Ian Hamilton Finlay, c. 1994
(Photograph by Jürgen Röhrscheid)
(Photograph by Jürgen Röhrscheid)
Out of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Domestic Pensées: 1964-1972 (Aggie Weston’s Editions, 2004),* some pensées I particularly liked:
Syrup is a dallying stuffLargely vittles and such, that.** “A melee of peaches” is sweetly echoed by “A melee of knees”—making operable (through transitivity: “If A = B and A = C, then B = C”) a pleasing knees / peaches connect reached across a peaceable relinquishment of pages (“The essence of a good anthology is dipping and shipping”). Others (likely unmitigatedly and pointedly writ—see Finlay’s Platonic dictum “Speech is sober”***):
A tedium of lettuce
A melee of peaches
A south-facing gooseberry
Wild strawberries tasting of railway embankments in July
An abandoned banana
A pudding of great ferocity
Chin-high in burdock
A wee pre-emptive experienceThat final pensée indubitably Keatsian, “vexed” a plainer rehash of his “irritable reaching . . .” One might apply the “benevolence = sloth” warning—among others—to the interminably mild literary “front”—think of the routinely benign (if not obsequious) miens of poetry reviewers. (See, too, Finlay’s “Decorum is the last refuge of dirty rotters”). Others (succinct):
A general benevolence is most frequently a form of sloth
Allegory is a kind of painting by numbers
Idioms are essences
Avant-garde—is page 56 on page 56?
It is reprehensible to react against fashion—but not half so reprehensible as simply to follow it
Completely objective and therefore fatuous [of descriptions]
The character in Kafka who says, “How like Kafka” and goes off whistling cheerfully
People who won’t bear doubt must put up with being vexed
A posse of waspsAnd the oddly supernumerary: “A cross between a tiger and a dish-cloth (Albers) (pussy).” The pensées undoubtedly kin to the various groupings of “detached sentences” found in Finlay’s work. Here, out of the Alec Finlay-edited Ian Hamilton Finlay: Selections (University of California Press, 2012), some “Detached Sentences on Gardening”:
A spray of sparrows
A midgy moon
Strawberries grown in hollow logs stood upright, are not inferior to small orchards, in the pleasure given by the bark, and leaves, and fruit.Lovely addenda to the sentence claiming weather “the chief content”—out of Finlay’s “Interpolations in Hegel” (replying to Hegel’s line “Mutability lies in the notion of existence, and change is only the manifestation of what it implicitly is”): “It is the flux which fills out the form.” And, in “Detached Sentences on Weather in the Manner of William Shenstone” one sees Finlay’s commitment to the unbrunted ever-changingness**** of being itself: “Constant weather ceases to be weather.” Or: “Weather is an intimation of the being of the world.” (And: “The sound of bees is a weather—that of woodpigeons too.”) Some “Detached Sentences on the Pebble” (is it merely the repetitions of PEBBLE that recall the Jubilate Agno of Christopher Smart?):
Formal gardens are (as it were) statues of Nature.
It is permissible, in the Art of gardening, to substitute a mooring-post for a boat.
The sundial’s true content is Time, the clock’s is the time.
Used tools moralise.
Weather is the chief content of gardens, yet it is the one thing in them over which the gardener has no control.
The art of gardening is like the art of writing, of painting, of sculpture; it is the art of composing, and making a harmony, with disparate elements.
A PEBBLE is a crumb of Ancient Geology.What is left at the end of reading through the Selections: a sense of Finlay’s intrepid wit and undaunted integrity. A writer who weighs each syllable (Sidney’s “peysing each sillable”)—one pensée reads “One thought, one letter”—and insists that “Better than truth to materials is truth to intelligence.” To end, out of “Selected Dispatches of Louis Antoine Saint-Just,” a mash-up:
A PEBBLE is a form of perfect vacuity, as a wild-flower is of modesty.
The modern PEBBLE is prized as a sculpture, as it were, of a PEBBLE.
The wide appreciation of PEBBLES is a remote consequence of Protestantism.
The PEBBLE is foolishly admired as being hand-made by the Ocean.
Too much has been made of the untutored PEBBLE.
Opulence is infamy. (There is a difference between living well and living profusely. The one arises from contentment and order, and decency and frugality; the other from dissoluteness and luxury, and disorder and indecency. Epictetus.)