Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Pound’s Spirit of Romance


Terrific (a solace, the recognizable) how the usual (necessary) distinctions get made by Pound in The Spirit of Romance: the pared down, restrain’d (decorous) “classic” versus the exfoliating, copious, and rife (ornament’d) “romance” (Pound calls it—it being the brash fulgent “excessive” style in Latin, primary exemplar being the “scurrilous, bejeweled prose” of Apuleius—“unclassical,” only to add, “from which certain qualities in ‘romance’ literature may be derived”—meaning, natch, il miglior fabbro Arnaut Daniel, the bird-talker). Of the work of Apuleius: “Restraint, which drives the master toward intensity and the tyro toward aridity, has been abandoned. The charm of neatness has lost its power; the barbaric and the Gothic mind alike delight in profusion.” Par contra, the “classical” metamorphoses of Ovid (“the sophisticated Naso” in the 1910 edition), “urbane, sceptical, a Roman of the city,” who “writes, not in a florid prose, but in a verse which has the clarity of French scientific prose”:
      “Convenit esse deos et ergo esse credemus.”
      “It is convenient to have Gods, and therefore we believe they exist”; and with all pretence of scientific accuracy he ushers in his gods, demigods, monsters and transformations. His mind, trained to the system of empire, demands the definite. The sceptical age hungers after the definite, after something it can pretend to believe. The marvellous thing is made plausible, the gods are humanized, their annals are written as if copied from a parish register; the heroes might have been acquaintances of the author’s father.
(See, in “our” current imperium, the unwavering demands for “the definite,” nose in the dirt Objectivism on the left, farm-boy plain-speech on the right.) According to Pound, Ovid’s flights are ground’d—note, he says, how “in witness of Daedalus’ skill as a mechanic . . . observing the backbone of a fish, he . . . invented the first saw.”

The point: to resurrect Arnaut Daniel, he whom Dante allows (“the subtlest compliment”)—Pound notes—to talk (in the Purgatorio, at the end of Canto 26) “not in Italian, but in his own tongue; an honour paid to no one else in the Commedia.” The complaint against Daniel—bugaboo of the “classic” writers (of any “era”): difficulty. Pound:
The sum of the charges against Daniel [“whom everyone admits to have a finer technique than any other Troubadour”—thus reads a line in the 1910 edition, later expunged] seems to be that he is difficult to read; but a careful examination of the text shows that this is due not so much to obscurities of style, or to such as are caused by the constraints of complicated form, and exigency of scarce rimes, but mainly to his refusal to use the “journalese” of his day, and to his aversion from an obvious, familiar vocabulary. He is not content with conventional phrase, or with words which do not convey his exact meaning; and his words are therefore harder to find in the dictionaries.
Donc, the story of all donkey excess. See, par example, the “difficult” Mr. Ashbery’s “Uptick” (out of Planisphere), how it hints that the “brilliant moisture” of poetry is some precious deposit caught between the minutes, (thinking, tout à coup and unfathomably of Apollinaire’s lovely line in “Cortège,” “Rien n’est mort que ce qui n’existe pas encore”—and isn’t there, somewhere, an Orphic Apollinairean line I like to sassily translate as—“I tick’d off my years and they fled”?) a “precious” “waste”? Ashbery:
We were sitting there, and
I made a joke about how
it doesn’t dovetail: time,
one minute running out
faster than the one in front
it catches up to.
That way, I said,
there can be no waste.
Waste is virtually eliminated.

To come back for a few hours to
the present subject, a painting,
looking like it was seen,
half turning around, slightly apprehensive,
but it has to pay attention
to what’s up ahead: a vision.
Therefore poetry dissolves in
brilliant moisture and reads us
to us.
A faint notion. Too many words,
but precious.
Caught in the apprehensive (apprehend’d by) the shine of (glare?) “a painting, looking like it was seen”—or a poetry that reads us (and necessarily writes us): time itself turning back at each instant to look itself over, move on. (Flailing, with a grappling hook made of “brilliant moisture” I am. I love how Pound refers to the sestina—“invented by Arnaut Daniel”—as “a form like a thin sheet of flame folding and infolding upon itself.”)

I ought to add to yesterday’s conjunct of Dante’s scent of panther “everywhere and nowhere” and Pound’s river of art “independent” of its bed, the Coleridge (quoted by Pound in The Spirit of Romance—some niggling idjit in my own sieve of a judgment box is saying somebody recently call’d the same to my attention of late): “Our genuine admiration of a great poet is for a continuous undercurrent of feeling; it is everywhere present, but seldom anywhere a separate excitement.” Oddly enough, Pound, bulldozing a little, follows the Coleridge with: “Another test of the poetic art is the single line.” Workshop miasma talk: “Good line!” And, seeing’s “we” ’ve begun that particularly mundane descent—how apropos Pound’s report of one poor troubadour’s “razo,” a kind of “author’s note” apparently—Pound calls it—vaguely—a “prose preface,” though to what isn’t precisely clear. Pound:
      The artless razo, with its apparent lack of cohesion, often gives a great deal of information in few words. [The 1910 edition adds: “To me it would seem rivalled only by the Hebrew and the Anglo-Saxon chronicles: presumably this terseness is given to those who use the quill with difficulty.”]
      Perhaps that on Daude de Pradas, Canon of Magalona, who knew full well the nature of birds of prey, may be taken as a model of adequate speech: it summarizes his poetic career: “And he made canzoni because he had a will to make canzoni and not because love moved him to it; and nobody thought much of him or of his songs either.”
Plus ça change . . . same old bag of fish.

The other addition to yesterday: I note that Noel Stock, in an introduction to Pound’s 1960 Impact: Essays on Ignorance and the Decline of American Civilization writes: “So far as I know there has been no serious discussion regarding the influence of the De Vulgari Eloquio on Pound’s prose—as regards style, that is—quite apart from the fact that it was in this book that Pound received severe instruction in the use of language and discovered the term directio voluntatis, link between Confucius and the best of medieval Europe.”

Arnaut Daniel, fl. 1180–1200
(Bibliothèque Nationale)

Ieu sui Arnaut qu’amas l’aura
E chatz le lebre ab lo bou
E nadi contra suberna

I am Arnaut who gathers up the wind,
And chases the hare with the ox,
And swims against the torrent.

[Pound, though, reads
qu’amas as “who loves”]