Friday, April 04, 2008

One Night Every Thousand

Woodlot and Field

Coleridge (Notebooks, c. 1801): “A man illiterate but of good parts by constant reading of the Bible will naturally contract a more winning and commanding Rhetoric than those that are learned, the intermixture of Tongues & of artificial phrases debasing their style.” Tending to color the Lyrical Ballads Preface-entreaty for using “a selection of language really used by men” in the wan tints of anti-intellectualism, contra-alterity. Peut-être, one adds, wholly “unwinningly.” In an entry wherein, too, Coleridge notes some valiant meteorological reasoning of Paracelsus: “That the absence of the Sun is not the cause of Night, forasmuch as his light is so great that it may illuminate the earth all over at once; but that Night is brought on by the influence of dark Stars that ray out darkness and obscurity upon the Earth, as the sun does light.—” Though immediately revising the equation: “That Stars are Plants, & that the Lightnings without Thunder are as it were the deciduous flowers of the Æstival Stars—” Recurrent forms and forkings. I’d love to see “dark Stars that ray out darkness,” inhabit a world kin to a photographic negative. (Odd to think how digital photography stymies the negative, eventually it’ll become invisible to common fancy, no? Think of the shuddery thrill of squinting through old C-41 color reversed strips—faded, awry—the greens gone to magenta, the red lips complementarily and crazily cyan’d.) The stars, the stars: for weeks now I keep thinking of Emerson’s revelatory: “If the stars should appear but one night every thousand years how man would marvel and stare.” A way to prime one’s board’d up well-shaft, get the pump-handle moving without that god-awful screech, just to (Preface, again) “Throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way,” meaning look at the present marvels with a little alacrity, bub.

Out across the snow-tamp’d fields, mat’d down grasses all mute yellows, a spurious number of grays, lovable grays, the buckthorn stubble chop’d back, shirt-sleeved. Grackles back north, hocking up the gutturals, dragging they big tails. Red wing’d blackbirds around the pond, reedy deep trills, wary, keeping a distance. Two mallards push off out of beneath the thicket overhang and stream out two trailing V’s to the other side, the dog pretending unconcern. Aimless finicks of sentry crows, off rookery duty. Tangles of red osiers and snow patches in the undergrowth. A flock of robins scouring the bare soil of the community garden plots. I love how Coleridge fills several pages of the Notebook with lists of plants, energies of hand-scripture making memory dents. Sampling:
      Adders Tongue. Alder. Ale-hoof. All-good. All-heal. Allisander. Alkanet. Anise. Agrimony. Archangel. Arrow-grass. Arrow-head. Arsmart. Ash-weed. Asp. Asphodel. Awl-wort.
      Balm. Bane-berries. Bank-cresses. Balm. Basil. Barbery. Barley. Bast. Bastard-Cress. Bastard-parsley. Bastard-pellitory. Bawd-money. Bear-berries. Bears-foot. Bee-flower. Beet. Bell-flower. Bent. Bethlem-star. Betony. Bilberries. Bird’s eye. Bird’s foot. Bird’s nest. Bistort. Bitter-cresses. Bitter-sweet. Black-berried Heath. Black berry. Black thorn. Bladder-Campion. Bladder-nut-tree. Bladders’ snout. Blea-berries. Blinks. Blite. Blood-wort. Blue bottle. Bog-moss. Bog-rush. Borage. Bottle moss. Box. Brakes. Bramble. Branks. Breakstone. Bromegrass. Brook lime. Brook weed. Broom. Broomrape. Bruisewort. Bryony. Buckbean. Bucks horn. Sea buck thorn. Buck-wheat. Buddle. Bugle. . . .
I linger, thinking if names I know correspond at the cusp of eighteenth-nineteenth century Britain to plants pushing forth up out of the woodlots and mown fields of twenty-first century Michigan. Is “Bucks horn” my buckthorn? Or is “Sea buck thorn”? Or, why’s “Bladder-nut-tree”—“constantly amalgamating disparate experience”—make me think of Ashbery’s “Fantasia on ‘The Nut Brown Maid’”—“loops of reading”? Or, why’d the line “the husbandry of blinks” begin a feral dominance of the early morning mid-shower oscultating of the voices “barking” in the brainbox?

Loops of reading. Think of Edward Thomas making natural history “field notes” in 1917 near Arras, France. “Snowdrops at foot of peartrees by Decanville Railway.” “Magpies over No Man’s Land in pairs.” “Larks, partridges, hedge-sparrows, magpies by O. P.” “Chaffinches and partridges, moles working on surface.” All drop’d in hallucinatory interspersal in amongst lines like “Tea at 244 after seeing 2 of our planes down, one on fire with both burnt to death after alighting.” “Fired 100 rounds from 12-1:30.” “Fired 600 rounds and got tired eyes and ears.”


Crazily cyan’d the sky, blue
Minion to the sea below
In a kind of reversal
Whereby accuracy unaccountably flaunts whatever’s
Thrown over it for accounting.
—Henry ain’t here. Henry’s out
Gathering a bouquet of bawd-
someone’d announce and it’d
Bramble up the mystery of
Language’s husbandry of itself. For
It, too, flowers and forks,
Branches up out of loam
Or horizon like lightning, mete
With its own severe mettle.
Never bastard, never brakes, it
Is arse-smart and radical,
Raying out of the earth,
Grackle-black and guttural, launching
Itself up into the high
Reach of willow dragging its
Big boat of a tail.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Mr. Kirkland, c. 1815
(“that there may be sent by the Bearer three ounces of Laudanum—(in the accompanying bottle—or whatever quantity it may hold) half an oz of crude opium (if there be none purified)—& two ounces of the Tincture of Cardomum”)