Friday, August 29
A man has two conditions: in this world and in the world beyond. But there is also a twilight juncture: the condition of sleep (or dream, svapna). In this twilight juncture, one sees both of the other conditions, this world and the other world . . . When someone falls asleep, he takes the stuff of the entire world and he himself takes it apart, and he himself builds it up, and by his own bright light he dreams . . . There are no chariots there, no harnessings, no roads; but he emits chariots, harnessings, and roads. There are no joys, happinesses, or delights there; but he emits joys, happinesses, and delights. There are no ponds, lotus-pools, or flowing streams there, but he emits ponds, lotus-pools, and flowing streams. For he is the Maker (Kartr).
-- Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upanishad, quoted in Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty
Tr. Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty
Posted by rb at 8/29/2008
Sunday, August 24
The world's body is not our body,
although we'd have it so.
Our body's not infinite, although
This afternoon, under the underwater slant-shine
Of sunlight and cloud shadow,
It almost seems that way in the wind,
a wind that comes
From a world away with its sweet breath and its tart tongue
And casts us loose, like a cloud,
Heaven-ravaged, blue pocket, small change for the hand.
I used to think the power of words was inexhaustible,
That how we said the world
was how it was, and how it would be.
I used to imagine that word-sway and word-thunder
Would silence the Silence and all that,
That words were the Word,
That language could lead us inexplicably to grace,
As though it were geographical.
I used to think these things when I was young.
I still do.
Some poems exist still on the other side of our lives,
And shine out,
but we'll never see them.
They are unutterable, in a language without an alphabet.
Unseen. World-long. Bone music.
Too bad. We'd know them by heart
if we could summer them out in our wounds.
Too bad. Listening hard.
Clouds, of course, are everywhere, and blue sky in between.
Blue sky. Then what comes after the blue . . .
Insubstantial as smoke, our words
Drum down like fingertips across the page,
leaving no smudge or mark.
Unlike our purloined selves, they will not rise from the dead.
Unlike our whimpers and prayers, they lie low and disappear.
This word, that word, all fall down.
How far from heaven the stars are,
how far the heart from the page.
We don't know what counts—
It's as simple as that, isn't it,
we just don't know what counts . . .
These are the four lessons I have learned,
One from Martha Graham,
three others from here and there—
Walk as though you'd been given one brown eye and one blue,
Think as though you thought best with somebody else's brain,
Write as though you had in hand the last pencil on earth,
Pray as though you were praying with someone else's soul.
-- Charles Wright, lines from "Body and Soul" in A Short History of the Shadow
Posted by rb at 8/24/2008
Saturday, August 23
Thursday, August 21
I stand on my dune top watching a great wave coursing in from sea, and know that I am watching an illusion, that the distant water has not left its place in ocean to advance upon me, but only a force shaped in water, a bodiless pulse beat, a vibration . . . Somewhere in ocean, perhaps a thousand miles and more from this beach, the pulse beat of earth liberates a vibration, an ocean wave. Is the original force circular, I wonder? and do ocean waves ring out from the creative beat as they do on a quiet surface broken by a stone? Are there, perhaps, ocean circles so great and so intricate that they are unperceived? Once created, the wave or the arc of a wave begins its journey through the sea. Countless vibrations precede it, countless vibrations follow after. It approaches the continent, swings into the coast line, courses ashore, breaks, dissolves, is gone. The innermost waters it last inhabited flow back in marbly foam to become a body to another beat, and to be again flung down. So it goes night and day, and will go till the secret heart of earth strikes out its last slow beat and the last wave dissolves upon the last forsaken shore.
-- Henry Beston The Outermost House
Posted by rb at 8/21/2008
Wednesday, August 20
Nobody could reconstruct a nineteenth-century steamer from Turner's seascape. All he gives us is the impression of the dark hull, of the flag flying bravely from the mast—of a battle with the raging seas and threatening squalls. We almost feel the rush of the wind and the impact of the waves. We have no time to look for details. They are swallowed up by the dazzling light and the dark shadows of the storm cloud. I do not know whether a blizzard at sea really looks like this. But I do know that it is a storm of this awe-inspiring and overwhelming kind that we imagine when reading a romantic poem or listening to romantic music. In Turner, nature always reflects and expresses man's emotions. We feel small and overwhelmed in the face of the powers we cannot control, and are compelled to admire the artist who had nature's forces at his command.
-- E.H. Gombrich The Story of Art
J.M.W. Turner's Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth
Posted by rb at 8/20/2008
Tuesday, August 19
In my memory is an episode the leading figures of which are Frost and Stevens. I was told it by Stevens and I often play it over in my mind, like a short home movie, for the pleasure it gives me. The time is late at night and the place is Florida. Frost and Stevens, who are staying at the same resort hotel, have been out drinking at a bar somewhere along the beach. Tipsily, in perfect contentment, they are making their way back to the hotel on a boardwalk that runs a foot or so above the sand. They are holding fast to each other, and each is sure that it is he who is supporting his companion. Frost staggers, catches his heel on the edge of the boardwalk, and starts to fall. Stevens strengthens his hold on him, but in vain—over Frost goes, with Stevens on top of him. The two bulky old poets fall in a single knot onto the sand and start rolling over and over in the moonlight down the long slope of the beach to the edge of the sea.
-- Brendan Gill, on Wallace Stevens and Robert Frost, in Here at The New Yorker
Here at The New Yorker
Posted by rb at 8/19/2008
Monday, August 18
Friday, August 15
The drowning poet hours before he drowned
Had whirlpool eyes, salt at his wrists, and wore
A watery emphasis. The sea was aware
As flowers at the bedside of a wound
Of an imminent responsibility
And lay like a magnet beside him the blue day long
Ambiguous as a lung.
He watched the divers learn an element
Familiar as, to the musician, scales,
Where to swim is a progression of long vowels,
A communication never to be sought
being itself all searching: certain as pearls,
Simple as rocks in sun, a happiness
Bound up with happenings.
To drown was the perfection of technique,
The word containing its own sense, like Time;
And turning to the sea he entered it
As one might speak of poems in a poem
Or at the crisis in the sonata quote
Five-finger exercises: a compliment
to all accomplishment.
-- James Merrill
Posted by rb at 8/15/2008
Wednesday, August 13
Art's perpetually new beginning means that anything is possible and that there is an inexhaustible amount for artists to do. "[Our] capacities have never been measured," Thoreau writes in Walden, "nor are we to judge of what [one] can do by any precedents, so little has been tried . . . It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me."
-- Charles Bernstein A Poetics
Posted by rb at 8/13/2008
Monday, August 11
When, therefore, we say that the world is a compact of real things so like the unreal things of the imagination that they are indistinguishable from one another and when, by way of illustration, we cite, say, the blue sky, we can be sure that the thing cited is always something that, whether by thinking or feeling, has become a part of our vital experience of life, even though we are not aware of it. It is easy to suppose that few people realize on that occasion, which comes to all of us, when we look at the blue sky for the first time, that is to say: not merely see it, but look at it and experience it and for the first time have a sense that we live in the center of a physical poetry, a geography that would be intolerable except for the non-geography that exists there—few people realize that they are looking at the world of their own thoughts and the world of their own feelings. On that occasion, the blue sky is a particular of life that we have thought of often, even though unconsciously, and that we have felt intensely in those crystallizations of freshness that we no more remember than we remember this or that gust of wind in spring or autumn.
-- Wallace Stevens The Necessary Angel
Posted by rb at 8/11/2008
Friday, August 8
"I'll stop," thought Aschenbach. "Where could it be better than here?" With his hands clasped in his lap he let his eyes swim in the wideness of the sea, his gaze lose focus, blur, and grow vague in the misty immensity of space. His love of the ocean had profound sources: the hard-worked artist's longing for rest, his yearning to seek refuge from the thronging manifold shapes of his fancy in the bosom of the simple and vast; and another yearning, opposed to his art and perhaps for that very reason a lure, for the unorganized, the immeasurable, the eternal—in short, for nothingness. He whose preoccupation is with excellence longs fervently to find rest in perfection; and is not nothingness a form of perfection? As he sat there dreaming thus, deep, deep into the void, suddenly the margin line of the shore was cut by a human form.
-- Thomas Mann Death in Venice
Tr. H.T. Lowe-Porter
Posted by rb at 8/08/2008
Wednesday, August 6
One kind has to do with the temporal succession of events, as though the single point of the idea must be viewed in an added dimension as a straight line; in order to tell how a distinguished German author dies in Venice we must get him to Venice, keep him there, and supply a disease for him to die of. He will doubtless see many things, and think many things, on his journey—what things? We need another kind of relevance, having to do with association, symbol, metaphor, as well as with probable and realistic observation; while the distinguished author is in Venice it occurs to him, waking, that his situation is like that discussed in the Phaedrus, and dreaming, that his situation is like that of King Pentheus in The Bacchae of Euripides . . .
When Aschenbach dies, there by the shore, we are told that the weather was autumnal, the beach deserted and not even very clean; suddenly we are given this: "A camera on a tripod stood at the edge of the water, apparently abandoned; its black cloth snapped in the freshening wind." That is all, our attention is given to Tadzio, Aschenbach's death soon follows, the camera is never mentioned again.
Crudely speaking, this camera is unnecessary and no one could possibly have noticed anything missing had the author decided against its inclusion; yet in a musical, compositional sense it exquisitely touches the center of the story and creates a resonance which makes us for a moment aware of the entire inner space of the action, of all things relevant and their relations to one another.
Our sense of this is mostly beyond exposition, as symbolic things have a way of being; but some of its elements may be mentioned. About the camera by the sea there is, first, a poignant desolation, the emptiness of vast spaces, and in its pictorial quality it resembles one of the earliest images in the story, when Aschenbach, standing by the cemetery, looks away down the empty streets: "not a wagon in sight, either on the paved Ungererstrasse, with its gleaming tram-lines stretching off towards Schwabing, nor on the Föhring highway." Both pictures are by Di Chirico. The camera's black cloth reminds us of the gondola, "black as nothing else on earth except a coffin," and the repeated insistence on black in that description; also of the "labor in darkness" which brings forth the work of art. For we perceive that the camera stands to the sea as, throughout this story, the artist has stood to experience, in a morally heroic yet at the same time dubious or ridiculous or even impossible relation of form to all possibility, and that at the summer's end, in the freshening wind, the camera is abandoned. It would be near forgivable, so full of Greek mysteries is this work, if we thought the tripod itself remotely Delphic.
-- Howard Nemerov Poetry and Fiction: Essays (on Thomas Mann's Death in Venice)
Posted by rb at 8/06/2008
Tuesday, August 5
My theory involves the entire abandonment of the notion that simple location is the primary way in which things are involved in space-time. In a certain sense, everything is everywhere at all times, for every location involves an aspect of itself in every other location. Thus every spatio-temporal standpoint mirrors the world.
-- Alfred North Whitehead Science and the Modern World
Posted by rb at 8/05/2008
Monday, August 4
after reading Rilke
No angel speaks to me.
And though the wind
plucks the dry leaves
as if they were so many notes
of music, I can hear no words.
Still, I listen. I search
the feathery shapes of clouds
hoping to find the curve of a wing.
And sometimes, when the static
of the world clears just for a moment
a small voice comes through,
is its own language, it says.
Along the indifferent corridors
of space, angels could be hiding.
-- Linda Pastan
more poems by Linda Pastan
Posted by rb at 8/04/2008