FOR THOSE LIKE GALILEO

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Peniche Original

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…….FOR THOSE LIKE GALILEO WHO NO LONGER READ
……………………………………………..Le Canal de Bourgogne *

……………….So where are they now the poems
……………….for those who do no longer read
……………….but lose their way in words,
……………….their overheated selves
……………….closed down like God’s own
……………….disowned fools in
……………….damp, forgotten locks
……………….and other fasts and solitudes—
……………….fisher kings, tall stilt-legged birds,
……………….the mist-wrapped walker with
……………….the busy dog and old slouch hat—
……………….mute, pre-dawn souls bewildered by
……………….the wash and roar of meanings when it’s all
……………….gunnel-rubbing function transport
……………….pumping huge breast-plates of
……………….greased iron up and down
……………….a ruined cut?

……………….In what remains of waterways
……………….the late unharnessed signs
……………….solicit violence from the banks—
……………….they gesture darkly from the verges,
……………….they flash behind the trees.
……………………..DO NOT PASS HERE
……………….someone shouts with dented palms.
…………………………..BLACK SPOT
……………….cries another lover, forehead
……………….rusting with bullet holes.
……………….And what’s that hanging man
……………….muttering in the shadows
……………….underneath the low bridge?
……………………………..STOOP
……………….he seems to be saying, taking
……………….some deeply-laded pleasure
……………….on all fours.

……………….Or is such uninhibited display
……………….just loose sluice valves stuttering?

……………….For see—
……………….how easy it is to swing
……………….those mossy lock-gates to
……………….and turn the handles down,
……………….the act that predicates
……………….a dryer route, faster,
……………….less brave and spectacular,
……………….its tow paths like third rails
……………….that sheltered spark
……………….over-night delivery,
……………….shinnying under ground.

……………….I want poems for those
……………….who are like me
……………….not chosen to dance
……………….by the girl in the red silk dress,
……………….that the words may be hard
……………….and penitential like the chairs
……………….we fast to inhabit while
……………….we wait by the wall,
……………….plain and patient
……………….until the music stops
……………….and we all go home.

……………….Write me a dozen poems
……………….that cover their heads in white
……………….like girls who have taken vows.
……………….I will listen hunkered down
……………….with the quiet doves at dawn
……………….while they kneel humbly in starch
……………….and crocus dust for seven days,
……………….the ecclesiastical calendar
……………….going from purple to green.
……………….The lines will tremble
……………….around their eyes
……………….like veins in silver leaves.

……………….Oh, I’d lock into
……………….any old post-industrial canal
……………….to hear such winsome
……………….angel rhymes and
……………….early morning cloister traffic—

……………….the reverie of antique grease like myrrh
……………….or amber-wax on iron plates,
……………….the stricken wicks,
……………….the cranks like icon sheets
……………….turned down for one last night
……………….beside the basins full of spirit silt,
……………….the huge rustling posts and pedestals
……………….that mesmerize the undergrowth,
……………….murmuring in the rushes where no moth
……………….wrapped in its own juices has no robe
……………….or swaddled Moses goes unfloated.

……………….And all the while the mist-wrapped
……………….walker’s sheltered track,
……………….the busy dog,
……………….the heron’s tact.

…………………………from GALILEO’S SECRET: Two Decades of Poems
………………………………..Under House Arrest, Part III, pps.33-35. * *
…………………………………………[from an unpublished m.s.]
………
………………………………………………..Christopher Woodman

……* NOTE:
The early industrial canal provided the most important transport for heavy cargo in much of Europe right up to the 1980s, yet few recall how the gates, cranks and levers worked, the intricate water supply and the long ‘reaches’ through the countryside. The Canal de Bourgogne, a truly sacred relic with its almost 200 shaded locks, climbs up through the Burgundy region of central France and then descends toward Paris, linking the Mediterranean with the English Channel through the Yonne and the Seine rivers. An engineering masterpiece, it put the finishing touches on one of the most beautiful old-world landscapes in Europe.

The Canal de Bourgogne is one of the places I have loved most in my long life away from home, and is still one of the closest to the holy place in my heart. I still rejoice in the thought of it but know I will never visit it again as it is no longer a working canal, just a playground, and I’m not interested in that as I so loved working my way through it. And I’m still working my way through it in my place of exile far from home, and still wrestling with having lost so much that was once so familiar…

……* * UNDER HOUSE ARREST:
I have a number of poems like this one which I have sent out to journals over the years, but as none of them has ever made their way into print, this side of my work is completely unknown. In addition I have 4 ‘long’ poems (300 to 500 lines) only one of which has been published, and that quite miraculously just after it was written way back in 1992. (If you’ve never read “Connemara Trousers” (362 lines) you can click on the title and have a look at it now.)

The present poem is more difficult, I know, but so was Galileo’s predicament. The technical canal imagery is not widely known, “locking-in” and “locking out,” for example, and the pent-up violence in phrases like “gunnel-rubbing” and “loose sluice-valves stuttering” is certainly uncomfortable. I suspect the convent imagery is going to make some readers feel uncomfortable as well, and some may throw up their hands in despair at the surrealistic muddle of liturgical, mechanical, and mystical imagery at the climax of the poem.  On the other hand, my feeling is that the poem explores faith, frustration and displacement issues on an appropriate and comprehensible level, in so far as such impasses can ever be comprehensible. A sensitive reader who has been through a similar Galileo-like “house arrest,” and I think many of us have, will understand the extreme discomfort that that entails, and the loneliness. Even more importantly, I think they will understand the mysterious resolution and sense of liberation, almost of joy, at the end.

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………………………………………………………………………..[Click to go back through to the end.]

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I would welcome feedback at any time and at any point. If you choose to post a “REPLY” it will appear right after the particular post that interests you even if it’s years ago. If you choose to make a more general response you can post a “COMMENT” which will appear at the very end of the particular thread.

If you have not posted here before there will be a brief delay as I must approve you (which I will do, with pleasure, unless you are not a real person). As I work alone, I’m not online all the time, so please forgive any delay. Also don’t forget that I live in the very Far East so the sun may get to me 6 to 12 hours before you, and I may be in bed by the time you get up.

Once you are approved you can post at will. And just to add that if you make a mistake or simply want to rewrite a Reply or a Comment, either post it again and I will delete the original, or e-mail me the corrections and I will edit your post. If you click on my Gravatar or go to ‘About the Author’ you will find my address.

Christopher Woodman,

…………………THE DISCUSSION CONTINUES IN THE COMMENTS

IN PRAISE OF THE STILL UNWEIGHED: Off the Record at Eighty.

……………………………“I am on the side of angels and of dirt.”
………………………………………………Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)

The Lovers (The Dustman) (1934) *

……

…………….GRAVITY’S RAINBOW:
………………………..Sunday in the park with Sir Stanley

……………………O rejoice in the women,
……………………and the 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.

……………………For the ducks like the 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. Part 5, p.58.
…………………………………………….[from an unpublished m.s.]

…………

AD HOC
This poem from the very end of GALILEO’S SECRET has a whole bibliography just waiting to be discovered by some ardent young academic a few years after my death. “And the guy never got published,” he may recount breathlessly to his friends over his latte at Starbucks. “So nobody’s ever done him!”

For a whole lot more on what’s to be done, the discussion continues below — and needless to say, anybody is welcome to join in ruffling through the profligate mess. **

……………………………………..Christopher Woodman
…………

……* NOTE #1:
“dustman” in England is to this day what Americans call a “garbageman.” In Sir Stanley Spencer’s The Lovers (The Dustman) (click on the title to see the whole painting better), the dustman/artist is in the arms of the most important lover who is offering him the last of the fresh milk in a jug. The other lovers are offering him bits of sacred garbage from the “dustbins” he so loved to see set out on the street every Tuesday morning in Cookham: a broken teapot, some cabbage leaves, an empty jam tin.

I have just added an INTERJECTION on Sir Stanley Spencer here. Indeed, you should have a look in this particular ‘dustbin’ ahead of time as this whole “off-the-record” thread has been conceived in similar terms. In other words, you have to look!

……** NOTE #2:
A REPLY can be inserted anywhere you wish in the discussion. A COMMENT will always appear at the very end of the thread.

…………
…………………THE DISCUSSION CONTINUES IN THE COMMENTS

LA CROIX MA FILLE

IMG_0831[You can click your way right onto Julija’s desk in Baan Uii Dee.]

It’s three months later and Julija is back, and I’m writing what follows as much for her as for you and me. Because we’re all working on this project together, though Julija’s Latvian, of course — Russian is her first language, Latvian her second, lives in Norway and was brought up in the Russian Orthodox Church, all powerful influences on her work. Today Julija’s desk is no longer under the volcano on Bali as it was before but up here on the porch of one of our old wooden farmhouses in Chiang Mai where she’s working on the first draft of a cover for La Croix Ma Fille. If you click on the sketch you can see in detail what’s emerging, an illuminated vision every bit as fey yet as final as the book’s last words:

……………………………………..grâce à la croix,
……………………………………..grâce à la fille,
……………………………………..fleurs de sel,
……………………………………..delivery.

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PERSONAL NOTE: Please, please don’t worry about the French — indeed, if you don’t speak French the lines may well say more to you than if you do. Because French phrases and place-names have come to have an almost sacred quality in the anglophone imagination,  like “je t’aime” and “Côte d’Azur” for example — or for gourmands at least, “sauté,” “vinaigrette” and, most beautifully and appropriately of all, “fleurs de sel.”  In my experience, poetic phrases based on subliminal, polyglot fantasies come more out of the shadows of the heart than the light of the head, indeed, they resonate magically like Shanti Shanti Shanti  and Amen — in silence, or in tongues, or under the bed.

And be honest with yourselves. Which word in the above lines do you really not understand? Is it by any chance “Delivery?” Well, me neither — which is why the whole book not only got written but still matters!

C.

…………………………..

SOME NOTES FOR JULIJA

“La Croix Ma Fille” is the local nick-name for a 170 year old stone memorial just outside the Breton fishing village of Le Croisic. The cross stands alone on the cliffs of the Côte Sauvage high above one of the most dangerous lee-shores on the whole north-west coast of France — which is why the title is in French as well as why the love story that runs through it is set there.

But what makes these rocks particularly menacing is that they are right beside the entrance to Le Traict du Croisic ( = “the tract, area, sand flats of Le Croisic”), one of the safest havens for storm-tossed mariners on the whole of the Brittany coast but extremely difficult to get into in heavy weather. And that’s the terrible irony, because as the mariner-poet runs for the perfect shelter behind the breakwater he takes the risk of being dashed on the rocks just on the other side of his salvation, and many widows have been made in one last desperate effort to avert that all too familiar disaster.  Like the tides of life, half a dozen of one equals six of the other — and of course that applies to any dangerous crossing what is more love story like this one.

La Crox Ma Fille B:W tweaked 1 copyThe stone cross in question was erected as a memorial to a much loved daughter who died on the rocks below on August 7th, 1845 — its inscription reads simply, A MA FILLE/ 7 AOUT/ 1845. Over time the local people have  realized that this solitary, wind-swept cross has a life of its own, and that it’s power resides in the mysterious phrase, “La Croix Ma Fille.” Indeed, the cross has become a sort of magical ‘hex’ or ‘totem’ for the Le Croisic community, a ‘spirit house’ one might even call it (‘hôtel’ in French is ‘altar’ in English). Whatever, the local people know La-Croix-Ma-Fille can reach out to their storm-bound loved ones as they struggle to stay off the terrible rocks below, that in the darkest moments its power guides and protects them like a lighthouse or an angel, and brings them safely home to the hearth in one piece.

“Fille,” of course, can mean either ‘daughter’ or ‘girl’ in French, just as “my girl” in English can mean ‘my daughter’ or ‘my girlfriend.’ So the expression, “la croix ma fille,” just says “the cross my girl,” which is what it says in the title of the book as well as in Samson’s haiku at the beginning and in the long poem at the very end. And it’s that mystery which is at the heart of what Julija is trying to illustrate too (I like this attempt in particular — and this one because it’s by Samson which means it’s even closer to home…).

Perhaps it’s clearest of all at the very end of the poem called “La Croix Ma Fille” — it’s Part IX of the long poem called “Fleurs de Sel” which terminates the book. I’ve never put up this poem before, and have a feeling I’ll eventually chicken out and take it back home and look after it in silence for the rest of my life.

But in case I don’t, I just want to say that there’s a boat beached on the sand flats of the “Traict du Croisic” at low tide with four heavy anchors set out fore and aft, two off the ‘samson-post’ on the foredeck and two more off the post on the stern, the rush of the last outgoing tide having been as ferocious as that which will surge back from the opposite direction in just an hour or two more.

…..
……………………………..LA CROIX MA FILLE

………………………………….Relict fast on an alien strand
………………………………….flaked out like an idle rope—
…..
………………………………….the plaits loose in their tress,
………………………………….the cradled belly soft and toes

………………………………….uncleated, the cross of the limbs
………………………………….a hammock loosely swung between

………………………………….four great anchor posts dry but deep
………………………………….in the leavening sand where the gulls

………………………………….wait the turn like soft marbles
………………………………….disposed on a board of white leather

………………………………….worked to a maiden smoothness
………………………………….fresh, unstained, released from all

………………………………….the muscle loads and lust
………………………………….of the great beast that once in-

………………………………….habited that hide, the tongue
………………………………….cupped in the silent cavity

………………………………….of words all said and signed
………………………………….and thoughts a mirror sunk

………………………………….like the sea when it lies down
………………………………….in the sand to sleep, its blind might

………………………………….cupped in the great callused hands
………………………………….that lie half-closed, half-open—

………………………………….infant hands that once
………………………………….and once only water held

………………………………….and wash and wash
………………………………….like off-shore bells—

………………………………….grâce à la croix,
………………………………….grâce à la fille,

………………………………….fleurs de sel,
………………………………….delivery.
…………

I thank you for still being there, and ask that you continue to be gentle too,
Christopher

WHY I WROTE HOW BAD IS THE DEVIL

Rebecca's CW
…………………..

I was born the year Yeats died. He was 73 and I’m now 76.

That’s important for me as the reward for the effort I put in everyday. It’s the strength to go on even with so little encouragement, a strength which is also a certain softness that inspires and protects me.

My wife Homprang often asks me how someone with so many degrees can be so stupid, and I always reply the same way, that unlike me she’s a genius. Which she really is — because reading and writing so little has given her a distinct advantage over me when it comes to sharpness and sanity. Because of course she can see ghosts and things like that which is a great advantage because they terrify her and make her refrain from doing or saying anything stupid or risky.

And I’m just the opposite, of course — I’m a bit soft in the head from reading and writing too much. It’s my rarefied education that has made me so fearless as well as foolish, a fact that makes Homprang even more impatient — because just imagine what she might have done had she had an education like mine instead of leaving school at eleven? I mean, she could have made up ghosts and spirits like I do instead of being careful never to look in their direction what is more to mention their names.

On the other hand, isn’t it also a certain softness in the head which makes us love and admire a great poet like William Butler Yeats so much, that he could have worshiped Maud Gunn like that for so long, for example, and then proposed to Iseult? Or sat up and read what his very young wife George wrote down restless beside him on their honeymoon, as if she were Ishtar or the Angel Gabriel descended on the Ashdown Forest Hotel? And never even to have suspected — as in a sense she didn’t either, both of them being in the softness way over their heads? And to have actually believed in “The Circus Animal’s Desertion” too even when he was always so nicely put up in Anglo-Irish country houses right to the end, an emperor with a mechanical bird for eternity in a gilded cage?

Or Eliot in his own foul rag and bone shop of the heart down-and-out in Harvard and Paris?

…………………………………Between the conception
…………………………………And the creation
…………………………………Between the emotion
…………………………………And the response
…………………………………Falls the Shadow.

And how we love the really great ones for being soft in the head like that, neurasthenic even, connecting nothing with nothing. How they expose us and redeem us, and make us whole.…………………………………<…………………………………In an Emergency.

~

I lived for 10 years in Coleman’s Hatch on the Ashdown Forest just down the road from the Pooh Bridge in one direction and the cottage where Pound wintered with Yeats in 1913 in the other, and I walked by the Ashdown Forest Hotel everyday on my way to teach school with my children, and drank at the Hatch in the evening. That was back in the ’70s.

~

What’s important is something way out there, that’s the point, and I mean having the courage to do whatever it is all by yourself regardless and always in a sense upstairs alone in your room late at night. Because there’s no other activity that counts one iota but being alone with a loaded gun and a delicate body.

…………………..Much Madness is divinest Sense —
…………………..To a discerning Eye —
…………………..Much sense — the starkest Madness —
…………………..’Tis the Majority
…………………..In this, as all, prevail –
…………………..Assent – and you are sane –
…………………..Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
…………………..And handled with a Chain –

And that’s how bad the devil is, not knowing your place in the grown-up world, not just lying down and being quiet like the big dog Sam. Being soft in the head is like being Eve in God’s grown-up Garden, I’d say, like not only rejecting Heaven but being in cahoots with the Devil in a serious effort to rewrite Paradise. “Unless we become as Rogues we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” Emily Dickinson wrote to a friend at age 50, and I’d say courage like that coupled with a delicate body and a diamond mind is heroic!

Speaking as a poet I say that, because in fact I know almost nothing about “diamond minds” or “heroic” but just what I write.

Which is why I write as well, as if my desk were underground in Lascaux — as if the hunt depended on my depiction of the beauty and grace of the animals as well as my reverence for them. And even the sun rising.

~

Emily Dickinson’s named her huge black and white Newfoundland ‘Carlo’ after St John River’s old pointer and not after Mr Rochester’s huge black and white Newfoundland called ‘Pilot.’

With that in mind, can you imagine Emily Dickinson out for a walk on the treacherous, ice-bound cart-road to Hay being rescued and steadied by Jane Eyre as if she were the one who was mounted? The clatter of the hooves and the crash? The neat little boots and the hot breath of the gytrash on your neck? And is that why you name your dog ‘Carlo’ instead, to reject the tall, perfect, god-like ‘Master’ on the straight and narrow path? For the Rogue himself do you name him, tumbling on the causeway at your feet?

And can you see then how the truth is more important than the facts? Can you imagine what ‘Pilot’ was like before the Wright brothers put that neat blue-serge suit on him and made him a captain at 35,000 feet? Can you rather hear the crash of the sea as the earlier ‘Pilot’ guides you over the bar to land-locked Florence and on up the hillside to La Gioiella? Can you go somewhere you can never be but you have to arrive at — where everything that has ever happened happens to you for the first time alone in your room upstairs?

Here’s how I say that upstairs alone in my own delicate body.

…………………..“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

Christopher Woodman

THIS THREAD IS CONTINUED IN THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW.

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.

 

ONE FOR SORROW, TWO FOR JOY

Piero de la Farncesca 475..Piero della Francesca, Nativity (1475) (you can click on it to see the birds better)

…..
……………………..POST HOC, ERGO PROPTER 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.

…………………………………………………..~

I was encouraged to find this list of popular references to my Latin title, which I feel sure will cause difficulties sooner or later — and now I know there are even children out there who can stand up for me. So I’m not so hard after all.

The second episode of The West Wing, titled “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc”, makes use of the phrase.

In the first episode of the third season of The Big Bang Theory, “The Electric Can Opener Fluctuation”, Sheldon Cooper states to his mother that she is committing this logical fallacy.

In the Dinosaur Comics comic titled Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc, T-Rex points out this logical fallacy committed by Utahraptor.

Tim Minchin explains this phrasing in his 2010 comedy special “Ready For This.”

The thirteenth episode from the sixth and final season of “Crossing Jordan” uses “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc” as the title of the episode.

In ‘Fortune,’ a season 10 episode of Smallville, Dr. Emil Hamilton, while being tortured by Amos Fortune for information, quotes the phrase and then explains its meaning.
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But will these viewers ask themselves “post hoc, ergo propter hoc?” when they re-evaluate their own lives as this poem re-evaluates my own? And will they suspect it’s in fact a love poem, or will they just know it’s a nativity at sea or at least somewhere on or near the surface of water?

And what about the magpies in both? One is all very well, like in the painting, but the “dozen” in the poem? Will they worry about that, because it’s my fondest hope they will?

…………………………………………………..~

This is a very small poem in a very small style, indeed as bare and simple as a Piero della Francesca painting, and as dependent on faith. That means your faith, the faith you have in yourself, the viewer, not in Jesus or Mary or anything like that but just in how much faith you are able to bring to whatever you see without rhyme or reason, like that tiny little bird on the left, or the big one on the stable roof for that matter, which is unmistakably a magpie. How still can you rest as you view two birds like that, for example, how long can you hold your gaze without blinking, without starting all over again to define what you see in relation to who you are, where you stand, what you expect, and what you know about me? Can you do that? Can you rest in uncertainties when you don’t even know who a poem is by or what it’s getting at? Can you trust yourself, in other words, and not just rush in to either explain it away, or appropriately file it ditto?

Like the poem of Gennadiy Aygi I quoted a few weeks ago and nobody seems to have noticed? Or Pierre Puvis de Chavannes?

Can you be as quiet and uncritical as that? Even if, as in my case, I’m the poet and I’m not Russian or French?

Or what if a friend sent you this poem because he or she wanted you to have it. Would you hold back the joy or the sorrow?

Christopher Woodman

………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD

TEA BREAK BY THE FORGE

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

DSCN3871 - Inle Lake Forge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

……

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

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

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

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

Yes, I think so. That too. Because I think she knew herself both as a woman and as this painting by the Latvian painter, Normunds Braslins, in gold leaf and egg tempera:
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Normunds Braslins - Girl Large ………………………………….Normunds Braslins, Riga, Latvia (1962- )
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So that’s it, everybody. Of course this thread was from the start exploratory and still isn’t sure what it’s trying to say, though it might have this morning, Monday, March 17th, 2014.

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

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

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

Christopher Woodman

………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD

BORDANDO el MANTO TERRESTRE by Remedios Varo

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

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

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

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

In addition, if there are any matters arising from the previous thread do feel free to comment below — the management is very grateful to the increasing numbers of people who visited the site in the last weeks of the discussion, and would be very pleased to have more feedback.
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NOTICE March 11th, 2014:
Thread Closed for Comments.

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

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

Christopher Woodman

………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD

MAKE IT NEW!

 Aborigine Woman

                               Many thanks to AUSTRAVELPHOTOGRAPHY for the photo. 

People have always felt the world was going down the tubes — from “hey, look at her!” to “ubi sunt,” indeed long before anybody ever thought to make it new!

One of the cultures I most admire is that of the indigenous people of Australia. What culture has ever produced greater artists, richer myths, or more healing images? Yet when they lost their past, all 30,000 years of it, it took just a few decades to bankrupt them entirely, economically, culturally, emotionally and spiritually. On the other hand, the tragedy was caused as much by our culture’s inability to cope with change as it was with theirs. They couldn’t deal with us any more than we could deal with them, a heart-breaking impasse for everybody involved right to the end, and still with us.

Two observations on “Make It New” with regard to the gifts of these extraordinary people.

The Australian aborigines were always in a sense  “contemporary” — they were “cartoon” artists, after all, and every image and artifact they made was “pop” in the sense that everybody was a fan, everybody loved it, read it and danced to it. Secondly, their culture didn’t change — for whatever reason they were locked in a time-warp, as we might say looking out into space, and as a result nothing ever became “dated” what is more “old fashioned” for them. “Make it new?” Why everything was new already!

I make these observations very much without blame — Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel combined with James C. Scott’s The Art of NOT Being Governed confirmed what I had always suspected, that the Australian aborigines’ lack of ‘development’ had nothing whatever to do with inferior genes, hands or minds. On the other hand, they didn’t “change” at all in our sense — but that’s not quite the same as I have come to understand the word in Buddhist terms. The Buddha insisted over and over again that denying change was as self-destructive as any form of greed, control or domination. Anicca, or “impermanence” as it’s usually translated when the sutras are rendered into English, is the only certainty in life, says the Buddha, and holding on to things as if they weren’t going to change is the root of all suffering. That’s the fundamental Buddhist teaching, in fact, that Change and the inevitable Suffering that arises out of it are the fundamental truths of all being.

What’s really different about our times, it seems to me, is what is happening to time itself — the speed of change, as if we were already strapped in the rocket that will deliver us from our dwindling planet into the arms of space.

Try this to put our own sense of time into perspective:

I never even heard of television until I was 8 and didn’t live with a set until I was 42! Even more astonishing, I learned all my maths and physics without a calculator, sailed all over the world without a GPS or other electronic aid, and didn’t touch a computer keyboard until I was 52, the same age at which I published my first poem. And if that last one doesn’t put the word “dated” into perspective for a poet in America, what does?

But we’ll come back to that.

I just want to add that I’m not a Buddhist, whatever that might mean, and feel very strongly that in the light of Eternity there are other “universal truths” beside CHANGE and SUFFERING. Indeed, one of the reasons the aborigines are so important to me is that they tell me more than any other people I have ever encountered about who I really am — particularly as I look in the mirror on my birthday, not a pretty sight at all at 74. But then the old wizened aborigine that looks back at me over my shoulder tells me that nothing that really matters is ever outdated. Change is nothing in the light of eternity, he tells me — and I don’t mean by that Heaven or Eternal Life, God forbid, or indeed anything my new-age friends in white call ‘Spiritual.’ I mean eternity in the sense that I believe Einstein imagined it, or Stephen Hawking in his space-age body, our own little naked good-fella in Cambridge, who grappled with the dreaming that is  Cern. Or what surely must have occupied the mind of Galileo Galilei during those 8 years under house arrest in Florence or me here at my tiny speck of a desk in Chiang Mai.

Do you think when the first white man arrived in Australia an aboriginal would have had a problem showing him a God-particle? Had the white man been able to ask, that is? Had he had the intelligence or expertise to navigate that sort of thinking?

And of course, had the good-fella been willing to betray such truths by sharing them with such a big, crude, ignorant stranger?

Christopher Woodman

………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD