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

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.
…….

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

“MUMBO JUMBO?” — “PARADOX?” “AMBIGUITY?” “IRONY?” “SYMBOL?”

March Madness has been a study as much as it has been an intoxication; the New Critics erred in thinking the emotive and the cognitive could not be combined; of course they can, by any astute critic (Poe is a shining example, who the New Critics, from Pound to Eliot to Warren to Winters to Brooks to Wimsatt carefully ignored or played down.). The New Critics made no satisfactory criticism; they merely introduced mumbo-jumbo, mere terms, such as paradox, ambiguity, irony and symbol and nothing about it was original or coherent, it was finally nothing but mumbo-jumbo for the self-elected priesthood.

The professional priest will lord it over the mere amateur, but such religious hierarchies do not belong in poetry, not artificially, anyway; Letters is not science, but finally morality for the many, and this is the ugly, primitive secret which the sophisticated modernist Oxford erudite fop dare not face.

……………………………………………………………..………….Thomas Brady

.

………..The Lord in His wisdom made the fly
………..And then forgot to tell us why.

……………                        ………                      …………Ogden Nash

.

The paradox here lies not in the fly or in the Lord’s wisdom but in what a poem can say that ordinary language can’t. You don’t need Pound, Eliot, Warren or Winters, or anyone from Oxford for that matter, to help you out with that, or even a High School diploma. Indeed, “The Night Before Christmas” is loaded with paradox, as is Pooh’s poetry, the Beatles, nursery rhymes, limericks and gospel. You can laugh or cry as much as you like, but still you can’t say what it  is without saying what it isn’t.

The ambiguity in this poem lies in the absurdity that gets to the very heart of what bothers human beings about life, the complexities of it – how a creature so indispensable to the health of the planet should be so small, for example, yet so insistent, fickle, and in your face, so disgusting yet impossible to swat.

The irony lies in the fact that the Lord in His wisdom forgot to tell us just about everything, and even when the scientist has done his or her very best to remedy that, and even shown us photos of the fly’s eyes and cultivated its filth in a petri dish so we could actually see the link between flies and disease, and then gone on to save lives by cleansing wounds with maggots, we still can’t decide who we are. And then along comes poetry, of all crazy stuff, and tells us!

Love hurts. Grief heals. The meek inherit the earth.

As to symbols, there are none in this poem in the usual sense. Indeed, symbols are rare in poetry worth reading because the whole idea of poetry is to rewrite the comfortable shorthands, cultural icons and codes we depend on. Indeed, when poetry is most effective even the symbols come off the rails, so to speak, and wreck our understanding of everything. For a moment we just have to stop — my God, my God, what is it?

Take the Rose in William Blake’s poem, “O Rose Thou Art Sick,” for example, or the Tiger in “Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright.” Only beginners talk about either as “symbols,” because the moment you think you know what they mean you’re lost. You lose the thread, you lose the argument, you lose your soul to the facts already stuck in your head. And you can’t move on.

Symbols are for simpletons, not for Ogden Nashes!

Had Ogden Nash written a whole series of poems about flies, as Yeats did about towers, for example, then we might want to consider “why” in a broader sense, and “the fly” might even be considered a symbol in the little poem above. And hey, why not? Life’s too complex not to accept what little help we can get from the way we human beings use language!

But we don’t need a Professional Priesthood for that, though sometimes we get one, boo hoo. Then abuses do follow, and yes, we do get Reformers, Counter-reformers, New Critics, Anti-new-critics, Pound-profs or Poe-profs or Flat-earthers, you name it.

Fortunately,  most of us move on with the baby still in our arms and not lying there blue on the floor with the bathwater.

Most of us also examine our lives in privacy too, I might add, even if we also love frisbee and beer. And the best poetry, of course, remains private in public.

Christopher Woodman