Sunday, December 31
Midnight the year's last day the last
high hour the verge where the dancers comet
(loved water lapsing under the bridge
and blood dear blood by the bridged aorta
where the dreaming soul leans distant-eyed
long-watching the flood and its spoil borne seaward)
and I one fleck on the numbered face
one dot on the star-aswarming heaven
stand here in this street of all our streets
of all our times this moment only
the bells the snow the neon faces
each our own but estranged and fleeing
from a bar all tinkle and red fluorescence
a boy in a tux with tie uneven
puppy-clumsy with auldlangsyning
plaintive so droll came crying Sally
Salleee again and Saalleee louder
a violin teased he passed in laughter
yet under the heart of each up vein
up brain and loud in the lonely spirit
a-rang desire for Sallys name
or another name or a street or season
not to be conjured by any horn
nor flavored gin nor the flung confetti
o watcher upover the world look down
through gale of stars to the globes blue hover
and see arising in troubled mist
from firefly towns and the dark between them
the waif appeal from lackland hearts
to Sally's name or perhaps anothers
-- John Frederick Nims
Posted by rb at 12/31/2006
Saturday, December 30
But we: we vanish in our feelings. Oh, we breathe
ourselves out, and out; our smell dissolves
from ember to ember. It's true, someone may tell us:
"You're in my blood, this room, Spring floods
with you . . ." What good is it? He can't hold us.
We vanish in him and around him. And the beautiful,
oh, who can hold them back? Some look is always rising
in their faces, and falling. Like dew on new grass,
like heat from a steaming dish, everything we are rises
away from us. O smile, where are you going?
O upturned look: new, warm, the heart's receding wave --
it hurts me, but that's what we are.
-- R.M. Rilke, from Duino Elegies: The Second Elegy
Translated by A. Poulin, Jr.
Posted by rb at 12/30/2006
Friday, December 29
And here are trees and I know their gnarled surface, water and I feel its taste. These scents of grass and stars at night, certain evenings when the heart relaxes--how shall I negate this world whose power and strength I feel? Yet all the knowledge on earth will give me nothing to assure me that this world is mine. You describe it to me and you teach me to classify it. You enumerate its laws and in my thirst for knowledge I admit that they are true. You take apart its mechanism and my hope increases. At the final stage you teach me that this wondrous and multicolored universe can be reduced to the atom and that the atom itself can be reduced to the electron. All this is good and I wait for you to continue. But you tell me of an invisible planetary system in which electrons gravitate around a nucleus. You explain this world to me with an image. I realize then that you have been reduced to poetry: I shall never know. Have I the time to become indignant? You have already changed theories. So that science that was to teach me everything ends up in a hypothesis, that lucidity founders in metaphor, that uncertainty is resolved in a work of art. What need had I of so many efforts? The soft lines of these hills and the hand of evening on this troubled heart teach me much more. I have returned to my beginning.
-- Albert Camus The Myth of Sisyphus
Translated by Justin O'Brien
Posted by rb at 12/29/2006
Friday, December 15
Thursday, December 14
Tuesday, December 12
So the angel passed along thinking aloud to himself, doing his business, barely taking note of me, but taking note of me nonetheless. We recognized each other. Of course the other thing is that this "I" is not "I." I am not this body, this "self." I am not just my individual nature. Yet I might as well be, so firmly am I rooted in it and identified with it--with this which will cease utterly to exist in its natural individuality.
In the hermitage-- I see how quickly one can fall apart. I talk to myself, I dance around the hermitage, I sing. This is all very well, but it is not serious, it is a manifestation of weakness, of dizziness. I feel within this individual self the nearness of disintegration. (Yet I also realize that this exterior self can fall apart and be reintegrated too. This is like losing dry skin that peels off while the new skin forms underneath.)
And I suddenly remember absurd things. The song Pop had on the record forty-five years ago! "The Whistler and His Dog." Crazy! I went out to the jakes in the rain with this idiot song rocking my whole being. Its utterly inane confidence! Its gaiety. It is in its own way joyful--the joy of people who had not seen World War II and Auschwitz and the Bomb. Silly as it was, it had life and juice in it. Confidence of people walking up and down Broadway in derbies in 1910! Kings of the earth! Sousa's whole mad band blasting out this idiot and confident song! The strong, shrill whistle of the whistler! ("O fabulous day, calao, calay!" and the bark at the end (that I liked best). Brave Whistler! Brave Dog! (As a child I had this Whistler confused with the one who painted his mother!)
-- Thomas Merton, journal entry 4 December 1964 Dancing in the Water of Life
Posted by rb at 12/12/2006
Monday, December 11
When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?
-- C.S. Lewis Till We Have Faces
Posted by rb at 12/11/2006
Saturday, December 9
What's greater, Pebble or Pond?
What can be known? The Unknown.
My true self runs toward a Hill
More! O More! visible.
Now I adore my life
With the Bird, the abiding Leaf,
With the Fish, the questing Snail,
And the Eye altering All;
And I dance with William Blake
For love, for Love's sake;
And everything comes to One,
As we dance on, dance on, dance on.
-- Theodore Roethke
Posted by rb at 12/09/2006
Friday, December 8
I think we try to perfect ourselves, we try to learn, we try to work constantly, we discover things at each stage in a career. But the discoveries and the little we've learned are a bit like a battery, and we are not necessarily conscious of the electricity released from it. So we try to keep all of this inside ourselves, and we use it, hoping that it will come when we need it. It doesn't always come when we need it, however; that's the trauma of creation. Often, all that we've accumulated, all that we've tried to learn, comes too late or too early and not at the moment we need it. On the other hand, if we proceed in too orderly a fashion, that is, with notes, cards, with filed memories, and if we try to apply them mechanically and arbitrarily, I think we become removed from life. One must be very wary of knowledge and theories. One has to have them, but it is best to tackle each subject as if we knew nothing, as if we were completely new to it, and as if the subject were unexplored.
-- Jean Renoir, interview in Cahiers du Cinema 6.34 by Jacques Rivette and François Truffaut
Translated by C.-G. Marsac
Posted by rb at 12/08/2006
Thursday, December 7
These are the edgings and inchings of final form,
The swarming activities of the formulae
Of statement, directly and indirectly getting at,
Like an evening evoking the spectrum of violet,
A philosopher practicing scales on his piano,
A woman writing a note and tearing it up.
It is not in the premise that reality
Is a solid. It may be a shade that traverses
A dust, a force that traverses a shade.
-- Wallace Stevens, from "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven"
Wednesday, December 6
We know that gentians grow on the Alps, and olives on the Apennines; but we do not enough conceive for ourselves that variegated mosaic of the world's surface which a bird sees in its migration, that difference between the district of the gentian and of the olive which the stork and the swallow see far off, as they lean upon the sirocco wind, Let us, for a moment, try to raise ourselves even above the level of their flight, and imagine the Mediterranean lying beneath us like an irregular lake, and all its ancient promontories sleeping in the sun: here and there an angry spot of thunder, a grey stain of storm, moving upon the burning field; and here and there a fixed wreath of white volcano smoke, surrounded by its circle of ashes; but for the most part a great peacefulness of light, Syria and Greece, Italy and Spain, laid like pieces of a golden pavement into the sea-blue, chased, as we stoop nearer to them, with bossy beaten work of mountain chains, and glowing softly with terraced gardens, and flowers heavy with frankincense, mixed among masses of laurel, and orange, and plumy palm, that abate with their grey-green shadows the burning of the marble rocks, and of the ledges of porphyry sloping under lucent sand. Then let us pass farther towards the north, until we see the orient colours change gradually into a vast belt of rainy green, where the pastures of Switzerland, and poplar valleys of France, and dark forests of the Danube and Carpathians stretch from the mouths of the Loire to those of the Volga, seen through clefts in grey swirls of rain-cloud and flaky veils of the mist of the brooks, spreading low along the pasture lands: and then, farther north still, to see the earth heave into mighty masses of molten rock and heathy moor, bordering with a broad waste of gloomy purple that belt of field and wood, and splintering into irregular and grisly islands amidst the northern seas, beaten by storm, and chilled by ice-drift, and tormented by furious pulses of contending tide, until the roots of the last forests fail from among the hill ravines, and the hunger of the north wind bites their peaks into barrenness; and at last, the wall of ice, durable like iron, sets, deathlike, its white teeth against us out of the polar twilight. And, having once traversed in thought this gradation of the zoned iris of the earth in all its material vastness, let us go down nearer to it, and watch the parallel change in the belt of animal life; the multitudes of swift and brilliant creatures that glance in the air and sea, or tread the sands of the southern zone; striped zebras and spotted leopards, glistening serpents, and birds arrayed in purple and scarlet. Let us contrast their delicacy and brilliancy of colour, and swiftness of motion, with the frost-cramped strength, and shaggy covering, and dusky plumage of the northern tribes; contrast the Arabian horse with the Shetland, the tiger and leopard with the wolf and bear, the antelope with the elk, the bird of paradise with the osprey; and then, submissively acknowledging the great laws by which the earth and all that it bears are ruled throughout their being, let us not condemn, but rejoice in the expression by man of his own rest in the statutes of the lands that gave him birth. Let us watch him with reverence as he sets side by side the burning gems, and smooths with soft sculpture the jasper pillars, that are to reflect a ceaseless sunshine, and rise into a cloudless sky: but not with less reverence let us stand by him, when, with rough strength and hurried stroke, he smites an uncouth animation out of the rocks which he has torn from among the moss of the moorland, and heaves into the darkened air the pile of iron buttress and rugged wall, instinct with work of an imagination as wild and wayward as the northern sea; creatures of ungainly shape and rigid limb, but full of wolfish life; fierce as the winds that beat, and changeful as the clouds that shade them.
-- John Ruskin On Art and Life
Posted by rb at 12/06/2006
Tuesday, December 5
There need be nothing preternaturally sweet or homespun about the moods embodied in domestic space. These spaces can speak to us of the sombre as readily as they can of the gentle. There is no necessary connection between the concepts of home and of prettiness; what we call a home is merely any place that succeeds in making more consistently available to us the important truths which the wider world ignores, or which our distracted and irresolute selves have trouble holding on to.
As we write, so we build: to keep a record of what matters to us.
-- Alain de Botton The Architecture of Happiness
Posted by rb at 12/05/2006
Sunday, December 3
"Since why to love I can allege no cause,"
I will love instead, leaving reasons
to better minds than mine, those for whom laws
create allowance for the seasons
of feeling. I cannot create what creates
me, unless in loving, love begets love,
though in begetting that, what first mates
with love to get that which it wants more of?
And so on, ad infinitum.
Better to look out the window and ponder
the weather, how quickly autumn
left, how quietly winter
slipped into town. It was looking for us,
afraid, I think, thinking the obvious.
-- Roger Mitchell
Posted by rb at 12/03/2006
Friday, December 1
'Well, mace in one hand and Weena in the other, I went out of that gallery and into another and still larger one, which at the first glance reminded me of a military chapel hung with tattered flags. The brown and charred rags that hung from the sides of it, I presently recognized as the decaying vestiges of books. They had long since dropped to pieces, and every semblance of print had left them. But here and there were warped boards and cracked metallic clasps that told the tale well enough. Had I been a literary man I might, perhaps, have moralized upon the futility of all ambition. But as it was, the thing that struck me with keenest force was the enormous waste of labour to which this sombre wilderness of rotting paper testified. At the time I will confess that I thought chiefly of the Philosophical Transactions and my own seventeen papers upon physical optics.
'Then, going up a broad staircase, we came to what may once have been a gallery of technical chemistry. And here I had not a little hope of useful discoveries. Except at one end where the roof had collapsed, this gallery was well preserved. I went eagerly to every unbroken case. And at last, in one of the really air-tight cases, I found a box of matches. Very eagerly I tried them. They were perfectly good. They were not even damp. I turned to Weena. "Dance," I cried to her in her own tongue. For now I had a weapon indeed against the horrible creatures we feared. And so, in that derelict museum, upon the thick soft carpeting of dust, to Weena's huge delight, I solemnly performed a kind of composite dance, whistling The Land of the Leal as cheerfully as I could. In part it was a modest cancan, in part a step-dance, in part a skirt-dance (so far as my tailcoat permitted), and in part original. For I am naturally inventive, as you know.
-- H.G. Wells The Time Machine
Posted by rb at 12/01/2006