My cataracts invest the bright spring day
With extra glory, with a glow that stings.
etc. Read it.
My cataracts invest the bright spring day
With extra glory, with a glow that stings.
etc. Read it.
Was on way back from Red Hen (mug of regular, a twist, looking out the window at the bus stop and Scoville Park) to St. Edmund’s, my usual port of call in matters of worship, when passing the Green Line station I had an Episcopal vision.
It was the ashes-to-go priest in long stole, hands free, and two burly fellows standing with back against the stone wall on the left as you enter, ready with ashes. “Ashes to go,” she said with a smile, and the two ashes-holders echoed that. I had to stop. Fellow Christians were honoring the day.
A moment of greeting with smile, then my inspired retort, pointing: “Remember, thou art dust.” And they got it, Mother Whoever especially, smiling agreement, recognizing the ages-old recommendation to the ashes-receiver, “Remember Man, thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”
As with Thomas Gray’s “The paths of glory lead but to the grave.” Or Shelley’s “Ozymandias, King of Kings,” whose gravestone warned, “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
My second Episcopal moment came in the afternoon, walking past St. Christopher’s at Adams and East. It was their sign which I have passed many times but this time noticed with a certain leaping up of the heart, like Wordsworth: “8:00 a.m.: Holy Eucharist, Rite I.”
Rite I! It was a sort of Latin mass for the Episcopal Church, the old way of worship before the ’70s, when the church revised the Book of Common Prayer amidst great hand-wringing — but kept it for those who wanted it. Hence Rite I at 8;00 on Sunday, Rite II (the revised service) at 10:30.
My Roman Catholic church, on the other hand, at Vatican II a few years earlier instituted a new way, in English, but — and this was too bad — forbade the old and punished priests who resisted. (Much later restored it.) Was that not heavy-handed? Was it necessary?
For the people at The Tablet
Life seems very tough.
They publish, publish, publish,
But no one buys their stuff.
On tables, shelves, old, yellowing
Unsold, the copies lie.
“What can be done to save our jobs?
What is there left to try?”
Not a regular reader of The Tablet, and this critique isn’t what would come to my mind, but I love how this urbane writer does it.
PURITANS AND ROMANTICS: Religion was reduced by the Puritans “to mere morality,” the Puritan imagination was “thoroughly moralized,” said H.B. Parkes and H.W. Schneider respectively, both of them quoted by Yvor Winters in his 1930 book Maule’s Curse. The “highly stimulated” Puritan, said Winters, was “no longer guided by the flexible and sensitive ethical scholarship of the Roman tradition.” [italics mine] Highly stimulated but Calvinistically predestined, he was told by preachers he couldn’t repent even as he was told to repent, in some of the roughest, toughest preaching this side of Beelzebub.
This morality emphasis came to the fore when many years ago I profiled a Unitarian church I knew quite well, focusing on members’ common denominator, morality. The preacher was very good. But his game was morality, nothing but. Fellow Daily News man Bill Newman saw that and observed they would feel pretty good to be characterized that way. He was right. Morality sells. The doctrine that undergirds it does not.
Young romantics of the early 19th century did not feel as Puritans did. Love is free, said the poet Shelley at 19. Monogamy, he said, like religious faith “excludes us from all inquiry.”
Inquiry is it? I hadn’t heard that one. A learned senior Jesuit, asked about being married, or hearing someone wishing he was, observed, “Yes, it would be good to have someone to share your ideas with.” At 19 we young Jesuits laughed at that story, but I would quote it in refutation of Shelley.
But young romantics’ ideas were a bad deal for the women in their lives, being “illusory, naive, and damaging” especially to them. Several committed or tried to commit suicide, says Oliver Herford in his Times Literary Supplement 9/24/2010 review of Daisy Hay’s book Young Romantics and Richard Marrgraff Turley’s Bright Stars.
Keats was another story. He read Chapman’s translation of Homer until daybreak with his friend Cowden Clarke, then left for a two-mile walk to the next town, composing on the way. (No small use was made here of an early-morning walk.) He wrote out his poem when he reached the town and sent it back by courier to Clarke, who read “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” — “Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold . . .” — when he opened the envelope.
Keats’s “realms of gold” went beyond the written page. On the voyage to Rome, consumption-stricken, he went out of his way to cheer up a fellow traveler, a young woman also a consumptive, offering “golden jokes” and helping her to “laugh and be herself,” according to Joseph Severn, who was accompanying Keats and would nurse him in his fatal illness in Rome.
Not-so-young romantics were not so dismissive of religion. William Wordsworth, for instance, showed respect for the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in calling Mary “our tainted nature’s solitary boast” — which was not bad for a separated brother.
POLITICALLY SPEAKING: If I were to drop a bundle, I said in early December, commenting on Republican politics, it would be on Congr. Paul Ryan’s Prosperity PAC, which picks fiscally principled smarties in congressional primaries. As for the presidential race (I said then), Romney’s the man, Newt a comparative fly-by-night. In any case, congressional votes tell. Go Ryanistas. (I said.) I have veered Newt-ward since then, as here.
Right now, pre-Florida, I find Newt wanting in various ways which he has overcome time and again and could when faced with the Liar-in-Chief in November and Mitt wanting in willingness and/or ability to do more than clog the airwaves with anti-Newt stuff, including punch up and out a small-govt. tea-party-style message.
As for the Liar-in-Chief, just when I think he’s done the worst he can do, he comes up with another violation of all that’s good, true and beautiful. Now it’s Catholic hospitals and Obamacare’s birth control and abortion requirements. Phew.
TALKIE-TALK: AT&T woman, in re our longstanding two-line service: Why do you need two lines? Me: So two of us can talk at the same time in different conversations. (She asked a stupid question, got an obvious answer.) She was referring maybe to call-waiting as a way to catch a 2nd call. Or not. Maybe to some personal reason, which was not her business.
This was not typical of AT&T non-digital telephone service, by the way — which we must use because the radio station down the street spills into digital telephoning, in several languages. The telephone people follow an old tradition. The digital (U-verse) service is another matter. Comcast does immensely better.
* We hear someone’s bipolar. Clinically very bad, even condemnatory. We toss it about, hanging medical tags, which are much heavier than “he’s nuts” or “off his rocker,” or to roll one’s eyes. Same for Alzheimer’s, also clinical, vs. “losing it” or even “senile,” which we can wrap ourselves around. Not so a doc’s diagnosis, with its ring of finality.
* Heard in dentist office, from radio news lady doing traffic report: “Erections on the Jane Addams toll”! In broad daylight! What a gal!
At Dominican U in RF last night, Robert Hanning from Columbia U. on confession in the middle ages. Title led me to expect a socio-cultural explication but he was about close reading of Bocaccio and Chaucer.
I found the former heavy-handed in his slashing attack on church practice, producing cartoon characters — opera boffo? — none of them credible or noteworthy. The latter — dear Geoffrey — produced memorable people and made same points with relative understatement. Subtlety, thy name is not an Italian one.
Considered a q. during post-lecture q&a, where was holy mother church during all this? Besides indexing Bocaccio. But H. was not attuned to that, or seemed not to be, or had simply ruled that out a la monograph-style, not to mention journal-ready text with references and attributions right and left.
Appropriate, in that he was keynoting a joint meeting of the Illinois Medieval Assn. and the Midwest body of medievalists, this in DU’s near spanking-new Parmer Hall on west side of burgeoned if not still burgeoning campus.
From which I exited on Thatcher, by the way, using the easement much disputed by tree-huggers and forest preservers. The trees did not cry out at me as I hung a left and headed south.
A nice evening, for $10 that included a sip of wine and bite of something beforehand, sitting and watching medievalists chatter in clumps. A look at the ivory tower, you might say, without prejudice.
But I had to think about what Ezra Pound would say, he who moved ever in the mainstream of (literary and other) life and preferred jumping to (fascinating, engaging) conclusions. Takes all kinds.
Let the poet who has been not too long ago born make very sure of this, that no one cares to hear, in strained iambics, that he feels sprightly in spring, is uncomfortable when his sexual desires are ungratified, and that he has read about human brotherhood in last year’s magazines.
It’s a rum job, in other words.
On the contrary, the young poet must show promise to as few as a dozen readers of producing “some entanglement of words so subtle, so crafty that they can be read or heard without yawning” after reading Pindar or Keats. If he does so, he will find friendship “where he had little expected it” and will experience “delightful things . . . suddenly and with no other explanation.”
This was the prescription offered by Ezra Pound in 1911, in I Gather the Limbs of Osiris.
I like especially that telling about brotherhood as written up in last year’s magazines. Finding thirty or twelve readers fits Pound’s idea of what’s worth doing. He pursued it all his life and became the guiding light of an era.
The morning read has two parts, I must add to yesterday’s Breakfast Challenge, pre– and at-breakfast. There’s coffee in both, but one is pre-walk, the other after it. Difference is, at the 2nd you take in heavier food requiring digestion, at the 1st lighter that is not so demanding on internal excretions. At the 1st, rather than imbibing newspaper-style stuff with coffee — one cup at most — you want what makes best use of your semiconscious state, such as poetry by Pound or, as now, criticism by Hugh Kenner.
His book on American fiction and poetry (A Homemade World, Morrow, 1975) lies now on the little reading table in the front room, far from PC and ‘Net. It’s a copy I picked up some time back, now with neat 5×8 1/2 paperback pages that come off in my hand, one by one. I keep it all together with a nice fat rubber band. This volume, to use the word loosely, is nothing to take on an “L” train.
Kenner contrasts Wallace Stevens the insurance exec — not health insurance: we are now allowed to hate him — with William Carlos Williams the GP — you gotta love a GP — who wrote a mere eight years apart, Dr. Williams coming later.
What he says about them, frankly, I’d be hard-pressed to tell in detail. I can say it includes this, that Stevens of Hartford saw poems as having something to say and saying it well or poorly, in that order (Kenner rated that the most egregious “misunderstanding” in literary history, of which he knows quite a lot), Williams of Camden the opposite. For Williams words are parts of a machine, for Stevens the maker of things we can believe in.
If that’s not perfectly clear, to use a Nixonian phrase (remember?) adopted by Obama, leaving out “perfectly,” try this, that as a Christian reader I got more to conjure with from Stevens than from Williams.
What does all this say? That I read something that I could not fully absorb but by which I was absorbed by. Not to mention that I was warmed and satisfied, as I was by that single cup.
This is mainly — no, entirely — Kenner is so smart and well-versed and articulate and word-wise that he could probably get my attention and absorption if he were discussing the national debt or nuclear fission.
I’d be entertained as I read along, taken up into something bigger than myself that I could take seriously, which, to return to yesterday’s Breakfast Table item, I do not ask of a newspaper. Of a newspaper I ask only to keep little gray cells going at a rate consistent with digesting cereal, prunes, and even eggs, the making of my true, main breakfast.
Selected Poems of Ezra Pound (New Directions PB, 1957) has my attention. Can’t wholly explain my fascination, but it’s so much about diction. His language is it. His intellect and interpretation of things.