“O FOOL OF EARTH!” A Haiku by Samson illuminated by Jūlija with Caravaggio, T.E.Lawrence & an encore by our Christy himself.

Julia O Fool of Earth jpg

……………………………………………………………………November 21st, 2017
A first draft of an illuminated haiku by a very special and gifted new friend, a Russian speaking Latvian calligrapher who goes by the single name of
Jūlija. And there’s going to be lots more of her, including an illumination of the haiku in the previous post. At the moment her version of “Stumped like this” is lying on her scriptorium desk on the island of Bali, and I just read that Mt. Agung is going off so there may be a delay.

Just a few weeks ago, Jūlija and I started working together on a project to illuminate a series of what I call “relics” in my latest book called La Croix Ma Fille. And just to lay this new card on the table from the start, should La Croix Ma Fille find a publisher it would now have to include Jūlija’s work. Because what she is doing has inspired me so — lifted my spirits, confirmed my hunches, and given me the courage to believe that, even at just a few days short of 78, this author might still manage to publish the book!

I’ve had the idea for years — that I might assemble a book that would include some poems that I didn’t write myself but were “found.” So La Croix Ma Fille has a Foreword entitled “Three Relics Found Amongst the Ruins, Thought to be Samson’s,” the last poem of which is the haiku called “O Fool of Earth” — which, if you please, was written not by me but by the “front-line saint” called Samson, a Justice League enforcer if there ever was one. Because he’s God’s own body-guard, bouncer, and batman — yet he’s also humanity’s fool like the shy inventor, Bruce Wayne, which means not unlike me and perhaps even a bit like you. And don’t forget that these jottings were discovered “in the ruins” sometime after Samson pulled the temple down about his ears — “So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life,” as the Bible puts it. And if that doesn’t sum up our own well-meaning but tragic interventions at home and abroad, what does, and I mean both on the personal and national levels?

Below is the “relic” as it appears in the book itself in Times New Roman. Jūlija’s artifact just above is an early sketch with the script partly in black-letter and partly cyrillic, a fusion which creates an ageless sort of sacred cypher, which I love. Because the reader mustn’t forget that the original was transcribed in long-hand by a prophet in a most challenging position — trussed up between pillars with his God on the one hand and his girlfriend on the other (my imagination goes to  Caravaggio * for that, the saint’s bare head, her lap, the nipple, and God flaring up all over the place…).

………………………..O FOOL OF EARTH
………………………..The Wise Heart
…………………………is not undone by Love
……………………………………………..    but turns:
………………………..A Girl’s
…………………………flares up —
…………………………………………    .mine burns!

………………
*Note: CARAVAGGIO! or How the Samson of Painters Paints Samson.

……………………………………………………………………..November 25th, 2017
It’s the prophet himself who wrote this little poem so forthrightly, of course, and by my way of thinking it’s the weakness of Samson that demonstrates his ‘chosen’ status more than his brute strength ever did. That’s why I think Samson was granted even more divine strength for that one last shove, and why the effects of it were even more cataclysmic than what he managed to do with the jawbone of the ass. And that’s how Caravaggio painted him as well, didn’t he? Doesn’t his shaved Samson reveal a prophet who is even more powerful sexually than he was before, his smooth skin, his feminine curves in silk and his hands just like her’s? And don’t the lovers fit together just about perfectly? And doesn’t everybody inside and outside the painting know just what that means? (Click more than once to see that even better.)

What also makes this haiku holy is the simplicity of its vocabulary: “wise,” “heart,” “love,” “girl’s,” “flares up,” and “burns.” Had someone like me written the poem you’d think it was by a highschool student trying to make his creative writing teacher happy, whereas the author is actually an ancient prophet who is just about to discover his true strength by acknowledging that he has not only lost it but abused it. He admits, moreover, that his heart is not “wise,” and whereas the girl’s heart in the poem just “flares up,” his goes on burning and burning, a self-destructive and at the same time self-affirming conflagration not unlike Caravaggio’s. And it’s not demeaning for him to use the word “girl” either — indeed, he’s mocking himself, not women, exposing his fatal attraction to fantasy lovers as opposed to real or ‘other’ persons, and that’s a man-problem that no amount of man-splaining can ever cover up. Samson may be a saint but he knows he’s also a fraud ** — which is precisely what makes this humble scrap of a relic-poem so precious, and why any human being might think to fold it up carefully and place it in a small reliquary on a string about the neck, a talisman to keep from being undone by gently, humorously, respectfully turning oneself away from the self-serving self to behold. And “turns” is just the right word to describe whatever that is, I feel sure, though I haven’t a clue what that is myself.

**NOTE: The flawed saint I admire above all, and the one I never stop thinking and writing about, is T.E. Lawrence, and in a sense all of the above is about him. While actually on the road to Damascus at the very end of the Arab Revolt in 1918, [and with the Morte Darthur in his camel’s saddle bag, dear Jūlija and Romain], Lawrence realized that “all established reputations were founded, like myself, on fraud.” He removed himself from public life altogether shortly after representing King Faisal at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the outcome of which broke his heart as well as the whole of the Middle East. He died in 1935 under the name of T.E.Shaw, an ordinary mechanic in the Airforce. It was just a local motorcycle accident on a small country lane, but his funeral entourage a few days later included everybody from Bernard Shaw and E.M.Forster to Winston Churchill, and many born like myself too late are still there.

……
ONE LAST FINAL ACT AND DEPARTURE
By way of an encore to all these final acts and departures I’d like to bring in for one last bow another Irishman, J.M.Synge’s almighty wastrel/minstrel hero from “The Playboy of the Western World.” For it’s “our Christy himself,” that genius liar, lover and logos, who makes such an utter fool of himself that he can turn the tables on the whole world, and scold all the Fools of Earth in one hearty go as if he were some Old Testament prophet: “Shut your yelling, for if you’re after making a mighty man of me this day by the power of a lie, you’re setting me now to think if it’s a poor thing to be lonesome, it’s worse, maybe, go mixing with the fools of earth!”

Which should bring this to a close, I think — dear friends.

Christopher

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.
…….

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

CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER: The New Critical Habit and How I Broke It.

As someone who was trained at Yale and Cambridge in the 60s, caught the bug from W.K.Wimsatt, sipped sherry with I.A.Richards and E.M. Forster on the same couch at Kings, shared a bag lunch with F.R.Leavis in a cold brick corner of some unrecorded quadrangle at Darwin, and suffered a nervous breakdown when a close disciple of Wittgenstein played with his head and his wife somewhere down the Huntington Road toward Girton, mostly on a bicycle, I have the New Criticism in my blood — and it’s a rush, I tell you.

And that’s a major part of the problem for any New Critic, to resist the thrill of using the gift of the academic gab as if it were a divine right — and I had a lot of that sort of chutzpah too, which I’ve now partly outgrown and partly forgotten. Indeed, that gift has bedevilled me both as a teacher and a poet all my life — because I so loved being a Guardian of the Poetry Threshold, I got so high on it, so vatic and blissfully feathered, I was not to be trusted on the ground at all. And even in my twilight years here on another planet I can still hold forth for hours and hours on a text, and the few people that somehow find their way to my table in Chiang Mai and ask the wrong question, e.g. anything to do with poetry, are still in mortal danger.

The danger is the way we New Critics deliver the message that only specially trained people can get the full meaning out of poetry, and even worse, that poetry that’s good is difficult.

We New Critics have become heavy pushers of that line, and far from increasing the popularity of poetry, our critical ‘gifts’ have crippled those who would like to hear about it just as much as those who would like to write it. For just like heroin, the effects of the New Criticism are as irresistible as they are destructive, and we’ve all ended up hooked on a kind of poetry that simply can never deliver enough. Indeed, the habit gets bigger and bigger even as we get smaller and smaller and more and more isolated from the world of real people down below.

Enter American poetry today. Enter the New Critical Angel.

Angels? Well Kierkegaard can tell you just how dangerous “great moments” can be, and how disastrously misleading, but there’s another picture that works for me too. In the well-known Tibetan mandala,  ‘The Wheel of Life,’ the angels are at the very top either blissfully at ease or blissfully exerting power. At the very bottom are the ghosts in hell, thirsty, hungry, endlessly tormented, abject victims of their own ignorance. Human beings are exquisitely poised between the two extremes and, the Buddha says, that’s a better place to be than even among the angels — because humans are the only beings that have any real hope of seeing things as they are, and thus achieving freedom from self-serving prejudice. And why? Ghosts suffer, angels live in bliss, but only human beings know both at once. When at last the heavens begin to change after countless aeons, and the slightest crack appears in the firmament, which inevitably it does, says the Buddha, an angel is unable to adapt. An angel’s attachment to bliss, permanence and control is so insidious it falls headlong into the very deepest hell at the first hint of dissatisfaction. Even an animal, it is said, is better off at that moment than an angel.

Instructional, and the curse of all inflation.

What I did about the potential Angel in myself, the Poet-written-Big in my nature, was truly radical. I simply placed a moratorium upon myself as a writer, and from my teen years in the 50s until I felt at last safe enough to try again in the 90s, I just didn’t write poetry at all. I always knew I was a poet, secretly, but a poet who couldn’t be trusted to write poetry as it should be written, with restraint, patience and integrity. Like T.E.Lawrence on the road to Damascus in 1918, I realized that “all established reputations were founded, like myself, on fraud,” and in my own humble way I wanted to avoid that pitfall. Even though I was very young and not remotely anything special, just living in a special time and place, I knew I had to be careful. And in the end I did manage to stay me, and not become just another fiddling angel. I arrested my development, went into artistic hibernation, and emerged 30 years later to publish my first poem at 52 without any established reputation at all to get in the way.

Here’s a poem about all this — it’s still a ‘new critical’ type poem, for sure, but I don’t think I’ve ever said it better. And there is room for this type of poem in Parnassus too, it’s just a lot harder to keep your head at such a heady level and, of course, to keep your hat off.

Christopher Woodman,…………
Chiang Mai…………

…………………………SAMSON BETWEEN THE PILLARS,
…………………………SAUL AND LAWRENCE ON THE ROAD

…………………………………There was knocking but
…………………………………no door into that heroic
…………………………………world but first
……………………………………………………….bowing out of it,
…………………………………deferring gracefully to those
…………………………………small private abstentions
…………………………………that had murmured all
…………………………………along just behind the
…………………………………uncompromising hard
…………………………………………………………god’s brilliance.

…………………………………Like all things likely shorn
…………………………………undressed ears can hear
…………………………………the faintest abdication
…………………………………………………………………knocking.

…………………………………Each white petal’s fall or
…………………………………slightest finger’s white
……………………………………………………………print in soot,
…………………………………every clean track or dry
…………………………………tear knocks too against
……………………………………………………………that solitude.

…………………………………Even the infinitesimal shock
…………………………………of a single naked
………………………………………………………………snow-flake
…………………………………slipping through some
…………………………………daedalian avenue before
…………………………………all that slicked-back tar
…………………………………can even wink at such
…………………………………quick celestial skin
…………………………………………………………..is knocking—
…………………………………just as veiled eyes seeing
…………………………………too many fine things done
…………………………………for the good in Damascus
…………………………………turn toward whatever
…………………………………violence or private wailing
…………………………………………………………….wall closing
…………………………………even as the bluntest flint
…………………………………tapping, tapping opens.

……………

…………………………….