30. February 2, 2016 at 3:19 pm

    CREATING THE GARDEN OF EDEN AND AFTER.

    INSPIRATION AND REVISION

    Creating the Garden of Eden was easy for God, just as inspiration is relatively easy for a poet, and especially for a very great contemporary poet like God who at the time had a huge captive audience. The hardest part, even for a highly acclaimed poet, is to get to grips with the J. Alfred Prufrock self and start dealing with those things not meant at all, some of which are very bright and some very dark indeed. By the same token, in order to bring his great work to fruition, God had to find a way to transcend His own Goodness and become, in our own peculiarly human, anarchical, in-your-face lingo, BAD — which is where His true Genius lay as well as His Death. So God began to dream of Himself as a plain little man with his trousers rolled etc., etc., which they weren’t up to the point where He met His extraordinary equal and ultimate editor, Eve, and, concealed in the darkest corner of that brightest of all worlds, revised not only the apple but the delicate hand and bright mouth that would complete His Work by eating it.

    And then on to the next step, the poetry, the revolutionary thoughts, the trousers-rolled, hair-parted, peach botched etc. etc., all that came up with the genius creation of Eve. That was the hardest part for God, indeed as hard as unpredicated Revision is for poets who write really good poems that are published everywhere they go yet rarely transcend what they’ve been trained to do, what their mentors applaud, and what regional audiences so love and expect. And I don’t mean “Make it New!” either, God forbid the pose. I mean true to the truth at the edges where no thought goes.
    …………

    A FEW EXERCISES TO HELP YOU WITH THAT:

    …………1.) Write a paradise poem in which the devil is simultaneously
    ………………..culpable and indispensable;

    …………2.) Write a poem based on one of the following images;

    …………3.) Paint a painting based on one of the following poems..
    ……..</span

    WRITING THE UNWRITABLE

    Because the hardest part for any poet is to remain clear, uncluttered and honest while at the same time writing through the edges, the betweens or interstices of thought, space, time and self. Or in another sense (but the same), we might say writing to let it all hang out (i.e. a bit more than parted or rolled!) or, even more poignantly in our times (but still the same), to "flame out," the engines starved, tanks empty, oxygen masks flapping — and just at that moment to rise up from the crash with one single poem that's forever and ever, Amen. That means to come up with a poem that transcends time, place, schools, fashions, and audience expectations altogether, a poem which has become magically simple and utterly just plain there, unrewritable and therefore hors concours — as Yeats managed so often, silly guy, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost so many times in spite of himself too, Edna St Vincent Millay (oh my!), Stanley Kunitz and never mind Shakespeare? And that list should include me, of course — at least after I finish what I know is a famous little poem after years and years of hard work, a moment I’ve experienced a number of times. As I’ve said.

    But that’s not the point, really, who is hors concours* at the one extreme or who’s deemed naive and clumsy at the other. Because it can happen even to a poet who isn’t that good but who comes up for all time with a poem that is forever and ever, Amen. Like the following – a rough little poem yet as irreplaceable as, what shall we say, “The Sick Rose?” “My Life Had Stood – A Loaded Gun?” “Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word?” “King of the River?” or that wild little back-flip girl of mine, “Leda Takes Another Lover?”

    ……..SHADES

    ……..Shall I tell you, then, how it is?—

    ……..There came a cloven gleam

    ……..Like a tongue of darkened flame

    ……..To flicker in me.

    ……..And so I seem

    ……..To have you still the same

    ……..In one world with me.

    ……..In the flicker of a flower,

    ……..In a worm that is blind, yet strives,

    ……..In a mouse that pauses to listen

    ……..Glimmers
    ……..our
 Shadow; yet it deprives

    ……..Them none of their glisten.

    ……..In every shaken morsel
 I see our shadow tremble

    ……..As if it rippled from out of us hand in hand.

    ……..As if it were part and parcel,

    ……..One shadow, and we need not dissemble

    ……..Our darkness: do you understand?

    ……..For I have told you plainly how it is.

    …………………………………………….D.H.Lawrence

    ……..

    Or a poem as simple, barefoot and unveiled as this:
    ……..

    ……..God
    ……..dissolved
    ……..my mind – my separation.
    ……..I cannot describe my intimacy with Him.
    ……..How dependent is your body’s life on water and food and air?
    ……..I said to God, ‘ I will always be unless you cease to Be,’
    ……..And my Beloved replied, ‘And I
    ……..would cease to Be
    ……..if you
    ……..died.’

    …………………………………………….St. Teresa of Avila

    ……..

    Christopher

    * NOTE: I used to say hors de contest, but am not talking about the American poetry scene, which indeed I hardly know. To me hors concours implies a universality that goes beyond the regionality of hors de contest — which is probably due to the absence of the preposition as much as the difference in the nouns.

    C.

  31. February 5, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    BACK TO BASICS

    That was really hard, that last one, and I’ve been rewriting it constantly right up to this moment, Friday at 12 noon in my house, Thursday at midnight in yours, or almost. So if you’re following this thread, which a surprising number of you still are, I’d be so pleased if you could read those first two paragraphs one more time.

    Oh, and send me a signal if you have — I’m always listening.

    Meanwhile I’d like to show you what I think is one of the best poems I’ve ever written but which is very unlikely to get published, at least on its own terms as it’s politically so impossibly incorrect. The poem could make an appearance only if Galileo’s Secret got published, because it might then sneak into the world concealed under it’s voluminous skirts.

    On the other hand, no poem I’ve ever written has received more positive rejection slips than this one — I think there have been at least 6 of those now, all genuinely regretful. Indeed, the refrain is similar to the words from the well-known editor who first saw it: “As much as we admire it, we simply can’t publish this poem.” (You can guess who that editor might have been, and feel sorry for the hundreds of thousands of readers who didn’t get to read the poem simply because it’s so incorrect.)

    Which “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was too, of course — and the world at the time so badly needed Eliot’s haunting metaphors using women to express what the world was unable to deal with in itself, and still isn’t. Indeed, I’d say that that’s what made (and still makes) T.S.Eliot so great, and I suspect will guarantee him a place in the pantheon of great poetry in English forever. It’s what Eliot can’t say that he does say, and so eloquently — indeed, no poet has ever expressed the human condition/dilemma/genius more poignantly.

    ~

    What I call “trousers-rolled” thoughts in my previous post are the thoughts that we can’t think, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily “bad” in the sense of negative or demeaning. Indeed, it may be because the thoughts are so good or sweet or vulnerable we can’t express them — we simply don’t dare come out of the closet with them, so to speak. That’s what C.G.Jung always insisted in his analytical work, that what he called ‘The Shadow’ conceals all those parts of ourselves that we can’t accept, and for many men and women that can include gentleness, for example. Indeed, we have to endure that in so many violent, intolerant and lonely people.

    ~

    Here’s a final little fiddle tune for you, then, among my best, most positive, and most life-affirming confections. If you can rise to it perhaps you can also forgive me for everything else in this thread — which is now done.
    …..

    GRAVITY’S RAINBOW
    ……………..after Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)

    …..Consider big women
    …..and white perfect ducks
    …..with their fashionable heads in the mud,
    …..how they tether themselves down
    …..with pegs in the ground
    …..so they won’t float up in the air –
    …..the feathery dry air that is brighter than gold
    …..but stays unredeemed on the shelf.

    …..Ducks and big women
    …..turn weight upside down
    …..by the water on Sunday to stay down,
    …..not to be better, or up nearer the sun—
    …..like buskers, fine philharmonic
    …..conductors, preachers, teachers,
    …..invalids in chariots, toddlers and clowns,
    …..all creatures with sweet little flippers that tickle the air,
    …..as pliant as play-dough or beeswax,
    …..useless as paperweight slippers,
    …..ballast for butterflies, barbells for kittens —
    …..perfect as the lead in the magician’s tight furnace
    …..or the sticky brown muck in God’s oven.

    …..“O the big wide basket of my body,”
    …..the duck woman cries,
    …..“O the piles of starched linen, the fillips,
    …..the white cotton aprons and tea-towels
    …..folded so nicely in my trembling arms,
    …..down on my knees by the pool!

    …..“Take this fine little turn-up,
    …..for example,” she says,
    …..“do you see how it’s paddled and done?
    …..The masterful curl at the end of the tail,
    …..how the bottom turns upward as if at a ball,
    …..the crinoline, the petticoats,
    …..the old-fashioned drawers that kick highest of all—
    …..and O how they flutter with each do-si-do,
    …..and how the heart goes — can’t you feel it?
    …..And aren’t it worth the applause?”

    …..“Come on in then, come on in!”
    …..the duck-caller cries,
    …..and when she comes in on his arm
    …..to waddle like a lover on the velvety floor
    …..or soon to be mother,
    …..which is very good too,
    …..how he dips by the water for a nod or a snooze
    …..any day in the park, old poet by the pool —
    …..takes his nap on a folding green chair and the paper,
    …..a moist royal nap amongst women,
    …..head-over-heels in God’s pool.

    ………………………………from GALILEO’S SECRET, Two Decades of
    ……………………………………..Poems Under House Arrest,
    p.73

    …..

  32. February 6, 2016 at 9:00 am

    POSTSCRIPT 1

    “Gravity’s Rainbow” is the penultimate poem in GALILEO’S SECRET: Two Decades of Poems Under House Arrest — the first poem in the book is called “In Praise of the Still Unweighed.” From weightlessness that is weighty to weight that is light, that’s the range of enquiry in all my work, and “How Bad is the Devil” is a kind of Great Hadron Collider in words searching for traces of a “God Particle” that I don’t know whether I believe in or not but admit I’d love to if I could. And of course I also freely admit that I make it all up as I go.

    “The weight of things is just / another flight,” says “In Praise of the Still Unweighed” at the very beginning of Galileo’s Secret

    …..like Leda’s modest thighs
    …..giving plain wings the chance
    …..to sanctify earth’s godliest yearnings.

    On occasion I think I do get a whiff of the non-existent particle in the flood of words above, and most often when I manage to write myself out of the equation. But I don’t have the strength to get back there to look any more, it’s been so hard, and of course unsettling to know the effect it has had upon you.

    Christopher

  33. wfkammann said,

    February 9, 2016 at 6:02 am

    OLD FOREPLAY FOR NEW WOMEN INCLUDING MEN

    …………O, how wrong you fierce suitors have it
    …………stripping off the dark, secret wraps
    …………that lighten length and breadth
    …………and scenery on earth…
    ………………………………………2007 Version (unpublished)

    ………………

    [THE REST OF THIS POEM WAS DELETED BY THE COWPATTY EDITOR]
    ………………see explanation in Comment 34 below
    ………………

  34. February 9, 2016 at 10:54 am

    Re. COMMENT 33 (W.F.Kammann)

    Dear Bill,
    Thank you for posting the earlier version of “In Praise of the Still Unweighed,” and I know you meant well by doing so. On the other hand, the version you posted dates back to 2007, has a different title, and a number of its lines and images have been rewritten in the 9 years in between. Indeed, as Galileo’s Secret gradually found it’s true calling, most of the key poems in the book got rewritten as well, and indeed it’s only in the last year that “In Praise of the Still Unweighed” has stood still and said, “Hey, look at me. I’m right here!”

    As the first poem in Galileo’s Secret, “In Praise of the Still Unweighed” is a kind of fanfare, and I prefer not to put it up at this point in this particular thread. The poem is schematic for one thing, Mannerist, Baroque almost, and although it’s got some wonderful images like the “modest thighs” of Leda in the lines I quoted just above, it is also an intellectual confection. It’s a bon bon, a pole-dancer kind of poem, an almost naked come-on you can’t actually have, and at this point in this thread, i.e. what might be called “The End,” I think it’s unsuitable. The central idea of the poem, that the weight of Leda’s modest thighs sanctifies earth’s godliest yearnings, belongs here, most certainly, but not the poem as a whole.

    You have also posted the URL to a 2007 discussion of the poem in Foetry.com, and I have let that stand. Indeed, it was an important moment in American literary history, Foetry.com, and I’m pleased to see “In Praise of the Still Unweighed” recalled in that context. Even the old title, “Old Foreplay for New Women Including Men,” remains relevant in the Foetry.com context as the discourse on that site was still “old foreplay” stuff, i.e. not yet the real thing in the sense I make of ‘Real,’ ‘Thing,’ and ‘True’ in this thread. And needless to say, the review you cite is a clever little New-Critical take-off, Tom Brady’s tongue being firmly in his anti-modernist cheek. You are welcome to read it, and indeed even to see the earlier version of the poem as it appeared on Foetry.com, but that has very little to do with either the final version of the poem or what I have been trying to say in “How Bad is the Devil.” And as to being “kinder,” it simply isn’t — I’d rather have your rough-house any day, Bill, at least in comparison to Tom’s deflation of the poem as academic, new-fangled, and inartistic (or too artistic, as the case may be with Tom).

    If you want to comment on that, Bill or Dawn or Matthew, you’d be welcome to, and I’ll do my best to listen and perhaps even to answer, at least if what you say is not too rough this time.

    With thanks in any case,

    Christopher

  35. February 13, 2016 at 10:49 am

    IN PRAISE OF THE STILL UNWEIGHED

    Magritte Clairvoyance 400
    ………………………………………………….René Magritte, Clairvoyance (1936)
    …….

    My poem is a lot like this painting, I think, unpretentious, straightforward, fun and at the same time preposterously difficult. But let me be the one to say that word, not you. Because you have to be very careful when you say “difficult” in the wrong way, as if a poem were not well-written, or perhaps over-written,  perhaps even pretentious, you mean, or pedantic, or super intellectual? What you have to remember is that “In Praise of the Still Unweighed” is not what I’m trying to say, it’s what I am saying — which means that when I rewrite something in it, the “bridegroom birds” at the beginning, let’s say, or the “gate-crashers,” it’s not to make the poem more interesting, stylish or eye-catching, but to make it simpler, clearer, more readily comprehensible. As Magritte almost always tried to do in his paintings too, I feel sure, because the amazing thing about René Magritte is that however minor he may seem as a painter, and a child could have done most of this one, he’s so unforgettably just there when you look at the work face to face.  Because there are simply no distractions,  indeed nothing, not even the art or the skill or the surrealistic manner gets in the way. Like that egg on the table, and not a hair out of place. Why, even J. Alfred Prufrock could have made his visit with a haircut like that.

    I’m not interested in cirque-soleil-type experiments in art, however enchanting, well-lit and skillfully performed they may be — as I don’t think Magritte was either. We would both love to be at a Cirque-soleil performance, needless to say, passionately, but we simply don’t have the time for them in our work, the energy or the space. We want the unweighed pure and simple, intimately on the table before us, the dove and the egg at the same time, the wings inside the outside air and the shadow in the sunlight at midnight all at once, and we want to praise every angle as straightforwardly and forthrightly and inexpertly as we can — which isn’t easy because most people think we’re putting on a show, i.e. experimenting with what it might be like to see things in new ways like the avant garde is supposed to do, for example, whereas we know it’s just plain there.

    And let me be frank with you about that as well — because even though I too, like Magritte, was trained not to make things up or tell lies, neither of us can see any other way to tell the truth than what we are doing, which is to define the world at once like a blind man who knows the extended world around him even better than you do with your regular sharp eyes — however weird what the blind man sees may sound, or otherworldly, or like something you’ve seen in a movie, or read in some book by an author who’s an anthropologist in Borneo.

    And just to say about a painting like Clairvoyance, “Oh, Surrealism,” that would miss the point entirely. Yes, the painting is in the historical style we call ‘Surrealism,’ which Salvador Dali played around with too, but, unlike Dali, Magritte and I are not talking about painting or writing as a process, or who’s doing the painting either, or when, or whether it’s any good or not, or even about the curious little title on this one, which truly bakes the cake. We’re talking about what we’re seeing for ourselves at the moment of looking at anything, and specifically the experience when we look attentively at a man looking at an egg and painting a bird and called “Clairvoyance (1936),” all at once. (That latter’s important, the “title.”)

    And who talks about that sort of thing? Who takes that sort of off-the wall manifestation and it’s title seriously?

    Well, I’d say anybody who defies what they’ve been taught and then looks again without license, that’s what I’d say. And the fact that lovers and madmen are best at doing it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily crazy, just that what we’ve been taught is so short-lived, cramped, and degraded.

    Which is why old people like me are said to be losing their minds whereas we’re just disintegrating. Yes, and what’s so wrong with that? Is it an illness to die? Should we treat it?

    And why didn’t Australian Aborigines used to suffer dementia as they do today? Is it because they’re locked up in an insane, dehumanized, fenced-off and dumped-on world and expected to be sensible?

    ~

    So here’s how that little Preface goes now — and I beg of you not to forget that I don’t just write something like this, I mean it the whole way.

    And can’t you see at last how it goes? Can’t you start with the sunlight and then see backwards through the roots and the wings and the drapes until the whole world lifts us up like the bird on the easel, scattering weight like seeds when they take off and metamorphose into rubies? And I don’t mean metaphors or symbols, I mean rubies — as light and perfectly cut, polished and set as rubies on a perfect white neck.

    Weightless as that perfect Piero della Francesca fresco we looked at before, I’d say. Remember? And the discussion about grammar and rhetoric that followed?
    ………………

    IN PRAISE OF THE STILL UNWEIGHED

    …….O, how wrong you celestial bridegroom
    …….birds and gatecrashers have it
    …….stripping off the dark, secret wraps
    …….that lighten length and breadth
    …….and scenery on earth—
    …….the furtive root grabs downward
    …….only because great tentacles of hot
    …….rival might lift our silt-lapped
    …….limbs much harder still,
    …….like sunlight
    …….prying up the whole orchard’s sap.

    …….No, the weight of things is just
    …….another flight,
    …….like Leda’s modest thighs
    …….giving plain wings the chance
    …….to sanctify earth’s godliest yearnings.

    …….As the arrow by the playful string
    …….the heady soul is ever fired by
    …….the archly absent body—
    …….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!

    …………………………………from GALILEO’S SECRET: Two Decades
    ……………………………………….. of Poems Under House Arrest,
    p. 2

    Christopher

  36. wfkammann said,

    February 15, 2016 at 12:00 am

    The suitors are gone and Odysseus with them and with that comes a new comprehension. Yes, very nice.

  37. February 15, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    Bill,
    I agree with you that Odysseus is no longer there in this version, but then he never was — except in your own mind.

    But the particular suitors you saw, the ones from the The Odyssey? Why, they’re just as much there in this version as they ever were, it’s just you never saw them as they were too poetic for you, too inexplicit, too much of a hunch. Because your suitors were there in just one small, stubborn, one-eyed reading of one single word, “suitors,” whereas in the context of the poem they were everywhere, indeed at the genesis of the poem, its first heart beat. Read better now and you’ll see that your particular “suitors” are just a fraction of the numerous other gentleman-callers in the poem, unruly courtiers and celestial rapists that you didn’t see, the gatecrashers, the bridegroom birds, all those hot wings and fierce talons from Jacob’s Dark Angel to Gabriel and even on to Galileo and the sun. Yes, and Lord Krishna coming on to the Gopica soul to give birth to love, lightness and insanity.

    Blinded by a one-eyed reading, you mocked “In Praise of the Still Unweighed,” and the spite and small-mindedness really hurt it and me at the same time.

    I hope that was enough.

    C.

  38. wfkammann said,

    February 15, 2016 at 10:30 pm

    It was and is.

  39. February 15, 2016 at 10:49 pm

    Thanks.

    • February 18, 2016 at 11:42 am

      THREE DAYS LATER.

      I meant that “thanks,” Bill, and hope very much that I’m reading you as you meant. Needless to say, I’m never quite sure…

      That’s why I want to add just these few words more, which I hope will help anyone who is interested to see what’s at stake, both in this poem and, of course, in what we’ve been talking about.

      People say “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is difficult too, and tremble at the very thought of “The Wasteland.” Yes, both poems are demanding, requiring a lifetime of experience as well as quite a lot of self-awareness, humility and, yes, set-backs, physical and emotional, but when you’re ready they’re easy. At least they seem easy to me, every word of them, but then I’ve been reading them since I was 16 — which means for 60 years.

      So here’s what I would like to add, and I promise you I won’t forget the “Ouch!” that follows my “Thanks” three days ago (cf. Comment 40 below).

      ………………

      Dear Bill,
      Initially you were so involved with your own reading of “suitors” that you assumed all the archery images in “Old Foreplay for New Women Including Men” referred to The Odyssey, which none of them did. Odysseus’s bow was an instrument of terrible self-assertion and restitution, far from the concerns of my poem, and Penelope, magnificent as she is, simply doesn’t figure, nor do the ships or years or clashing rocks.

      Needless to say, there are countless other bows and arrows in western mythology, theology, poetry and art to draw on beside The Odyssey, Cupid all the way to St. Teresa, and some of these currents are swirling around in the poem. But despite the ironies, the shocks, the jokes and the perils, the target is always the heart of love through the imagination, not the heart of the body through bloody invasion and violence, and the theme is always inspiration, not revenge and/or restitution.

      ………………“As the arrow by the playful string,
      ………………the heady soul is ever fired by
      ………………the archly absent body…”

      begins the last section of my poem, the archery images of which are straight out of Rilke’s Duino Elegies (you can see how that imagery is developed in the rest of the poem just above).

      Here’s the original in German:

      …………………….Ist es nicht Zeit, daß wir liebend
      …..uns vom Geliebten befrein und es bebend bestehn:
      …..wie der Pfeil die Sehne besteht, um gesammelt im Absprung
      …..mehr zu sein als er selbst. Denn Bleiben ist nirgend
      ……………………………..Duineser Elegien: Die erste Elegie, lls. 50-53.

      …………………..“Isn’t it time our loving freed
      …..us from the one we love and we, trembling, endured:
      …..as the arrow endures the string and in that gathering momentum
      …..becomes more than itself. Because to stay is to be nowhere.
      …………………………………………..translation by A. Poulin, Jr. (1977)

      The English version is from the interlinear edition I was using when I first began “In Praise of the Still Unweighed” 20+ years ago, and you can see where the verbal echoes are coming from as well as the images.

      Christopher

  40. February 16, 2016 at 9:48 am

    But “Ouch!” I should say as well as “Thanks,” stubbing my own toe on the rocks. Or more like biting my own tongue, really, not for holding it back but for letting it out, and I mean out of my mouth — which is not a good place for the tongue to be if it’s trying to communicate more than a snub. Because as gifted and death-defying a performance as the tongue puts on in the mouth every day, it’s ill-equipped outside it just as the human mind is ill-equipped to venture much beyond the confines of the body without taking terrible risks.

    And that’s a carefully considered thought, and well-expressed.

    It’s not hard to see how it goes when an old, white-haired fool tries to do what I’ve been trying to do in this thread — or not trying, really, just letting  it go to the devil, and to hell with the consequences. And even if the words are as bad as that, and sometimes they are, perverse, abusive even, I keep company with them all the way. Like a peeping-tom I risk my life for a glimpse of what I’m neither placed nor permitted to see and, even worse, like a pedant I blabber whole libraries of  sources as if I’d read everything I talked about or had followed up on the implications for humanity.

    J. Alfred Prufrock-like, I too make my visits, as foolish and ill-prepared for life as the peeping-Tom-pedant who created the rock upon which his own proof rested. And a personal foot-note to that — “Tom “is how F.R.Leavis referred to Eliot in the ad hoc talks he gave outdoors in an old cloister-corner at Queen’s in the ’60s — lunch in a brown paper bag, coat tied up with a string, safety-pin for a fly, bicycle clips still on, wool cap pulled down to warm the giant Old Father William brain that was still working overtime. “Tom,” Leavis would say after a pause, pointing down at his groin with his thumb and a wink. Truly waste-landed.

    I was there, and looking back on it now I realize he was talking like me, mumbling through life in his own dirty words just like me.

    And how I admired him for the cant and the courage to deal with himself as he did, for F.R.Leavis was never given a Chair at Cambridge, he was so difficult, and he never abandoned the bicycle either or did something about his hair. Indeed, those informal plein air talks at Queens were the best lectures I ever heard in a very long life so full of them. And sometimes we could even see the old man’s breath as he sat outside in the courtyard talking to us, it was so damp and chilly, and damned if he would ever go inside again!

    Powerful images — but forgive me nevertheless.

    Christopher.

  41. February 17, 2016 at 8:41 am

    “THE CRITIC AS ANTI-PHILOSOPHER”

    ……….OLd Father William & Eel

    “The various academic disciplines of the university world are each “jealous gods” who proclaim, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” This is true whether we are speaking of philosophy, history, literature, arts or sciences. Each would be the Master Discipline, the organizing center of intellectual and cultural life. Each one may develop a natural antipathy to its competitors. Each one may create a vortex of knowledge that becomes a silo of power. But there are better options.”

    …………………F.R.Leavis, English Literature in Our Time and the University (1967)

  42. February 19, 2016 at 11:43 am

    I received the following late Valentine, and am still wrestling with it. So what would you have me say?

    Today is the birthday of scientist and writer Galileo Galilei, born in Pisa, Italy (1564), who defended the scientific belief that the Earth was not the center of the universe and was tried by the Roman Inquisition for heresy. He once prophesied that, in the future, “There will be opened a gateway and a road to a large and excellent science into which minds more piercing than mine shall penetrate to recesses still deeper.”

    Galileo said, “In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.”

    Here’s where my mind goes this morning:

    There are two faults in this statement, both of which depend on contemporary assumptions about the nature of things, and both of which have already been challenged by important developments in science itself.

    First of all, “scientific belief” is an oxymoron. The phrase should read “scientific assumptions,” or “scientific propositions,” or “scientific theses.” As a poet as well as a confused human being, I have no problem with the oxymoron as most of the really important things I want to say/hear/see can be expressed more precisely in contradictions or ‘paradoxes’ than in coherent, sensible facts. And I confess I believe in beliefs too.

    Secondly, Gailieo’s own “humble reasoning” argument is faulty as it depends on the assumption that “reasoning” is the highest human faculty, and that it always comes up trumps even when used by an ordinary person. If you’ve ever tried to use your own humble reasoning to defeat a child, my wife Homprang, or a Jesuit, you will have experienced the very real limits of reason, and although you are very unlikely to win the argument with any of them you will know that Reason is not all that it’s cut out to be.

    I’d also like to say that in my work I have never suggested that Galileo recanted under pressure before the Curia what is more doubted what he had proved. Because Galileo was right about the sun, of course he was, and indeed even the Church accepts that now. On the other hand, as a supremely gifted human being, I feel sure Galileo would have had no problem holding two or more conflicting ideas in his mind at once, and that although he couldn’t explain human existence any better than I can, he would have been able to deal on the one hand with his own, private experience of the earth as the center of the universe and, on the other, the scientific earth as a tiny, unlikely speck in a universe so large it takes up no more space than a speck of dust in a hurricane — and that that unimaginably vast and turbulent universe is in turn a speck of dust in multiple universes nestled one inside the other ad infinitum…

    Galileo wasn’t yet able to “see” all that as he had just a small optical telescope to work with. But he was right about what was to come, and obviously was imagining far more than he could actually “see” when he wrote: “There will be opened a gateway and a road to a large and excellent science into which minds more piercing than mine shall penetrate to recesses still deeper.”

    My argument would be that what Galileo envisioned was even truer and deeper than what he could see. I would also argue that even this greatest and most penetrating of minds was limited by what he believed, and I don’t mean by just Church Doctrine but by Science. On the other hand, the word “science” in Galileo’s day was still interchangeable with “philosophy,” so we must be flexible in our own response to his use of the word as well.

    Or in other words, however much progress we make out there, nothing gets easier in here.

    Christopher

  43. February 20, 2016 at 10:16 am

    OUT THERE AS IN HERE

    Sometimes poetry can say things more clearly than science, as can also the details of our everyday lives if we take the time to look. In both we can experience a supreme, almost God-like ‘clarity’ without having to understand it — and most of the time we don’t try to explain it to anybody else as it’s already inexplicable to ourselves.

    Galileo’s experience as a private man in everyday life would have fallen into the same category, and with such a great mind he would surely have been able to grasp the ungraspable as well if not better than anybody else. By the same token, I feel sure he would have been able to deal with the contradictions between life as he experienced it as an individual and life as he studied it as a scientist — even if he never talked about the disjunct or riddle or paradox, whatever you want to call it.

    One of my favorite books is Dava Sobel’s GALILEO’S DAUGHTER, a most beautifully written and sensitive exploration of Galileo’s relationship with his much loved daughter, Marie Celeste, a nun who spent her entire life in an enclosed cloister not far from the villa where Galileo lived. And we have the letters, an extraordinary blessing for anybody who would like a glimpse into the great scientist’s life as an ordinary man.

    Living in two such worlds at once is as good an image for the paradox of being human as any I can think of. And just today I thought of the following poem by a woman whose mind was, I feel sure, both as far ranging and as intimate as Galileo’s.

    ……….

    ….ONE SISTER HAVE I IN OUR HOUSE

    ……….One Sister have I in our house –
    ……….And one a hedge away.
    ……….There’s only one recorded,
    ……….But both belong to me.

    ……….One came the way that I came –
    ……….And wore my past year’s gown –
    ……….The other as a bird her nest,
    ……….Builded our hearts among.

    ……….She did not sing as we did –
    ……….It was a different tune –
    ……….Herself to her a Music
    ……….As Bumble-bee of June.

    ……….Today is far from Childhood –
    ……….But up and down the hills
    ……….I held her hand the tighter –
    ……….Which shortened all the miles –

    ……….And still her hum
    ……….The years among,
    ……….Deceives the Butterfly;
    ……….Still in her Eye
    ……….The Violets lie
    ……….Mouldered this many May.

    ……….I spilt the dew –
    ……….But took the morn, –
    ……….I chose this single star
    ……….From out the wide night’s numbers –
    ……….Sue – forevermore!

    ………………………………………….Emily Dickinson

    ……….

    NOTE: a poem like this is easily deflated by scholarship, and if you happen to know something about its personal history, do try to resist what you know as much as you can — or at least, to hold both dimensions in mind at once. Because that’s the paradox, the personal and the universal experienced at once.

    C.

  44. February 21, 2016 at 9:57 am

    The sound of two black-holes colliding* — a “Bumble-bee” buzzing in the cosmic hum; “Sue” both proper-noun in apposition and at the same time finite verb, suitor-subject understood.

    Mind-boggling everyday life in the secret garden of both grammar and the universe at once.

    And can you imagine how hard Emily Dickinson must have worked on that poem to get it to become so simple and clear yet to remain so immense? And can you imagine the state of mind in achieving that little by little? the joy, the flight? the irreversible perception of heaven and earth at once with no irritable searching after any other explanation, reassurance, doctrine, structure or permanence?

    “Sue” both as person and pursuit left intransitive “forevermore!”

    C.

    *NOTE: Just yesterday scientists recorded the sound of two Black Holes colliding, said to be as game-changing a scientific observation as Galileo’s.

  45. wfkammann said,

    February 21, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    Christopher,

    But the evidence that is available seems to show that the person who most affected her life and her work was Susan Gilbert–friend, eventual sister-in-law, and Emily’s passionate love. This is the woman about which Emily wrote hundreds of poems, and the person who received three times more poems of any of Emily’s other friends.

    Susan and Emily probably met at Amherst. They were close friends from the beginning, sharing similar interests and desires. Emily trusted Susan completely, and was very affectionate toward Susan in all their correspondence. While Susan seems to have responded initially, Emily’s attention turned cloying when Susan became engaged to Austin Dickinson, Emily’s brother. For two years, their correspondence stopped completely. When Susan and Austin moved next door, their correspondence resumed again, and Emily continued her expressions of worshipful love.

    Feminist scholars who have examined Emily’s letters from a lesbian viewpoint note that her letters move beyond romantic friendship to the blatantly passionate. It isn’t possible to know how Susan responded to Emily’s proclamations of love, her desires to hold and kiss Susan, or her sorrow at being without Susan. When Emily died, all of Susan’s letters were destroyed. Reading Emily’s letters reveal a woman intensely dependent upon Susan’s love, as this letter shows:

    “It’s a sorrowful morning Susie–the wind blows and it rains; “into each life some rain must fall,” and I hardly know which falls fastest, the rain without, or within–Oh Susie, I would nestle close to your warm heart, and never hear the wind blow, or the storm beat, again. Is there any room there for me, darling, and will you “love me more if ever you come home”?–it is enough, dear Susie, I know I shall be satisfied. But what can I do towards you?–dearer you cannot be, for I love you so already, that it almost breaks my heart–perhaps I can love you anew, every day of my life, every morning and evening–Oh if you will let me, how happy I shall be!

    “The precious billet, Susie, I am wearing the paper out, reading it over and o’er, but the dear thoughts cant wear out if they try, Thanks to Our Father, Susie! Vinnie and I talked of you all last evening long, and went to sleep mourning for you, and pretty soon I waked up saying “Precious treasure, thou art mine,” and there you were all right, my Susie, and I hardly dared to sleep lest someone steal you away. Never mind the letter, Susie; you have so much to do; just write me every week one line, and let it be, “Emily, I love you,” and I will be satisfied!

    “Your own Emily”

    There may be a verb lurking here, but it’s likely not sue. I guess that this is the kind of rational scholarly speculation which ruins poems for you or perhaps you mean that there is some kind of perfectly normal person in your poetry which the twisted verbiage conceals.

  46. February 22, 2016 at 11:23 am

    Yes indeed, Bill – Sue Gilbert’s is a fascinating story, and the poem a very well-known crux in the study of it.

    Another well-known annecdote involves Emily Dickinson’s celebrated mentor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, one of the most important literary figures of her day. What’s so surprising is that despite a long and intense correspondence, the two of them met together just once, and even on that one occasion the great man had to cajole indeed bully his fey disciple to come out of her bedroom so he could see what she looked like. He had travelled all the way from Boston to Amherst just for this meeting, after all, yet she was still that difficult to get hold of!

    Thomas Wentworth Higginson reported some of the things Emily Dickinson said to him during that brief encounter in a letter to his wife, among them the famous remark, “Nature is a Haunted House – but Art – a House that tries to be haunted.”

    And there is most certainly a studied artificiality in all Emily Dickinson’s poetry, a torturous quality that we know in detail as numerous drafts and alternative readings exist for so many of the poems. In addition the experts have been able to determine the dates of many of the drafts according to the handwriting, and we know that some of the poems continued to be worked on for years and years. It is indisputable that she tried very hard in her art, relentlessly adjusting and tightening her grip on the words until she could wrest from them a uniquely pure, concentrated, almost ghostly essence. And it’s that refined, difficult, ‘otherworldly‘ quality in her tiny, crystalline perfections that makes her poems so endlessly provocative, and why the great ones rarely yield to a single reading, if they ever yield at all. Like diamonds they seem to sparkle with the weight of the whole world pressing down upon them, or up through them perhaps, geysers of pure light irradiating from the heart of matter. One could even say that the great ones suck us into them like black-holes in words,* and when we re-emerge we are never quite the same again. We have been transfixed by some miniscule but spectacular Nova or Annunciation, or perhaps even by that most elusive, most precious, never observed yet most definitive of all unlikely events — what the cosmologists call a Singularity.

    “One Sister Have I in Our House” does that in one word — a tiny, mono-syllabic, agrammatical, big-bang of a HALLMARK CRUX on the cusp of infinity:

    ……………………I chose this single star
    ……………………From out the wide night’s numbers –
    ……………………Sue – forevermore!

    ~

    I’m sorry for the “twisted verbiage,” Bill — “How Bad is the Devil” is a study in inflation, arrogance and befuddlement, I know. But I did it for other reasons which I still think are worthwhile – and of course you don’t have to follow it if you don’t want to (almost nobody does).

    On the other hand, I hope you will at least consider the possibility that “Sue,” despite the capital (all the first words are capitalized), could ALSO be a verb. Emily Dickinson worked very hard to perfect celestial tricks just like this one all the time, actively warping space, time and dimensions through unstable and eccentric language, line breaks, ellipses, mixed antecedents, weird dislocations and eruptions — as disciplined as any cosmologist yet, like them, all over the place.

    “I spilt…” “I took…” “I chose…” (all past simple verbs) therefore I (subject understood) “sue…” (present simple transitive verb) (direct object = “this single star” understood) “forevermore!” I would say that is almost certainly a simultaneous reading set up deliberately by the poet for her own secret edification and extreme, indeed ecstatic pleasure. You don’t have to read it or even see it that way, but if you want to you can.

    And I would say the more naturally (i.e. the less “irritably”) you can (pur)sue it yourself the better. The ‘parsing’ is just a tool to talk about it — to read it you have to go with it loose and at ease on the breath, out loud or to yourself. Be such a suitor, go where he or she goes — perhaps somewhere new each time you say “Sue.”

    Like both magic and mindfulness such a pursuit generates the perennial present — and it’s hard to let go of once you’ve got it. After that it’s hard to get back to the story of the mere person, the alternative level is so dynamic, so there.

    Christopher

    *NOTE 1: Just the day before yesterday scientists recorded the sound of two Black Holes colliding, an event that was said to be as game-changing as Galileo’s observation of the Moons of Jupiter.

  47. February 23, 2016 at 10:32 am

    Just a bit more on that – was awake all night wrestling with what I tried to say about “Sue,” worried you might have thrown it away out of hand…

    ~

    There’s a surprising tense shift in the middle of “One Sister Have I in Our House.” “Today is far from childhood” brings the narrator forward in time to her present state, yet the very next verb is “held,” not “hold” as one would expect. In ordinary discourse this would indicate a causal connection between the past and the present: i.e. where I am now is a result of what happened in the past. But the shift here is a bit more complicated than that because the “but” softens the sense of loss in the classic ubi sunt phrase, “far from childhood.” The “but” announces that it’s not as much of a loss as you might think because I held somebody’s hand so hard and for so long in the past I could never be alone or infirm ever again! And that’s what the next stanza establishes too, image by transient image couched in the eternally present tense – the most delicate flight is forever supported by my love’s otherworldly “hum,” the most fragile, brief flower is forever and ever fresh in her celestial vision (not easy to say that, but we know what she means).

    The last stanza reverts to the past tense, “I spilt,” “I took,” “I chose this single star” and goes on to explain that the name of this star was the person whose hand “I held… the tighter” earlier in the poem. That was “Sue,” Susan Gilbert, the close family friend who lived next door and married my brother. And I held her hand “forevermore!”

    That’s nice, o.k., but it’s just wouldn’t have been enough for the poet Emily Dickinson who lived in a haunted world and was dedicated to an art that tried as hard as it could to be haunted too. Indeed, all her life Emily Dickinson struggled with every single word, suggestion and hunch until she was able to transform the experience, however mundane, into the simplest flash of pure light equal to anything Nature herself could display.

    “Sue” remains Susan at a first reading of the poem for sure, and maybe even for a second reading, even for a fifth, etc. But once you get to know Emily Dickinson and let her odd deft quirks, her stunning little kicks, back-hands and beepers get under your skin you’re a goner, and like her you eventually stumble upon that tiny little twisted epiphany (hate the word – but what can you do?) at the very end of the poem: “Sue” isn’t just a proper noun, she’s a verb too! And all of a sudden the whole poem becomes a most beautiful and rarefied expression of that seminal idea explored in such depth by Denis de Rougement in Love in the Western World, that the profoundest love of all is “a yearning unappeased.” For it’s not the object of love, not the person with a name, a title and an address, however well-located, that’s the sublime reward of love, but the endless yearning for that person in the heart and mind, and the less available the person is in real life the more powerful and exalted the inspiration. It’s that sort of hypostatic love that has always transformed human beings at the highest level, and the less available the object, the more unattainable, forbidden even, the higher, more exalted and durable the experience.

    So now at the end of the poem I can ALSO read: “I spilt the dew, I took the morn, I chose this single star from out the wide night’s numbers, and sue forevermore.” I can read that as well – under my breath. And the verb and the noun transform each other like a Hail Mary does the heart endlessly repeated, or a mantra on the wings of every breath.

    Christopher

  48. wfkammann said,

    February 24, 2016 at 9:17 am

    Christopher,

    Although this is somewhat less lofty than Emily it may still be worth a look. Of course, if you sue this Sue you may be in for a little more than you expected, but isn’t that soooo… Emily.

    A Boy Named Sue by Shel Silverstein
    Well, my daddy left home when I was three,
    and he didn’t leave much to Ma and me,
    just this old guitar and a bottle of booze.
    Now I don’t blame him because he run and hid,
    but the meanest thing that he ever did was
    before he left he went and named me Sue.

    Well, he must have thought it was quite a joke,
    and it got lots of laughs from a lot of folks,
    it seems I had to fight my whole life through.
    Some gal would giggle and I’d get red
    and some guy would laugh and I’d bust his head,
    I tell you, life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue.

    [You can click on the title for the whole poem.]

    • March 17, 2016 at 9:32 am

      Sue in Tibet

      ………………………………………Sue in Tibet

      ………………

      from MERRIAM-WEBSTER DICTIONARY

      Full Definition of sue/sued/su·ing

      transitive verb
      1 obsolete : to make petition to or for
      2 archaic : to pay court or suit to : woo
      3a : to seek justice or right from (a person) by legal process; specifically : to bring an action against
      3b : to proceed with and follow up (a legal action) to proper termination

      intransitive verb
      1: to make a request or application : plead —usually used with for or to [sue for peace]
      2: to pay court : woo [he loved…but sued in vain — William Wordsworth]
      3: to take legal proceedings in court

      noun
      su·er/sui·tor

      ………………

      There was some turbulence here, needless to say.
      It’s a month later, the discussion is ended, and all is now restored and forgiven.

      C.

  49. February 24, 2016 at 9:59 am

    A PERSONAL NOTE ON “YEARNING UNAPPEASED:”

    I have a big advantage in reading “One Sister Have I in our House” because I’ve been engaged with Denis de Rougemont’s themes and sources for 60 years, and indeed did all my graduate work at Yale and Cambridge in the field. C.S.Lewis approved my thesis topic while I was at King’s College, and I later won a Research Fellowship at Christs College with it. Called Polyphonic Narrative in Elizabethan Literature (the title is from The Allegory of Love), the book covers the whole haunted field from Le Morte D’Arthur and Orlando Furioso to The Faerie Queene. And even more importantly, and I mean much, much more importantly, I have spent a whole lot of time on the cold hill side in my private life as well, because I actually managed to marry la belle dame sans merci, indeed more than once.

    That’s why I know a lot about “Sue,” both noun and verb, and why I know the latter is, if we survive, the actual way we survive and, even more, gives us access to the unutterable secret of everything.

    And I’ve written a lot about that phenomenon too, including a whole book of poems on the topic called GALILEO’S SECRET — which includes the following lines as a sort of preface. I’m quoting them again so you will have another chance to read them — in the context they’re fun, light and easy, I hope you’ll agree, but what interests me is what happens when you take them seriously…
    ………………

    …………As the arrow by the playful string
    …………the heady soul is ever fired by
    …………the archly absent body—
    …………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.

    …………………………….from “In Praise of the Still Unweighed,”
    …………………………………….GALILEO’S SECRET, p. 2

    ………………

    Christopher

  50. February 25, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    A follower of this blog and kind of literary bellwether to me finds Keats’ sentiments in “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” adolescent, and I’d like to know what’s wrong with that? After all, is there any other period in life when almost everybody has more potential genius, when one’s feelings are less fettered and one has a greater capacity to dream and take risks? And isn’t that precisely why adolescents dismiss adults as failures, and why they largely are?

    Or is my friend suggesting that Emily Dickinson’s obsession with Susan Gilbert was just a school-girl crush, and therefore the “Sue” poems have no mature literary what is more philosophical value? Or that Gustav von Aschenbach’s obsession with Tadzio was just a piece of decadent writing because Thomas Mann never grew up emotionally?

    Or Rimbaud? I mean, you wouldn’t say he was like an adolescent, would you? Wasn’t he the real thing?

    I’d also like to know if my friend finds Le Grand Meaulnes school-boy stuff as well, or Goethe, Petrarch and Dante, or any of the great Provençal poets who put such “adolescent” love on the map? Or the great Minnesingers, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Gottfried von Strassburg? Or Rilke?

    And what’s she got against adolescence anyway? Sort of sounds like the way Susie chokes on what Calvin’s got in his lunch-bag, whereas quite frankly I find his lunch of Goobers and Slugs more appetizing than hers of Sensible and Good.

    And you ask what’s a bellwether anyway?

    A bellwether is the leader of the flock, sure-footed, dependable, well-filled-out with extra muscle in case of emergencies, and equipped with a bell so the rest of us can keep nicely together on the same path. But the really important characteristic of the bellwether, why he’s not easily distracted? He’s castrated.

    At the very end my friend redeems herself by pointing out that we are all damaged goods, which indeed we are. But the wounds are creative wounds if we can manage to keep them open, and nobody has ever kept hers more open and wanting to the very limits than Emily Dickinson.

    Not only one of the poets I value most, Emily Dickinson is one of my strongest, most inspiring, most personal heroes!

    C.

  51. Dawn Potter said,

    February 25, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    1. My blog post is about loving and sympathizing with adolescence. You completely misread it.
    2. I was making no remark about Sue at all. I have not been thinking about her or Dickinson’s poem.
    3. Thanks for the elegant castration comment. So kind.

    • February 25, 2016 at 5:23 pm

      You’re too quick for me, Dawn — I was still writing the above. Have a look at the very end.

      One of the areas in which we have had the strongest disagreements is about who we really are — and the problem is that you come and go on that, leading me on and then when I get near the edge pushing me off.

      I think I got closest to who you are for me as a poet as well as a person in what I once wrote about your wonderful long poem, “Mr Kowalski,” after it appeared in The Beloit Poetry Journal.

      “And here we are at Easter Sunday, and the last day of the month and, I suspect, of this thread, and I still haven’t done what I promised to do — which was to write about the darkest of these wonderful poems, and my favorite, “Mr Kowalski.”

      But there are certain things that shouldn’t be discussed, like faeces –or to be precise, the relationship between faeces and creativity, or faeces, cruelty and creativity. That’s what the poem is about, but I couldn’t discuss it very well because I would be constantly under the shadow of the poem’s superiority both in it’s ability to terrify me and it’s ability to say far more than it ought to be saying – from the tongue of the greedy goat with four stomachs to Mr Kowalski’s fine steely fingers tightening round the throat of the executioner’s as well as the young violinist’s neck.

      Read “Mr Kowalski” all the way through a couple of times – you won’t need any help from an old kibitzer like me, that’s for sure. On the other hand, perhaps you’ll understand why a poet’s response to the accusation that he or she writes too much about loss and worshipful longing could ever be silence.

      “That sensation [of rawness] pushes me to be excruciatingly gentle when approaching the work of the other poets who are published alongside me,” Dawn says – “Is that a logical or even useful reaction? Probably not, but being a poet doesn’t have much to do with logic.”

      The “castration” comment was about bellwethers vis a vis adolescents, not about you, Dawn. I have never said anything unkind about you as a person, and never will. It was about grownups as opposed to adolescents, and have no fear, you qualify as the latter as much as I ever do even when you try your hardest to deny it.

      I used you as a fictional proxy in my previous note, not you as a person — nobody would have guessed something you wrote was involved in the image at all if you hadn’t identified yourself. Also, I know I have to be very careful in what I say as you have a swing side to yourself that often treats me like a spiteful, confused and ungrateful child — which I wish you wouldn’t as it always distorts the conversation.

      Finally, I feel a bit insulted that you didn’t have a look at my discussion of “One Sister Have I in Our House” as I was obviously trying to say something that was important to me, and would have hoped that such an effort might have been of value to you too.

      Christopher

  52. Dawn Potter said,

    February 25, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    I have never denied being an adolescent. My blog post was about the fact that we all retain that aspect of ourselves. It’s like you’ve been reading something complete unrelated to what I wrote. Furthermore, you’ve said plenty of unkind things about me over the years, Christopher. Why pretend otherwise?

    • February 25, 2016 at 5:43 pm

      I wrote a bit more at the end of my last one — I’m old and don’t touch type so I’m slow. I’m also as sensitive as anyone and know that if I reply to what you just said you will slap me again even harder.

      I read every word you wrote and replied to it appropriately and with some thought. You admit you didn’t read what I wrote, yet you knew I wrote about “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” which was just in passing.

      But never mind, Christopher

  53. Dawn Potter said,

    February 25, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    I didn’t say I didn’t read what you wrote. I said I wasn’t thinking about Sue or Dickinson when I wrote my blog post. For heaven’s sake, Christopher. Why are you trying to pick a fight? How am I “slap[ping]” you? You’re insulted because I took pleasure in rediscovering “La Belle Dame”? I rather thought you’d be pleased that you triggered that delight. Apparently not.

  54. February 25, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    “Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English). ’Now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye, feet!’ (for when she looked down at her feet they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off)….

    And that’s about MY feet, not yours, Dawn. You’re the White Rabbit, always just out of sight around the latest corner.

    But I have to be careful with such feet, I know, changing sizes as they do, almost at will.

    And I will.

    C.

  55. wfkammann said,

    February 25, 2016 at 9:15 pm

    “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” by John Keats.
    [You can click on the title to read the whole poem.]

    “The character yin includes an element meaning hill, another meaning time and another meaning cloud or shade. The basic meaning is therefore understood as the shaded side of a hill. It extends in meaning to refer to the following qualities of things, phenomena and states of affairs: cold, rest, responsiveness, passivity, darkness, inwardness and decrease. The character for yang also has the element for hill along with an element depicting the sun and an element depicting a waving flag. This is traditionally understood as the sunny side of a hill. It refers to the qualities of heat, brightness, stimulation, movement, vigor, light and increase.

    When the sun goes the moon comes; when the moon goes the sun comes. The sun and moon give way to each other and their brightness is produced. When the cold goes the heat comes; when the heat goes the cold comes. The cold and the heat give way to each other and the round of the year is completed. That which goes wanes, and that which comes waxes. The waning and waxing affect each other and benefits are produced.”

    Quoted from “Nature, Holism and Ecofeminism: A Chinese World View” by Stewart McFarline, collected in Sacred Custodians of the Earth: Women Spirituality, and the Environment, essays edited by Alaine Low and Soraya Tremayne (New York 2001), p. 199

    ………………………………………….YinYang

    ………….https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=364239

    Keats is often cited for his genius as a poet and this poem proves it for me. A favorite. But then I’m surely as adolescent as the next person.

    ………

  56. February 27, 2016 at 11:20 am

    This thread is now ended, as what can you say when everything is trumped by one image like the last one above? I mean, why bother to talk about anything when it’s all been explained so completely such a long time ago?

    And will I ever try again myself, as almost all my threads end up down the same rabbit hole, and the White Rabbit still nowhere in sight with time running out?

    Just to say that if you’re a late arrival as well and want to navigate this looking glass without getting stuck, you can click on THE INDEX for some help.

    And if there was anybody who enjoyed some of this, what is more took it seriously and/or found it a little bit useful as I did, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    To get in touch with me directly you can try through my portal at http://www.homprang.com. If you look around you’ll find me there somewhere.

    Or you can try in About the Author..just above.

    Christopher Woodman

  57. March 1, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    POSTSCRIPT 2

    My friend wants me to post a better version of this song, whereas what you see and hear in this performance by these two young singers is exactly what I mean. I’ve been watching and listening to the two of them two or three times a day for a week as I write this, and each time I listen and look they lift me up and reaffirm what I believe in a way that higher art rarely does. Indeed I feel that these two young girls from Tasmania, 14 and 16 years old, have, like 9 year old Amira Wilighagen, reached a point few of us will ever achieve in a lifetime — which is just to stand there, fill our lungs with air, open our mouths, and look straight back at the world without flinching while at the same time singing with everything we’ve ever learned or ever will learn, however little or much no matter. Look at the two of them once again, Arabella Wain and Lillie Rose are their names, how they stand up there at such a young age, open their mouths, and give everything back we’ve ever given in return without rank, persuasion, or favor. And the irony is, of course, that some of that candor is a product of a lot of very hard work and fine training — but not too much, that’s the point. At just 14 and 16 their natural gifts are still naturally present — they are both just who they are just like that, which is staggering.

    Anybody who has worked intensely with adolescents in music, poetry and drama in particular will know what that means.

    ~

    I’ve been trying to post a particular poem of mine for some time, and the perfect preparation should have been the discussion of “One Sister Have I in Our House.” Unfortunately that effort stumbled over the little word, “Sue,” and instead of a truly extraordinary moment of insight we ended up in buffoonery. Now there’s nothing wrong with buffoonery in itself — J. Alfred Prufrock was a buffoon, after all, and I’m just like him as I’ve always said. But there’s also the possibility of mermaids, isn’t there? Isn’t there always the possibility of a poetry that can sing them each to each?

    Or do we just mock the bald spot of the little man in each one of us until we eventually give up trying and hear nothing at all?

    Is that it, just to do grownup and then do dead?

    ~

    I’m going to put up my “Yet Still It Moves” anyway as I doubt I will ever try again if I don’t.

    Be gentle not irritable, and be glad I trust in myself too however flawed and unready, even at 76. That’s why you can hurt me.

    Christopher

    ……

    …….
    ..YET STILL IT MOVES!

    ………………………i.
    ……Listen to the sibyl, victim, angel,
    ……armed upstairs alone,
    ……vast in the light of her own fire —
    ……what she says you’d lose
    ……if grief were just another word
    ……for fine or entrance to some other
    ……whiter, friendlier bliss
    ……or higher nonage.
    ……Rather pray spare us, Lord,
    ……spare us such a sorrow.

    ……Because the loss of death in life
    ……would put a timely end
    ……to all the risky genius of thinking big like
    ……wanting even more than yesterday
    ……yet less than someone else
    ……loftier still, those saintly animals you love
    ……so much, and homeless loser-helpers —
    ……seeing-eye dogs, horses, peasants,
    ……the handicapped and very,
    ……very small or not quite
    ……born at all, or struck
    ……down, or just quietly unsung
    ……like lonely mothers growing old
    ……yet still believing you, the epic son
    ……or daughter of Jerusalem,
    ……can make it all the way
    ……to dotage, funeral rockets,
    ……gun smoke, frost on garlands,
    ……granite gravestones celebrating lives
    ……that heaven renders futile.

    ……Like Lord, what hour’s lost, or prodigal?
    ……Redemption’s on tomorrow!

    ……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.

    ……Or our forsaken 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.

    ….

    ……………………………….ii.
    ……O sentinel of man’s full reach and passion,
    ……you, ancient-girl, hungry in our father’s garden
    ……yet later in the cloister hungrier still
    ……texting with your tonsured lover —
    ……then with just a telescope at home
    ……tracing your vows in stone on damp cold stone
    ……until alone upstairs in white at last
    ……you stitch at the back of a little drawer
    ……everything we know in tidy bundles —
    ……and even later in our war-torn, tin-eared world
    ……offer up your headaches on the shop floor
    ……until, when even that is not enough,
    ……starve yourself to death
    ……at the cosmic feast laid out
    ……for would-be saints like us on man’s
    ……most earnest, serviceable, high-table altar.

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

    …………………….from GALILEO’S SECRET: Two Decades of
    …………………………….Poems Under House Arrest, p. 64-66

    ….

  58. March 3, 2016 at 11:15 am

    For those of you still coming back for a peek, and there are many, I’ve rewritten the original Post this morning and improved the Index — which I think is worth while revisiting. Because I’m amazed just how much method there actually turned out to have been in those two months of madness, and I reread it even myself with wonder. So it’s been more worthwhile than I thought.

    And did it help with the final poem, did it loosen up the ground and water it a bit?

    For me “Yet Still It Moves” is a prayer on the edges of another impossible, unutterable prayer, and as such it’s a lifeline for me.

    Whenever I feel fixed and sprawling on a pin I recite it, and in so doing I join hands with my sisters in “Yet Still It Moves:” Héloïse, Soeur Marie Celeste, Emily Dickinson, Simone Weil. Yes, and sometimes I even add on other great souls who are on my mind at the moment, my difficult, housebound friend alone up there at her desk, for example, and I even reach out to the great Galileo Galilei himself imprisoned at the same age as me in his garden at La Gioiella just outside Florence. And when I do that I find I’m almost miraculously as free of restraints and bonds as I feel sure he was under house arrest as well — and few people seem to understand how that could be.

    So why is it all so difficult? Why is even this thread said to be like “twisted verbiage,” for example, or “desperate pedagogy” in someone else’s words? And why in the end is it still so doable for me as it is even here right now, in spite of everything?

    Did you read it? Did you try to find out?

    C.

  59. wfkammann said,

    March 4, 2016 at 6:36 am

    Yes, Christopher, you remind me a bit of Rappaccini’s Daughter.

    The enticement of your work is not without its dangers.

    I quite like “Yet Still It Moves!” in this iteration.

    I may be a bad critic but I’m no publisher.

  60. March 6, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    POSTSCRIPT 3

    “Rappaccini’s Daughter” is a most fertile and appropriate parallel, Bill, and needless to say, this thread is also about the Garden of Eden, Eve and, in various guises, Beatrice as well.

    But don’t be too grownup too fast. You have to be very careful how you tidy things up what is more apportion blame, because in Hawthorne’s world things are seldom what they seem. In “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” for example, ‘evil’ lies in the mind of the young lover, Giovanni, not in the beautiful daughter — who is another Beatrice, after all, and blameless. And what about her brilliant father’s research in ‘chemistry,’ as we would call it today? Is he to blame for the collateral damage to his daughter’s body? And if so, who is to blame for the creation of a would-be benevolent drug like thalidomide, or even for a Good, Safe and User-friendly Medication as we label so many of our drugs like the ubiquitous prozac? Was it the researchers, the pharmacists, the media, the psychiatrists, or the positivist culture that ‘discovered’ that chemistry was the solution to humanity’s existential crisis? And by the same token, was it Galileo who was responsible for the creation of a world so large and impersonal it robbed human beings of a home? Was it Galileo’s research that sentenced us all to exile, and God to death?

    Speaking as a poet, I mean, phrasing the questions like that?

    Christopher Woodman

  61. March 9, 2016 at 9:44 am

    “ONE SISTER HAVE I IN OUR HOUSE.”

    Karen Hollingsworth 450

    ……………………………..Karen Hollingsworth, Sarah from Mountains
    ……………………………..[You can click on the painting to see it even better.]

    …………

  62. March 11, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    A NOTE ON OBSERVATION:

    As we discussed earlier, Thomas Wentworth Higginson reported what Emily Dickinson said to him during their single encounter: “Nature is a Haunted House – but Art – a House that tries to be haunted.”

    I’ve worked a bit more on trying to say what I think that means, and I hope you’ll give it another try.

    There is a studied artificiality in all Emily Dickinson’s poetry. The fact is that she tried very hard in her art, relentlessly adjusting and tightening her grip on the words until she could wrest from them a uniquely pure, concentrated, almost ghostly essence. And it’s that refined, difficult, ‘otherworldly‘ quality in her tiny, crystalline perfections that makes her poems so endlessly provocative, and why the great ones rarely yield to a single reading, if they ever yield at all. Like diamonds they seem to sparkle with the weight of the whole world pressing down upon them, or up through them perhaps, geysers of pure light irradiating from the heart of matter. One could even say that the great ones suck us into them like black-holes in words, and when we re-emerge we are never quite the same again. We have been transfixed by some miniscule but spectacular Nova or Annunciation, or perhaps even by that most elusive, most precious, never observed yet most definitive of all unlikely events — what the cosmologists call a Singularity.

    “One Sister Have I in Our House” does that in one word — a tiny, mono-syllabic, agrammatical, big-bang of a HALLMARK CRUX on the cusp of infinity:

    …………………I chose this single star
    …………………From out the wide night’s numbers –
    …………………Sue – forevermore!

    …….

    Just a few days before I began writing the above, on February 14th, 2016, to be precise, the sound of two Black Holes colliding was recorded, an observation that physicists say is as game-changing for our understanding of the world as Galileo’s observation of the Moons of Jupiter.

    My own feeling is that we don’t have to go that far out to see what’s in here. My feeling is that if we can bring our best, most peaceful and unfettered mind to bear on a painting like Karen Hollingsworth’s “Sarah from Mountains,” for example, and I mean give the painting some good time, far more than just a glance however knowledgeable or kindly, and of course give ourselves back to it too in return, so that it’s looking back at us as well, then being a ‘seer’ in its most natural, unpretentious and available form is our own. Indeed, it’s easy if we’re willing.

    It’s not easy only because it’s not how we’re built, so to speak, but at the same time it is who we are beyond how we’re built.

    And it’s what we inevitably become.

    Christopher

  63. wfkammann said,

    March 14, 2016 at 1:52 am

    Of course when you read “One Sister Have I in Our House” you think at once of Yeats

    ………THE LAKE ISLE OF INNISFREE

    I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
    And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
    Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
    And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

    And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
    Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
    There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
    And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

    I will arise and go now, for always night and day
    While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
    I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

    Perhaps it is the secret emotion: the iceberg whose tip is seen glistening on the water. Perhaps the ghost is another soul wedded in the deep heart’s core; the secret purpose; the unspoken connections: just as the entire world is filled up with an intelligence; the whole system interlinked and interdependent. Communicating without the need for words.

  64. March 14, 2016 at 9:13 am

    Thank you for that, Bill — and an interesting challenge for me because I hadn’t considered the two poems in such a specifically romantic context. And I can see what you mean, yes, there’s the garden setting in both, more or less, and the bee. On the other hand, I would say that that the little “bee” expresses in itself the stark difference between the two poets, both in their use of language and in their concerns. Yeats’ “honey-bee” makes honey, and needless to say we love honey and we will never stop longing to be alone in the bee-loud glade — whereas Emily Dickinson’s “bumblebee” makes the music of the spheres. Indeed, if one were foolish enough one might even say Emily Dickinson’s bumble-bee makes making (read the whole poem as sensitively and slowly as you can a few times and you may feel that too).

    ~

    One of the poems is about nostalgia, and the other is about…?

    Well, about what?

    ~

    Emily Dickinson and William Butler Yeats are from different planets, I would say, and their concerns are worlds apart. “One Sister Have I in Our House” is written for its cruxes, and for the last one in particular. Whereas “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is written for its beautiful, archetypal language and haunting folk memories, and of course we love it passionately and of course it reverberates somewhere on the strings of every haunted garden we will ever experience, and in particular when we have long since lost any garden.

    The former is a juggernaut, the latter a romantic, prelapsarian landscape — with the limitations inherent in either possibility.

    ~

    Emily Dickinson never arises and goes now, ever — she hangs out alone in her bedroom like a loaded gun.

    Yeats’ sound is music, even in his so-called “difficult” poems — because even “Sailing to Byzantium” and “The Second Coming” are a bit simplistic, indeed even a bit soft in the head — whereas the best of Emily Dickinson is meditation in action.

    We love Yeats for having the courage to be soft in the head in such a grand way just as we love Emily Dickinson for her diamond mind and heroism. And they’re equally great. Equally lop-sided and equally indispensably great.

    ~

    “Communicating without the need for words,” you say, Bill, and that would be all very well if we were equipped to communicate without the need for some other medium, hunch, twist or folly. But we just aren’t — if we use just what we are already we end up with what we’ve been born with, the cells, nerve-endings, the chemicals, the enzymes, the clutter of stuff and more stuff that makes up a universe so large that it takes billions of years for the sound of two black holes colliding to reach our ears. On the other hand, in the interstices between experience and thoughts, or whatever you want to call all that, “on the edges,” as I called it earlier, “between the cracks of the floor,” there is something else beyond time, space and locality. And that’s where Emily Dickinson lived, and in order to know about it even better she wrote about it incessantly, for years and years, and then when she was finished stitched up her findings in tidy bundles, put a ribbon around them like love letters, and left them for us at the back of her bedroom drawer.

    Messages found floating in bottles long after the ship-wrecked mariner has made her final ablutions by swimming away.

    ~

    One of the revolutionary contributions of the Buddha was the realization that all human awareness is inherently artificial. To observe the mind you have to use the mind, the Buddha said, or at least you have to use a bit of it. Somebody’s got to hang in there and keep doing the job, otherwise there’s nobody’s there because you’re asleep, or everybody’s there and it’s just one big noisy crowd.

    So the Buddha gave instructions on how to take a tiny bit of what we’re trying to observe and use that to observe it. But it’s got to be as tiny as you can make it or you’re back to square one (asleep or deafened by the noise), and it’s got to be disposable as well so you won’t hang on to it. It’s got to be a throwaway, as if you weren’t there.

    Like Emily Dickinson did with both her life and words — smaller and smaller until they encompassed infinity.
    ……

    …….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–
    …….

    I spent quite a bit of time on that poem almost exactly two years ago. You can scroll down to that discussion starting here.

    Christopher

    …….


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