WHY I WROTE HOW BAD IS THE DEVIL

Rebecca's CW
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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 is 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 YET STILL IT MOVES: Two Decades
………………………………………………..of Poems Under House Arrest

Christopher Woodman

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.

………………………………………
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

FOR TOM: NIT-PICKING APPLES


……………………………………………………………..Winslow Homer, Picking Apples

.

……….In Praise of the Still Unweighed

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

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

……………….As the arrow by the playful string
……………….the heady soul is ever fired by
……………….the archly absent body—
……………….draped arabesques of trembling skin
……………….and shining pubis so defying gravity
……………….even the most upright Jove
……………….or holy Galileo
……………….bearded like our father’s angel
……………….tumbles to the maiden yet again,
……………….so hotly does the dreaming quiver
……………….fletched in abstract plumage
……………….hunger
……………….even for a single pomegranate kiss
……………….that scatters weight
……………….like rubies!

……………………………………………Christopher Woodman
……………………………………………from YET STILL IT MOVES: Two Decades of Poems
……………………………………………………under House Arrest