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.]
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………………………………………………..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

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
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THIS THREAD IS CONTINUED IN THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW.

 

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.

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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?

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…………….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

THOMAS BRADY, Oh Monday Love, Oh Sawmygirl, Oh Tom TomWest!

 

TOM Sepia

Thomas Brady is the inspiration for this site, and his essays on it  are not only a testament to his integrity and passion but express his unique position with regard to American poetry. The following is a letter to him which tries to examine his position in a wider, freakier but also friendlier perspective than men of letters usually get– for Scarriet is dedicated to making poetry not only comprehensible once again but actually worth reading as opposed to just winning a prize, getting reviewed, or even getting a promotion!

A Reply to Poe to Bloom: Boo!

Dear Tom,……………………………………Chiang Mai, Thailand, 10/12/2009

So many conflicting thoughts, so many paradoxes.

I hear you so clearly, championing a different voice, one that harnesses the natural music of the human heart as it manifests in the cultural forms of people who still know who they are and what they say. Yes, ‘natural’ poetry like John Clare, the lyrics of the Scottish isles or even of Appalachia, Bengali poetry, the incantations of the Kalahari, Langston Hughes or early Dunbar, The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, the Psalms, and even sometimes when you’re in just the right mood and something truly wonder-ful has happened, a Hallmark card, perfumed, in the mail!

What you are so railing against is “make it new,” I know that, Tom, the obligation imposed on poets by fundamentally displaced persons like T.S.Eliot, Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox Ford [Hueffner!] or a Starretz Sufi Supra-Rabbi Roshipatagon like Harold Bloom. Yes, that’s what I said, displaced persons! (Or sshhhhh, how about just Fugitives? Won’t that do?)

Whereas the poets you are attempting to resurrect, like S. Anna Lewis, Edgar Allan Poe, Sydney Lanier (and hey, why not?) and Edna St.Vincent Millay can still speak in their own gifted voices and are not the least bit afraid to say exactly what they mean. And of course they’re God’s own children, which helps!

So that’s the divide, isn’t it? Between poetry as a natural voice like a waterfall, a thunderstorm, or the literal last breath of somebody you can’t live without, as opposed to poetry as an esoteric diddle that nobody, not even the poet himself or herself (usually the former!) would dare profane by saying what it (say it!) means. Because if a poem says what it means then it becomes a cultural artifact and belongs to the whole community, to be praised on the front porch and memorized and handed around to the neighbors like a barbecue, whereas the poetry you dismiss, Honest Tom, is the poetry of pretension and deliberate obfuscation written by people who haven’t the foggiest idea who they are — but of course feel far, far superior to the Hallmark hoy-poloy who, shudder, know what they like and where to find it!

As if life weren’t deep enough without a critic to fend for it!

Because, of course, the “make-it-new” poetry is as aristocratic and conservative as the ivy-covered cloister which coddles it, and needs both the Priest and Hierophant before you get baptized in it what’s more have a chance at Fame, or Heaven!

Christopher Woodman