Friday, June 29, 2012

Angel in the Forest

Marguerite Young, c. 1970

The ever-pertinent (and ever-neglected) Marguerite Young (out of the 1945 Angel in the Forest: A Fairy Tale of Two Utopias):
      In a narrow defile between two mighty mountains, hemmed in by walls of everlasting ice and snow, a multitude of English soldiers, poor cotton weavers on a holiday, were slain by the long guns, English manufacture, of the Afghan raiders, safe on the clouded precipice above them. For the sake of carbuncles as big as Jews’ heads cut off at the nape, and for the sake of many other considerations, largely mundane, many Christian soldiers, with nothing but the bags upon their backs, were sent to certain death in India, and many horrors were perpetuated. There were wars throughout India and the Orient, in far-off mountain regions, jungles, deserts, at Jalalabad, Bokhara, Lahore, Rangoon, and all the places which, as names, evoked romance and deathless dreams in the England of that day. Oh, Xanadu of the soul, and caverns measureless to man! In retribution for the spoliation by nameless Moslems of the bodies of two otherwise nameless Presbyterians, Macnaghten and Burnes, the beautiful bazaar of Kabul, a city which had been dedicated to holy thought, a city of gleaming temples, clusters of bells, bearded patriarchs, and many doves of peace, was burned to the ground before evacuation by Her Majesty’s forces. Unfortunate but necessary to the march of progress. Throughout all of India thereafter, there were head-hunters, both Christian and non-Christian, acute mental sufferings, dysentery, destruction, festering sores, confusions as inevitable as the march of progress, according to some points of view.
      Nor was India the only theater, Just as France conquered Algeria because its ruler flicked a fly-swatter in the face of the French consul, and as other wars for the expansion of empire have been fought on the pretext of other and less important matters, England fought a long, protracted war with China, and for no realistic reason, apparently. The Chinese “Sons of Heaven,” as they were called, refused, in 1839, to allow opium to be imported for Chinese consumption from India, where the British held a monopoly on languorous poppy fields and fäerie lands forlorn. Here was the English merchants’ opportunity—a poetic pretext for invasion. As a result of this war opium factories were opened at Hong Kong; China became a place of gossamer waftings, and the Chinese “Sons of Heaven” lost some of their old arrogance in their dealings with Windsor. “As children say the snow brings more snow, so did this war with China bring on others.” Throughout the entirety of Queen Victoria’s reign, there was always a war going on, though England grew stuffier and stuffier, more and more respectable, more and more serene—perhaps as a result of that great opiate, Matthew Arnold’s “sweetness and light,” and easy virtues in the drawing rooms at Windsor.
      How different the world outside! The New Poor Law, passed in 1834, as it placed husband and wife, parents and children in separate pauper barracks, had virtually the effect of destroying the family, an institution so admired by Queen Victoria and the Victorians . . .
Plus ça change jubilee—only the name of the warring imperium doth differ. “War without end.” Ineffectual humanism comme opiate.

Turned to Young’s Angel in the Forest after reading “Miss Young, My Darling,” a chapter in Bruce Kellner’s Kiss Me Again: An Invitation to a Group of Noble Dames (Turtle Point Press, 2002). Kellner notes how he once received what Young herself called a “casually selected page” out of Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, the novel she was then writing. Kellner:
On the back of the envelope she wrote: “Brought by messenger pigeons across several seas.” It was a page of manuscript, numbered 910, but in reading Miss MacIntosh, My Darling more than once in later years, I never discovered it in print. That is no assurance it is not there, of course, buried in that dense forest of words that encourages enchantment and somnolence in just about equal measure.
“This casually selected page” recalls Stanley Spencer’s paintings, the holy redounding up out of the commonplace, everything in flux and flood:
. . . woman might be man, and sun might be moon, and dog might be owl, and turrets spoke with human voices, and men were sea-shells, and hands flew through clouded, opalescent heavens stretching endlessly like the memory of alien thought. Perhaps he had asked too much of life, too much of death, even though the very fact that he had made no demands, no unusual demands of any kind, that he had been passive and receptive, asking nothing, it seemed to him. He had been content to follow his usual routines which had been protective, setting his watch where there was no time. Or perhaps the haunted questions were the only answers as the autumn leaves fell, fell with long whirling and sighing, fell through him, fell where there was no one. Perhaps he fell, clutching at a rope of song sparrows like some mad bell-ringer forever ringing himself. Perhaps there was no creator but the temporal creation forever changing, that which was this chaos rolling like the dark flood, and he was part of it even as his dead brother was, his brother being that faceless face upon the darkening flood, and every man was every other man, and mortal was immortal . . .
Full-throated arias, untempered, socially conscientious, commingling. Kellner notes, too, how Miss MacIntosh, My Darling “appeared in 1965 to a largely negative press, mostly male, mostly bewildered, mostly angry. William Goyen in the New York Times Book Review praised it, but Time made cruel fun of it, and so did plenty of others.”
She survived that to immerse herself in a biography of, first, James Whitcomb Riley, a long ago promise to herself to resurrect the reputation of our fellow Hoosier, and then, instead, Eugene V. Debs, whose life would occupy the rest of hers and result in a manuscript of about twenty-five hundred pages. In Marguerite Young’s obituary in the New York Times, an editor at Alfred A. Knopf was quoted as saying that the book needed “just a little more pruning”; Knopf had accepted it three years before, with 1995 as a projected date of publication. It finally appeared in 1999 as Harp Song for a Radical, severely truncated to about one fourth its length . . .
All the stray manuscripts of Young ought to be printed, and as originally intended.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Timothy H. O’Sullivan, “Shoshone Falls, Snake River, Idaho,” 1874

“The igloo sun, while I was away,
Chastened the wolverine towels.
Isn’t Idaho the wolverine state
Anyway Ohio is the flower state
New York is the key state.
Bandana is the population state.
In the hay states of Pennsylvania and Arkansas
I lay down and slept.
The cross delirium tremens state of Mississippi
Led me to further discoveries:
Timbuctoo, for instance. And Ashtabula,
The towel city . . .”

        —John Ashbery, out of “The Suspended Life” (The Tennis Court Oath, 1962)

If he had left Connecticut he might have gotten to Washington, perhaps to Utah and Idaho, and if he had he might have gotten lost. That is the way he felt about Connecticut.

        —Gertrude Stein, out of Ida (1941)

A unique rolling stone, gathering–or thinking he would gather–a unique kind of moss, he spent many summers wandering from spa to spa. His complaint was difficult to cure because it was both vague and variable: attacks of melancholy when his mind would be benumbed with unspeakable forebodings and nothing except an abrupt change of surroundings could bring relief; or else a recurrent state of physical distress marked by shiverings when no abundance of clothing could warm his limbs and when the only thing that helped, if persistently repeated, was a brisk walk–the longer the better. The paradox was that while needing constant movement to prompt inspiration, this movement physically prevented him from writing . . . Dresden, Bad Gastein, Salzburg, Munich, Venice, Florence, Rome, Florence, Mantua, Verona, Innsbruck, Salzburg, Karlsbad, Prague, Greifenberg, Berlin, Bad Gastein, Prague, Salzburg, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Rome, Nice, Paris, Frankfurt, Dresden,—and all over again, this series with its repetitions of names of grand tour towns is not really the itinerary of a man seeking health—or collecting hotel labels to show in Moscow, Idaho, or Moscow, Russia—but merely the dotted line of a vicious circle with no geographical meaning.

        —Vladimir Nabokov, out of “Nikolay Gogol (1809-1852)”
        (Lectures on Russian Literature (1981)

O all ye isolate and separate powers, Sing! Sing, and sing in such a way that from a distance it will seem a harmony, a Strindberg play, a friendship ring . . . so happy—happy, happy, happy—as here we go hand in handling, up and down. Our union was a singing, though we were silent in the songs we sang like single notes are silent in a symphony. In no sense sober, we barbershopped together and never heard the discords in our music or saw ourselves as dirty, cheap or silly. Yet cats have worn out better shoes than those thrown through our love songs at us. Hush. Be patient—prudent—politic. Still, Cleveland killed you, Mr. Crane. Were you not politic enough and fond of being beaten? Like a piece of sewage, the city shat you from its stern three hundred miles from history—beyond the loving reach of sailors. Well, I’m not a poet who puts Paris to his temple in his youth to blow himself from Idaho, or—fancy that—Missouri. My god, I said, this is my country, but must my country go so far as Terre Haute or Whiting, go so far as Gary?

        —William H. Gass, out of “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country” (1967)

No but who said anything about drilling hey see it’s just this here timber up there like if we leased these here rights off them to help them out like we could . . . No listen it would too hey because some of these here Indians were real broke which wanted to divide up this whole preservation and sell off their . . . what? Oh, okay anyways see if we lease these here rights off the whole tribe these here broke Indians get something and we’re like bailing them out, see so I was thinking like if . . . No it’s like out by those Alberta and Western sites under them you know? like near all those mineral claims by you know where that big green state that goes along the top of . . . no where they’re like all by this here Great Lake under where Minnesota and Idaho both where? No because hey Nebraska’s like way out with Kansas and all beside Utah or someplace anyways I was just thinking, see . . .

        —William Gaddis, out of J R (1975)

“Chippewa” is the best name for the new n.w. Territory /

“Wyoming” is an inappropriate name doesn’t belong out there at all

“Idaho” (gem of the mountains) is not a very appropriate name.—would have been better, applied to Colorado. /

The great western mountain peaks (Colorado) three or four of them, (as Pikes Peak) among the grandest in the world, are seriously injured by vulgar names . . .

        —Walt Whitman, out of Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts (1984)
        “Inscribed in black ink on scrap of white wove paper . . .
        No date can be assigned other than before November, 1885.”

I live in Idaho. No, I live in Saint Paul. No, DerryWheat. No, a Placer Del Sol. Perhaps CleatRanch Western? Or a Marrywell, Delaware. Eventually the rosters fine down to Rhode Island, palace of brad arts and the costume brine resorts. Here I carefully casually placed each rock in its separation paperbox, thinking them all eggs. What did I know in peacefully grounded window with the sun going off the dog. Illimitable breakfastfood message packs. Whines behind the radiator. Lump seeded yard flats with vanilla. The car again had gone away on my poem. Once again wholly I was handed back, bright sun on nothing to do starring. Worry not, whatever of the past you’ve forgotten you have made up. Never go back to highschool, never recapped on foot stool. Evidently enough tests gone past. Lincoln Logs to Gabby Hayes. My trains went down the garbage, the cellar which is desire.

        —Clark Coolidge, out of Mine: The One That Enters the Stories (1982)

Nothing is weird here. Not even
Captain Jack’s Chaps, showing
the history of all the crawling bugs
in Idaho . . .

        —Edward Dorn, out of “Maximum Ostentation” (c. 1984)

Arrived at the Emerald City, Dorothy and friends were fitted with dark glasses, to filter the glitter and glare of it all, which otherwise would have blinded them. The Emerald City is Hollywood itself—theater!—manipulating us, with a dishonesty comparable to a politician’s, through our eager suspension of disbelief.
      How many American artists and writers have fled their barren Kansas or its equivalent, for a glittering Emerald City: Pound from Idaho, Eliot from Missouri, Crane from Chagrin Falls—the list is endless. And wherever they find themselves—Greenwich Village, London, the Left Bank, Bolinas—it is the Emerald City . . . and the green spectacles continue to protect their aging eyes.

        —Paul Metcalf, out of “The Wonderful White Whale of Kansas” (c. 1997)

this scaleless

jumble is superb

and accurate in its

of the thing they
would destroy—

Baptism of Poca-

with a little card

under it to tell
the persons

in the picture.

It climbs

it runs, it is Geo.

of Idaho it wears
a beard

it fetches naked

women from a river

Varnum Henderson

Willard’s corset is

        —William Carlos Williams, out of “It Is a Living Coral” (c. 1924)

      Even in Chicago as the brilliant young economist he lived pioneerfashion. . . . He kept his books in packingcases laid on their sides along the walls. His only extravagances were the Russian cigarettes he smoked and the red sash he sometimes sported. He was a man without smalltalk. When he lectured he put his cheek on his hand and mumbled out his long spiral sentences, reiterative like the eddas. His language was a mixture of mechanics’ terms, scientific latinity, slang, and Roget’s Thesaurus. The other profs couldn’t imagine why the girls fell for him so. . . .
      Tongues wagged so (Veblen was a man who never explained, who never could get his tongue around the essential yes . . .) that his wife left him and went off to live alone on a timberclaim in Idaho and the president asked for his resignation.
      Veblen went out to Idaho to get Ellen Rolfe to go with him to California when he succeeded in getting a job at a better salary at Leland Stanford, but in Palo Alto it was the same story as in Chicago. He suffered from woman trouble and the constitutional inability to say yes and an unnatural tendency to feel with the workingclass instead of with the profittakers. There were the same complaints that his courses were not constructive or attractive to bigmoney bequests and didn’t help his students to butter their bread, make Phi Beta Kappa, pick plums off the hierarchies of the academic grove. His wife left him for good.

        —John Dos Passos, out of Big Money (1936)

Aint been a soul listening because no one listens to a bum all the other bums are blagdengabsting and you cant find nor finangilate yr way out of that—all talking at the same time and all of them confused. You have to go back to the railroad man to understand.—Like, say, you ask a man “Where’s track 109?” —nu—if it’s a bum he’ll say “Cart right over there dadday, and see if the old boy in the blue bandana knows, I’m Slim Holmes Hubbard from Ruston Louisiana and I got no time and got no knowledge to make me ways of knowin what where that track 109—only thing’s I got, is—I want a dime, if you can spare a dime I’ll go along my way peacefully—if you can’t I’ll go along my way peacefully—ya cant win—ya cant lose—and from between here to Bismarck Idaho I got nothin but lost and lost and lost everything I had.” You’ve got to admit these bums into your soul when they talk like that . . .

        —Jack Kerouac, out of “The Railroad Earth” (Lonesome Traveler, 1960)

Ron Padgett . . . showed up in Essex, with news of his discoveries in French poetry (Re- verdy, Max Jacob) and stories about the Tulsa days, when Ron, Dick Gallup, Joe Brainard and Ted had all been “on fire with being there.” Donald Davie didn’t know what to make of any of this. Ed Dorn was one thing, but Dorn was at least serious. When Davie asked Padgett a question about Idaho—a place where Davie had never been, but which he’d read about in Dorn’s poems—Ron grinned and said that the only thing he knew about that state was that Judy Garland had been born there, in a trunk . . . a non-sequitur which left Davie stumped.

        —Tom Clark, out of Late Returns: A Memoir of Ted Berrigan (1985)

I was born in a trunk
In the Princess Theatre in Pocatella, Idaho
It was during the matinee on Friday . . .

So I grew up in a crazy world of dressing rooms
And hotel rooms and waiting rooms
And rooms behind-the-scenes.
And I can’t forget the endless rows
Of sleepless nights and eatless nights
And nights without a nickel in my jeans.

But it’s all in the game and the way you play it
And you’ve got to play the game you know.
When you’re born in a trunk at the Princess Theatre
In Pocatello, Idaho.

        —Leonard Gershe (lyrics) and Roger Edens (music), out of “Born in a Trunk”
        (A Star Is Born, 1954)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dash and Plod

Gertrude Stein, c. 1945
(Photograph by André Ostier)

Sense of continually going at foolish speeds along some sharp-angling river road in the black night, willow thickets and wash skittering through the careening movie of the highbeams. Liable to scoot off in a constant arc, sailing out into the willows, where the road turns explicably off, avoiding the bright slurry and waggle of water. Writing beyond the blunt exigencies of thinking. Do I think of Gertrude Stein’s sly opening to Fernhurst (c. 1904)? (No.) Nevertheless:
      A guest of honor so custom demands begins an address with praise and humor and speaking to the ideals of the audience clothes the laudations in the technical language of the hearers’ profession. It is known that post prandial attention must be fished with this bait and only slowly rises to interest and labor. So the selected bandar-log begins his imitating chatter with the praise of repetition and a learned lady delights her audience with a phrase and bids them rejoice in their imperfections.
(I rejoice here in my imperfections. I chatter irresponsibly, like a macaque, or any species of monkey.) One proceeds by latching onto whatever it is one latches onto, no covetousness or beleaguered “need” allowed. (See the swashbuckling Stevens, in “The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet” (1942), attempting to make the unrankable brash giddiness of poetry “superior” to philosophy:
. . . if the end of the philosopher is despair, the end of the poet is fulfillment, since the poet finds a sanction for life in poetry that satisfies the imagination. Thus, poetry, which we have been thinking of as at least the equal of philosophy, may be its superior. Yet the area of definition is almost an area of apologetics. The look of it may change a little if we consider not that the definition has not yet been found but that there is none.
I know not what I do. Either. I “need” not know what I do. To work a space without definition, unbounded and defenseless, that’s one aim. To eschew the laudatory trappings, to voice in no technical language to none who profess. To talk tree-talk, willow-talk, the crepitant wastrel talk of water continually shushing through river rocks. And worry no foolishness of trajectory or vitesse. (You will inevitably leave some things behind.) Why do I find it such solace to read Stein’s measured modulatory timbre, its push become caress? Out of “The Gradual Making of The Making of Americans”:
      When you come to feel the whole of anyone from the beginning to the ending, all the kind of repeating there is in them, the different ways at different times repeating comes out of them, all the kinds of things and mixtures in each one, anyone can see then by looking hard at any one living near them that a history of every one must be a long one. A history of any one must be a long one, slowly it comes out from them from their beginning to their ending, slowly you can see it in them the nature and the mixtures in them, slowly everything comes out from each one in the kind of repeating each one does in the different parts and kinds of living they have in them, slowly then the history of them comes out from them, slowly then any one who looks well at any one will have the history of the whole of that one. Slowly the history of each one comes out of each one. Sometimes then there will be a history of every one. Mostly every history will be a long one. Slowly it comes out of each one, slowly any one who looks at them gets the history of each part of the living of any one in the history of the whole of each one that sometime there will be of every one.
Dirge slowly, and inhabit the whole surround. Or scat abruptly, and decode, piecemeal, the scatter. Against my joy at “the tremors of fickle solemnity” of Stein’s Making of Americans lines, my dismay at pronouncements like (Stein to Louis Bromfield, “early summer 1932”): “I am working a lot I am trying to write a long dull poem like the long ones of Wordsworth and it is very interesting to do I was always fond of these long dull poems well anyway make the weather better and come to see us . . .” Against the complete, against the completory urge. For the slipshod, for the lurch without recovery, for the stolen kisses. Stein, again (“The Gradual Making of The Making of Americans”):
      When I was working with William James I completely learned one thing, that science is continuously busy with the complete description of something, with ultimately the complete description of anything with ultimately the complete description of everything. If this can really be done the complete description of everything then what else is there to do. We may well say nothing, but and this is the thing that makes everything continue to be anything, that after all what does happen is that as relatively few people spend all their time describing anything and they stop and so in the meantime as everything goes on somebody else can always commence and go on. And so description is really unending. When I began The Making of Americans I knew I really did know that a complete description was a possible thing, and certainly a complete description is a possible thing. But as it is a possible thing one can stop continuing to describe this everything. That is where philosophy comes in, it begins when one stops continuing describing everything.
That “continually busy” scientism with its reverie of “the compleat” continues to trouble and ordain la poesía norteamericana: one “need” look no further than Ron Silliman’s The Alphabet (now subsumed under some larger umbrage, the titularly-querulous Universe or the “selected bandar-log”-sounding Ketjak) . . . Is it not “philosophy” that “begins when one stops continuing describing everything,” but “poetry”? Wouldn’t Stevens, for one, think so?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Enrique Vila-Matas’s Dublinesque (Reading Notes)

Enrique Vila-Matas

Reference levels (and dodges obvious or not). In Enrique Vila-Matas’s Dublinesque* (New Directions, 2012), talk of the “French artist” Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, whose works “connect literature and cities, films and hotels, architecture and abysses, mental geographies and authors’ quotations”:
She is a great lover of the art of quotation and very specifically of Godard’s technique from his early period, when he inserted quotations, the words of others—real or invented—into the action of his films.
Gonzalez-Foerster “is trying to create an apocalyptic culture of the literary quotation, a culture of the end of the line . . . or the end of the world.” In the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern she is putting together a piece that locates one in “a London of 2058, where it has been raining cruelly, without let-up, for years”:
      The idea . . . is that one sees how a great flood has transformed London, where the incessant rainfall over the last few years has had strange effects; there have been mutations in the urban sculptures, which, invaded by damp, have not just eroded, but have also grown monumentally, as if they were tropical plants or thirsty giants. In order to stop this tropicalization or organic growth, they are stored in the Turbine Hall, surrounded by hundreds of mental bunks that, day and night, cradle men who sleep, and other vagabonds and refugees from the flood.
(Other details of the exhibit: “books by Philip K. Dick, Robert Walser, Stanislaw Lem, James Joyce, Fleur Jaeggy, Jean Echenoz, Philip Larkin, Georges Perec, Marguerite Duras, W. G. Sebald . . .”; “undefined music . . . like an echo of the orchestra that went down with the Titanic” or “distorted jazz . . . a hybrid style that, one day, will be called electric Marienbad.”) Flood and barrage, distort and reverb, monumental glut and tedium—all the ingredients of contemporary cyber-“culture,” its rampancy like a cancer. The “men who sleep” do so out of avoidance and refusal, info-shy in the quasi-allegorical style. (Another seeming allegory: of “going off on mental tangents and making life more complicated than necessary.” The story of the Italian novelist “Carlo Emilio Gadda, who was a neurotic as admirable as he was phenomenal”:
Gadda threw himself into the page he was writing, with all his obsessions. And everything he did was incomplete. In a short article about risotto alla milanese, he made things so complicated that he ended up describing the grains of rice, one by one—including the moment when each one was still enveloped in its little husk, the pericarp—and naturally, he was unable to ever finish the text.
One way to complicate: keep the reader off-guard, recalling Godard’s quotations “real or invented” with hideous constancy. Both Gonzalez-Foerster’s Turbine Hall piece and Gadda’s recipe exist.)

What to do, though, with Larry O’Sullivan? Presented by Vila-Matas as “the Boston poet” and “very American” and “a master of putting trivial close to the lyrical.” One character—a Columbian by the name of Ricardo—talks up Larry O’Sullivan’s work to Vila-Matas’s protagonist Samuel Riba:
. . . recites a few line about walking through downtown Boston: “I go get a shoeshine / and walk up the muggy street beginning to sun / and have a hamburger and a malted and buy / an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets / in Ghana are doing these days . . .
O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died,” of course, only slightly butchered. Why the odd maneuver of such a poorly arranged skein hiding no identity? Though it may (hide). I find myself examining each and every literary factoid for signs of inauthenticity: Is Vilém Vok, author of The Center real? (Yes.) Did Fernando Pessoa write a book called The Education of the Stoic? (Yes.) Did Hugo Claus write a book called The Sorrow of Belgium? (Yes.) Did Julien Gracq, author of The Opposing Shore, talk in a thunderstorm of bolts of lightning as “the unleashing of erroneous energy”? (Perhaps.) Is there something slyly self-referential about any number of such references?

Vila-Matas’s Samuel Riba (“he likes to see himself as the last publisher”***), propounding a “theory of the novel that, based on the lessons apparent to him the moment he opened The Opposing Shore, established five elements he considered essential for the novel of the future”:
These essential elements were: intertextuality; connection with serious poetry; awareness of a moral landscape in ruins; a slight favoring of style over plot; a view of writing that moves forward like time.
Not, of course, unlike the elements of Vila-Matas’s own novels.
* Translated out of the Spanish by Anne McLean and Rosalind Harvey.

** Excerpts: “For the broth, boil beef with carrot and celery, all three from the Po Valley, not a retired bull, with a Balkan spirit and horns . . .” And: “For the saffron . . . Carlo Erba Milan in sealed vials: this will run you ten twelve, at most fifteen lire per person: half a cigarette. Do not deceive the gods, do not forget Asclepius, do not betray your family, nor the guests protected by Jove Xenios, in order to deprive Carlo Erba of its reasonable profit. No!” And: “Risotto alla milanese must not be over-cooked, no, not at all! It should be served just a little more than al dente . . . the grains still individuals, not stuck to their companions, not softened into a slime, into a soup that could prove to be unpleasant.” The recommended rice: “Large-grained Vialone, shorter and plumier than the Carolina grain . . .” and never “entirely deprived of its pericarp.”

*** History of the literary publisher as book thief (anecdotally, hardly uncommon) and history of a purity of motif absconded:
Riba starts to remembering that his vocation as a publisher began during a trip to Paris after May ’68. As he was stealing left-wing essays with unusual happiness from the François Maspero bookshop—where the booksellers looked kindly upon people looting the place—he decided to devote himself to a profession as noble as that of publishing avant-garde novels and rebellious books that later enthusiasts would steal from the Maspero and other left-wing bookshops. Some years afterward, he changed his mind and gave the revolutionary dream up for dead and decided to be reasonable and charge for the books he published.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ashbery / Stein

Gertrude Stein, 1874–1946

The weekend expended conducting a vehicle thither and yon, a/c kaput. Yon being next to Mayville, New York. A delivery of sorts. “They may lightly send it away to say / That they will not change it if they may / Nor indeed by the time that it is made / They may indeed not be careful that they were thankful / That they should distinguish which and whenever / They were not unlikely to mean it more / Than enough not to decide that they would not / Or well indeed if it is not better / That they are not cautious . . .” Gertrude Stein’s Stanzas in Meditation, natch. Rereading Ashbery’s 1957 “The Impossible”—appended with the title “The Impossible: Gertrude Stein” to the new Yale “corrected edition” of the Stanzas—and struck by the pertinence of:
      Perhaps the word that occurs oftenest in the Stanzas is the word “they,” for this is a poem about the world, about “them.” (What a pleasant change from the eternal “we” with which so many modern poets automatically begin each sentence, and which gives the impression that the author is sharing his every sensation with some invisible Kim Novak.) Less frequently, “I” enters to assess the activities of “them,” to pick up after them, to assert her own altered importance. As we get deeper into the poem, it seems not so much as if we were reading as living a rather long period of our lives with a houseful of people. Like people, Miss Stein’s lines are comforting or annoying or brilliant or tedious. Like people, they sometimes make no sense and sometimes make perfect sense or they stop short in the middle of a sentence and wander away, leaving us alone for awhile in the physical world, that collection of thoughts, flowers, weather, and proper names. And, just as with people, there is no real escape from them . . .
(One wonders at the priggish audacity of the pronominal shift: where Ashbery’d writ “to assert his own altered importance,” one reads “to assert her own altered importance”—a rather unnecessary bit of historical updating; too, a semi-colon after “perfect sense” in the sentence beginning “Like people” is peremptorily removed—inflicting no little rhythmic havoc at no gain beyond a sense of wheeziness . . .) (Egg all down the phyiog. Where my complaints here assume editorial niggling, I see that Ashbery’s 2004 Selected Prose prints the piece—originally found in Poetry XC:4 (1957)—with the changes made, presumably, then, his own.)

Is the shifting play of pronouns an Ashbery borrowing off Stein? Is something like the small early piece “The Grapevine”—out of Ashbery’s 1956 Some Trees, that is, pre-“The Impossible”—essentially Stein-inflected?
Of who we are and all they are
You all now know. But you know
After they began to find us out we grew
Before they died thinking us the causes

Of their acts. Now we’ll not know
The truth of some still at the piano, though
They often date from us, causing
These changes we think we are. We don’t care

Though, so tall up there
In young air. But things get darker as we move
To ask them: Whom must we get to know
To die, so you live and we know?
Amidst such a barrage of imprecise and unattached particulars, one attaches oneself to that “piano,” or even to the “young air.” See Ashbery’s note of how, out of Steinian austerity—“‘stanzas’ . . . made up almost entirely of colorless connecting words”—any tossed down nounal tidbit flares up tangible and sweet: “like certain monochrome de Kooning paintings in which isolated strokes of color take on a deliciousness they never could have had out of context, or a piece of music by Webern in which a single note on the celesta suddenly irrigates a whole desert of dry, scratchy sounds in the strings.” Hence, “the impossible,” what Ashbery calls Stein’s “attempts to do what can’t be done, to create a counterfeit of reality more real than reality” (a line tempered by Ashbery’s earlier reference to “attempts to transmit a completely new picture of reality, of that real reality of the poet which Antonin Artaud called ‘une réalité dangereuse et typique.’”) Did Ashbery recall, in that “more real” William Carlos Williams’s formula “the perfection of new forms as additions to nature”? Or these lines out of Spring and All (1923):
      Imagination is not to avoid reality, nor is it description nor an evocation of objects or situations, it is to say that poetry does not tamper with the world but moves it—It affirms reality most powerfully and therefore, since reality needs no personal support but exists free from human action, as proven by science in the indestructibility of matter and of force, it creates a new object, a play, a dance which is not a mirror up to nature but—
      As birds’ wings beat the solid air without which none could fly so words freed by the imagination affirm reality by their flight . . .
(“Solid air” like that “certain monochrome” of de Kooning . . .) Ten years subsequent to “The Grapevine”—out of Ashbery’s “Soonest Mended”:
These then were some hazards of the course,
Yet though we knew the course was hazards and nothing else
It was still a shock when, almost a quarter of a century later,
The clarity of the rules dawned on you for the first time.
They were the players, and we who had struggled at the game
Were merely spectators, though subject to its vicissitudes
And moving with it out of the tearful stadium, borne on shoulders, at last.
Night after night this message returns, repeated
In the flickering bulbs of the sky, raised past us, taken away from us,
Yet ours over and over until the end that is past truth,
The being of our sentences, in the climate that fostered them,
Not ours to own, like a book, but to be with, and sometimes
To be without, alone and desperate.
Versus Stein:
Now I wish to tell quite easily well
Just what all there is of which to tell
Immediately increases hold as told
Or may they better be better be known
I have thought in thinking that is walking
That the way to be often more than told in walking
Is after all as much as told in walking
That they as well will be just not to have
Theirs be theirs now. It is not only this a change
But theirs might be
I have lost the thread of my discourse.
This is it it makes no difference if we find it
If we found it
Or which they will be bought if they worry or not
Without which if they begin or yet began
May they be equalled or equal in amount
When there is a doubt but most of course
Of course there is no doubt.
“To be with, and sometimes, / To be without.”

Hot in that car, brain-broiling hot.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Juan Gris, “Seltzer Bottle and Glass,” 1917

      Max Brod, whom they had left writing at the pensione, was already at the café, and was holding above his head a newspaper for them to see.
—They are going to fly at Brescia! he shouted, and a waiter who might have been bringing a seltzer to the Tsar of Bulgaria, so grave was his progress, looked with uninterrupted dignity over his shoulder at Max, who to him was but a Czech and probably a Jew, stamping his feet and rattling La Sentinella Bresciana in the air.
—Aeroplanes! Blériot! Cobianchi! Die Brüder Wright!

        —Guy Davenport, out of “The Aeroplanes at Brescia” (Tatlin! 1982)

                                                                A SELTZER BOTTLE

Any neglect of many particles to a cracking, any neglect of this makes around it what is lead in color and certainly discolor in silver. The use of this is manifold. Supposing a certain time selected is assured, suppose it is even necessary, suppose no other extract is permitted and no more handling is needed, suppose the rest of the message is mixed with a very long slender needle and even if it could be any black border, supposing all this altogether made a dress and suppose it was actual, suppose the mean way to state it was occasional, if you suppose this in August and even more melodiously, if you suppose this even in the necessary incident of there certainly being no middle in summer and winter, suppose this and an elegant settlement a very elegant settlement is more than of consequence, it is not final and sufficient and substituted. This which was so kindly a present was constant.

        —Gertrude Stein, out of Tender Buttons (1914)

How easy it is for a grenadine and seltzer to get into your nose when you laugh (bar in front of the Opéra Comique).

        —Franz Kafka, out of the Diaries (8 September 1911)

                      I could hear the hissing of soda water in the seltzer bottle and the roar
of the wind in the trees, the cat scratching at the back door, the mice rotating
in place like dust mice, the jangle
of keys the size of fenceposts the thunk of cylinders as the lock—what was
all the fuss about?—goes through the motions and the clipclopping door falls silent
again. Inside the place reeked of mildew and decay though it looked pretty tidy
considering no one had set foot there for twenty years. A newspaper, still dangling
precariously from the rim of the mail slot, hadn’t aged. There was a coffeepot, still warm,
on the stove.

        —John Ashbery, out of Flow Chart (1991)

A marble table top with a basket of bread. A bottle of seltzer water, preferably blue. A soup with egg drops. And two men talking. Talking, talking, talking. With burning cigarettes hanging from their blanched lips. Nearby a cellar with music: strange instruments, strange costumes, strange airs. The birds begin to warble, the air becomes over-heated, the bread piles up, the seltzer bottles smoke and sweat. Words are dragged like ermine through the spittled sawdust; growling, guttural dogs paw the air. Spangled women choked with tiaras doze heavily in their richly upholstered caskets of flesh. The magnetic fury of lust concentrates in dark, mahogany eyes.

        —Henry Miller, out of Sexus (1949)

& if I feel like a woman looming over Lautrec
With water weight & panties & murderous fuchsia underfoot
Those dying balloons on Job’s Lane sag around like saline breast implants
& pineal sunbeams sneak through my hair
Dirty but focused as screwy detectives or Plexiglas
I go to pieces in my adolescent pine
Amid blackheads, seltzer, a cold front
Falling into a decline
Like ladies on the prairies used to
In the klieg-lit house with the deodorant cakes in the upstairs johns . . .

        —Jeni Olin, out of “Blue Collar Holiday”
        (Blue Collar Holiday & A Valentine to Frank O’Hara, 2005)

      “It’s a masochistic impulse,” he said. “Whenever I have a vague twitch of optimism after swallowing somebody else’s bromo-seltzer, I take a dose of drivel like this and remind myself of the fact that ninety-nine per cent of the world is still imbecile, mechanistic, and pathological.”

        —Maxwell Bodenheim, out of Duke Herring (1931)

      “I’m a light sleeper. Every time you snore, you get hit with this,” waving the pillow.
      No kidding, either. The routine of snore, get belted with pillow, wake up, say hmm, fall back to sleep, goes on well into the morning. “Come on,” finally, “cut it out.”
      “Mouth-breather!” she yells. He grabs his own pillow and swings it at her. She ducks, rolls, hits the deck feinting with her pillow, backing toward the sideboard where the booze is. He doesn’t see what she has in mind till she throws her pillow and picks up the Seltzer bottle.
      The what, The Seltzer Bottle? What shit is this, now? What other interesting props have They thought to plant, and what other American reflexes are They after? Where’s those banana cream pies, eh?
      He dangles two pillows and watches her. “One more step,” she giggles. Slothrop dives in goes to hit her across the ass whereupon she lets him have it with the Seltzer bottle, natch. The pillow bursts against one marble hip, moonlight in the room is choked with feathers and down and soon with hanging spray from jets of Seltzer. Slothrop keeps trying to grab the bottle. Slippery girl squirms away, gets behind a chair. Slothrop takes the brandy decanter off of the sideboard, un-stoppers it, and flings a clear, amber, pseudopodded glob across the room twice in and out of moonlight to splash around her neck, between her black-tipped breasts, down her flanks . . .

        —Thomas Pynchon, out of Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)

. . . Man is a species of crocodile who does not relish his goodness or his vices unless they are half rotten.
      This was the time when the Parisians held every American responsible for the tragic execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. One evening at the Coupole Hart Crane was drunk and began roaring: “Down with France.” He was standing at the bar when the waiter behind the counter douched him with seltzer water. Had the waiter known that Hart Crane was the first poet of his country, he might have been even more savage.
      Crane threw a lump of traveler’s checks on the counter and, after looking about him, picked up a chair to hurl at the bartender . . .

        —Edward Dahlberg, out of “The Expatriates: A Memoir” (Alms for Oblivion, 1964)

The Goaders have gathered
for leaflet printing
and the ink is almost paste.
Hey Sarge, plow now, worry later,
then we can bring in those girls
from across town to spike the cider.
We can bromo-seltzer our enemies
into packaging this stuff,
our most valued asset—
nature walks galore . . .

        —Jennifer Moxley, out of “Club Life” (Imagination Verses, 1996)

. . . discoursing volubly on the war.
      “’S a mental was’e,” he insisted with owl-like wisdom. “Two years my life spent inalleshual vacuity. Los’ idealism, got be physcal anmal,” he shook his fist expressively at Old King Cole, “got be Prussian ’bout ev’thing, women ’specially. Use’ be straight ’bout women college. Now don’givadam.” He expressed his lack of principle by sweeping a seltzer bottle with a broad gesture to noisy extinction on the floor, but this did not interrupt his speech. “Seek pleasure where find it for to-morrow die. ’At’s philos’phy for me now on.”

        —F. Scott Fitzgerald, out of This Side of Paradise (1920)

      What a confounded rain! How it falls! Everything is imbedded in water! From my window I can see bonnets passing shielded by red umbrellas; barques are out to sea; I hear the chains of the anchors which they are raising with general imprecations addressed to the bad weather . . .
      Admire here one of the polite ways of Providence which would be hard to believe: in whose house have I lodgings? In the house of a chemist! And of whom is he the pupil? Of Dupré! Like him, he deals in Seltzer water! “I am the only one in Trouville who manufactures Seltzer water,” he says. In fact, at eight o’clock in the morning I am often awakened by the noise of corks which go off unexpectedly. Pif! paf! The kitchen is the laboratory as well as kitchen; a monstrous still stands humbly among the stewpans:
The frightful length of its copper smoking,
and often they cannot put on the dinner-pot because of pharmaceutical preparations. In order to go into the yard, it is necessary to pass over baskets filled with bottles. There creaks a pump which wets your legs; two boys are rinsing decanters; a parrot repeats from morning till night: “Have you breakfasted, Jacko?” and finally, a brat about ten years old, the son of the house and the hope of the pharmacy, exercises in all sorts of athletics, such as raising himself from the ground by his teeth.

        —Gustave Flaubert, out of a letter to Louis Bouilhet (23 August 1853)

His system of diet here was regulated by an abstinence almost incredible. A thin slice of bread, with tea, at breakfast—a light, vegetable dinner, with a bottle or two of Seltzer water, tinged with vin de Grave, and in the evening, a cup of green tea, without milk or sugar, formed the whole of his sustenance. The pangs of hunger he appeased by privately chewing tobacco and smoking cigars.

        —Thomas Moore, out of The Life of Lord Byron with His Letters and Journals and Illustratative Notes (1844)

p’yót odnó stakánom krásnoe vinó: The implication is presumably that Onegin prefers a beaker of foreign wine to a jigger of national, right-thinking vodka. However, it is possible to understand the word odno as meaning not “only” but “straight”
he’s a Freemason, drinks red wine
unwatered in tumblerfuls.
But in those days the one to dilute his drink would have been the jaded beau from St. Petersburg rather than the provincial tippler. It would seem that Onegin has graduated, like Pushkin, from champagne to Bordeaux . . .
      In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, ripe gentlemen watered their wine. Anthologically, Pushkin advocated it in stylized little pieces of 1833 and 1835 (Yúnosha skrómno pirúy, “Youth, feast modestly,” Chtó zhe súho v cháshe dnó, “Why is the bottom dry in the cup”); and, biographically, added seltzer to his champagne, as Byron did to his hock. According to a remark of Wellington’s (1821) reported by Samuel Rogers in his Recollections (1856), Louis XVIII mixed water with his champagne.

        —Vladimir Nabokov, out of Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse: Commentary (1991)

Do not bake bread in an oven that is not made of stone
Or you risk having imperfect bread. Byron wrote,
“The greatest pleasure in life is drinking hock
And soda water the morning after, when one has
A hangover,” or words to that effect. It is a
Pleasure, for me, of the past. I do not drink so much
Any more. And when I do, I am not in sufficiently good
Shape to enjoy the hock and seltzer in the morning.
I am envious of this pleasure as I think of it. Do not
You be envious . . .

        —Kenneth Koch, out of “Some General Instructions” (The Art of Love, 1975)

      “Like a pot of seltzer water?” asked Sylvester. “Or something like that?”
      The jockey didn’t answer. He drew a gold cigarette case from his pocket and snapped it open. Inside were a few cigarettes and a tiny gold penknife. He used the knife to cut a cigarette in half. When he had lighted his smoke he held up his hand to a waiter passing by the table. “Kentucky bourbon, please.”

        —Carson McCullers, out of “The Jockey” (1941)

. . . He had a rude way of speaking and he was undoubtedly a fascist and a member of their club and he sat at noon and at evening in the cane chairs of their club to read El Debate, to have his shoes shined, and to drink vermouth and seltzer and eat roasted almonds, dried shrimps, and anchovies. But one does not kill for that . . .

        —Ernest Hemingway, out of For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)

11 July, Friday—Posted to Bingen—Castles in Earth, Castles in Air, Castles in Water—Walked to the Chapel in the Bingen [? Schloss / Sulen]—in the after to Niederwald, some Graf’s Country Box—Selzer Water, & asman’s hausen red wine which we did not think deserved the praise of pleasant Tasted—the marvellous Grotto leading to the Tower, the view from which is fine—the wood fire / the handsome German out of whose bottle we drank Rudesheiner but not Peter Arnold Mum’s Rudesheiner—

        —Samuel Taylor Coleridge, out of the Notebooks (1828)

      Yet, sweets, our Zimmerman sleeps peacefully, his trusting soul given o’er into our hands as ’twere a baseball gathered in by what is called, for reasons dark, a sure glove. What means “sure glove” I cannot tell, unless it be what old Diogenes Laertius dubbed metonymy; or was it that this said metonymy gathered in a “can of corn”? No matter, so long as he snoozes on.
      You’ve lost me, bulging carlo, the wife breathed quietly, but just to hear you once again spout forth your dizzy horseshit perks my spirits up like seltzer. We’ll fare forth, no matter where we are, or where go we instead!

        —Gilbert Sorrentino, out of Blue Pastoral (1983)

I advise you to read all the well written “nude” stories you can lay your hands on nor even blush internally. Darn it Bo screwing is as natural as breathing but to do it as often as the latter act is bad economy that’s all. Now a fellow who has led a certain kind of life is like a seltzer bottle; the least pressure on the lever is wild excitement to him. But a man has this exclusive thing about him in distinction to a seltzer bottle, he can think and he can imagine . . .

        —William Carlos Williams, out of a letter to Edgar Irving Williams (27 August 1910)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Reading’s Miasma

Samuel Beckett, 1906–1989

Reading’s routine miasma (reading being its own miasma—out of the Greek μίασμα stain, defilement < μιαίνειν to stain, sully, defile—reading staining and straining certainty with infectious turns, ways out beyond itself into other readings, dropping “its miasmata on the pinions of every breeze . . .”) Viral onslaught of words. To end up undone, surrounded by the unfinished books of one’s undoing. The kind of thing that points the reader implacably back into the world, in order to make a new room for moving, a temporary thing, untrammeled by words. (Virginia Woolf, out of Between the Acts: “Dispersed are we, the music wailed. Dispersed are we.”)

Interlude marking the nonce facility of the world. Carbonated splutter of wren in spirea, momentary off-kilter syzygy of two warring cicadas. Dog doing nose-hesitant dog things in the myrtle patch. Cessna in the sun.

Why not remain there, detailing the weighty incumbency of drift and perusal? Why exit that room at all? Beckett (in a 1 June 1949 letter to Georges Duthuit):
      Je lis “Le Tour du monde en 80 jours”. C’est alerte. Te rappelles-tu le déjeuner de Fogg au Reform club, se composant “d’un hors-d’œuvre, d’un poisson bouilli relevé d’une ‘Reading Sauce’ de premier choix, d’un roast-beef écarlate farci de tiges de rhubarbe et de groseilles vertes, d’un morceau de chester, le tout arrosé de quelques tasses d’excellent thé.”
      Bella menzogna = beau mensonge, tout bonnement. Je crois que c’est dans le Convivio. La poésie était autre chose bien sûr, mais il fallait que la fausseté y fût, aussi bien fondée que possible.

      I am reading Around the World in 80 Days. It is lively stuff. Do you remember Fogg’s lunch at the Reform Club, made up of “an hors d’oeuvre, boiled fish with a first-rate ‘Reading Sauce’, scarlet roast beef stuffed with stalks of rhubarb and gooseberries, a piece of chester, the whole thing washed down with a few cups of excellent tea.”
      Bella menzogna = beautiful lie, quite simply. I think it is in the Convivio. Poetry was something else, of course, but there had to be some falsehood in it, as well founded as possible.
The comestibles of world invariably accompanied by “une ‘Reading Sauce’ de premier choix” put up against (run through by) Dante’s bella menzogna. Miasma hoedown. It’s rather like Kafka’s observation in the Diaries (8 September 1911): “How easy it is for a grenadine and seltzer to get into your nose when you laugh (bar in front of the Opéra Comique).” Reading’s sour fizz into significance, its invasive prickliness, its damned convivial wash. (I suspect the “carbonated splutter” of that wren—isn’t that straight out of reading Merrill Gilfillan?) Beckett in another mode (out of a note—called “Humanistic Quietism”—regarding Thomas McGreevy’s Poems, in Disjecta: Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic Fragment):
All poetry, as discriminated from the various paradigms of prosody, is prayer. A poem is poetry and not Meistergesang, Vaudeville, Fragrant Minute, or any of the other collects for the day, in so far as the reader feels it to have been the only way out of the tongue-tied profanity.
Tongue-tied by reading, made unclean by it. Direct address to the world and its holy inhabitants (that urge to glossolaliac reconnoitering, spouting out nonesuch hebetudes to the trees and rocks, surely that cometh not of bookishness . . .) And (Beckett again):
To know so well what one values is, what one’s value is, as not to neglect those occasions (they are few) on which it may be doubled, is not a common faculty; to retain in the acknowledgment of such enrichment the light, calm and finality that compose it is an extremely rare one. I do not know if the first of these can be acquired; I know that the second cannot.
In lieu of the “calm and finality” of the world’s own means (I think of lines somewhere “to thump the earth / and be stilled by it”), I recall O’Hara’s “Light       clarity       avocado salad in the morning” ending with “all thoughts disappear in a strange quiet excitement / I am sure of nothing but this, intensified by breathing” (see, too, in “Personism”: “. . . when I get lofty enough I’ve stopped thinking and that’s when refreshment arrives.”)

Shhhh, now, and shhhh. . .

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Stanley Spencer (Scraps)

Stanley Spencer, “Self Portrait,” 1959

Stanley Spencer, out of Sermons by Artists (1934):
When I lived in Cookham I was disturbed by a feeling of everything being meaningless. But quite suddenly I became aware that everything was full of special meaning and this made everything holy. The instinct of Moses to take his shoes off when he saw the burning bush was similar to my feelings. I saw many burning bushes in Cookham. I observed this sacred quality in most unexpected quarters.
Every thing or person other than myself is a future potential part of myself, or a revealer of and an agent in revealing unknown parts of myself: unknown husbands, wives, lovers, worshippers, never before seen and only known by a persistent desire or passionate longing, supported by a kind of consciousness of their existence.
Distortion arrives from the effort to see something in a way that will enable [the painter] to love it.
Spencer, who attached stories to each painting in a series he called the Beatitudes of Love, writing of the 1937 Beatitudes of Love: Passion or Desire, identified by Spencer as “The Office Boy and his Wife”:
She has been felt and fingered by him for fifty years. He has emptied himself into her about eighteen thousand times . . . Each new fold in her skin appearing as her age increased was a new joy to him . . . her old joints ached for the affection of his gnarled hands. She remained standing like a cow in the stall being milked as he smoothed out the creases between her knees and joints. The curve of each cheek of her buttocks hung and sagged like a wallet. She stood and he surveyed her as he does in the picture only now he does so from every angle . . . Some hours later when they were going to bed she said to him you know I feel wonderful with your stuff inside me. I think the idea of taking the sacrament must have come from this really. I can feel the virtue of you in me.

Stanley Spencer, “Beatitudes of Love: Passion or Desire,” 1937

Guy Davenport, out of “Stanley Spencer and David Jones” (1990):
Roger Fry’s insistence, during the years when Bloomsbury was establishing its hegemony over British critical opinion, that the subject of a work of art is always secondary to technique calcified into a dogma: the subject of a work of art is negligible. Further mischief followed, which Fry did not intend. A perverse logic developed his dogma into the more insidious one that subject-matter is merely a pretext for the artist to demonstrate a style of painting. The artist, we were to understand, is not primarily interested in the meadow, or nude, or bowl of apples before him. He is only interested in the aesthetics (Fry’s great word) of their form.
Alexandra Harris, out of Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper (2010):
He had been interested in formal containment; he had simplified his shapes and schematized his colours, and he responded to Fry’s advocacy of early Italian murals. John Donne Arriving in Heaven (1911), the painting he gave to Fry and Bell for their exhibition, was a ceremonial orchestration of abstract, priestly figures occupying the canvas like monolithic standing stones. But Spencer’s imagination was too full of nature’s compelling detail for abstraction to take hold, and too much in thrall to the particular surroundings of Cookham. In the 1930s, when he returned there after a decade’s absence, every brick and flower in the village seemed uniquely fascinating. He wanted to paint it all with the worshipful attentiveness of the Pre-Raphaelite, recording each fallen leaf and blade of grass. No detail could be surrendered in the interest of formal design; to do so would be an act of desecration.* So he paints every petal in the straggly clump of Michaelmas daisies on the edge of a field, the neatly weeded ornamental gardens on terraced streets and the view from his window over gates and sheds . . .
      . . . the inhabitants . . . bursting with sexual energy, embracing each other and gripping onto straggling tree roots, drawn together in a great orgasmic communion. . . . Each button and daisy . . . credited with the expressiveness of a face; dour chintz wrappers . . . mesmeric. Everything is holy and everything is connected.

Stanley Spencer, “John Donne Arriving in Heaven,” 1911

Guy Davenport, out of “Christ Preaching at the Henley Regatta” (1979):
      A man in an ulster and cloth hat searches the pavements and edges of gardens for the droppings of dogs, which, if the way is clear, he puts in his pockets, for later inspection in his room above the Swan and Maiden. He is . . . Stanley Spencer.
      A nanny across the street asks herself whatever is that man doing, and her charge, a boy in a sailor suit, reads her eyes and answers.
      —Picking up dog shit and squirreling it away on his person.
      — God save the poor sod, says the nurse.
      — Now he’s pulling his pudding.
      — Charles Francis!
      An old woman in a plaid shawl has caught Stanley Spencer’s attention. She wears gaiters and a fisherman’s hat. The crop of white whiskers on her chin pleases Spencer. He imagines her as a girl, as a bride, as a woman getting fleshy about the hips, a woman who would cast her eyes upwards when she laughs . . .
      He inspected shingles, brick, and windows. Bees stitched along the bells of a file of hollyhocks. Greatly comforted in God at Westchester, a voice came through a parasol. And ever so nice, ame shaw. And from a clutch of gaitered clergy, nothing but my duty and my sin.
      Old Man Cézanne, he tells himself, was all very well for the French temperament, going at things logically, vibrating with a passion for the École Polytechnique, for ratios and microscopes, precisions and a constant polishing of everything with critical sandpaper. He was a Poussin run by electricity. But that woman there shaped like a bottle and her daughter shaped like a churn, they want to be seen by Cimabue, by Polish buttermold carvers, by eyes begot of the happy misalliance of stiff northern barbaric chopped wood sculpture, polychrome embroidery, and beaten gold with autumnal Roman giant stone: roundly ungainly, stubborn as barrels, solid as brick kilns.
Guy Davenport, out of “Stanley Spencer and David Jones”:
. . . bricks are but one example of a reticulated pattern in Spencer. This pattern has something to do with sexuality in its highest spiritual state, as witness the Angels of the Apocalypse (plaids, polka dots, stripes). The dog a boy is kissing in Sunflower and Dog Worship is a Dalmatian.

Stanley Spencer, “Angels of the Apocalypse,” 1929

Stanley Spencer, “Sunflower and Dog Worship,” 1937

Spencer, quoted in Fiona MacCarthy’s Stanley Spencer: An English Vision (1997):
Without belief, without utter faith & confidence, there is impotence. A man raises a womans dress with the same passionate admiration & love for the woman as the priest raises the host on the altar.
Spencer, out of a letter to Daphne Spencer (4 January 1951):
I think I have been led to do the Resurrection subject through this sense of true meaning of things. I used to say ‘today is the world to come’ meaning that it contained as much & could express as much as that. I had a sense of this being born again; of approaching the ‘world to come’ when I was returning from Macedonia after all the years out there & never expecting to return. As I approach the lighthouse off the Isle of White in the dark & the light swinging round & round now on our ship now not; its wonderful. I ‘the unborn babe’ still in the ship—am having a little chat with a sort of angel who is giving me advice & some notion of what this life of mine in England is going to be like. In this imaginary converse I now & then get a little concerned at the future possibilities being foretold & raise my unborn eyebrow & way ‘nothing precipitate I hope?’
Guy Davenport, out of “Stanley Spencer and David Jones”:
How, then . . . to see Spencer? . . . Is he a mystic descending from the heaven-on-earth designers (St.-Simon, Fourier, Mother Ann Lee) with a hope for political reformation? Clearly, his sexual paintings constitute a critique of society as we know it, comically different from D. H. Lawrence’s, Ibsen’s, or the yeastier psychoanalysts with bees in their bonnets about a society without repressions. Not even Fourier, that most imaginative of Utopians, considered orgies with sunflowers and dogs. A plausible answer might be that he is a disillusioned visionary. Apolitical, but a democrat in the philosophical sense, eccentrically religious, honest, a realist in matters of the flesh, Stanley Spencer was before all else a poet for whom the natural beauty of the world—meadows, gardens, trees in blossom, rivers—was the primary fact.
* “No detail could be surrendered . . .” Thus, in Guy Davenport’s “Christ Preaching at the Henley Regatta” one reads (with alarming cheer at such bounties of completeness): “Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini, pray for us now and at the hour of our death” and “Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santissima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, pray for us now and at the hour of our death . . .”

Stanley Spencer, “The Bathing Pool, Dogs,” 1940

Stanley Spencer, “Landscape in North Wales,” 1938

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Giovanna Garzoni, “Still Life with Bowl of Citrons,” c. 1640

      O has Mr. Sibthorp a wife? O has Mr. Sibthorp a wife? That is the hornet, the bee in the bonnet, the screw in the cork and the drill; that whirling and twirling are for ever unfurling the folds of the motherly heart; for a mother must ask, if daughters she has, begot in the feathery billowy fourposter family bed, O did he unpack, with his prayer book and bands; his gown and his cane; his rod and his line; and the family album and gun; did he also display the connubial respectable tea-table token, a cosy with honeysuckle embossed. Has Mr. Sibthorp a wife? O has Mr. Sibthorp a wife?

        —Virginia Woolf, out of Between the Acts (1941)

Nature doth first beget the imperfect, then
Proceeds she to the perfect. Of that airy
And oily water, mercury is engendered;
Sulphur of the fat and earthy part; the one,
Which is the last, supplying the place of male,
The other, of the female, in all metals.
Some do believe hermaphrodeity,
That both do act and suffer. But these two
Make the rest ductile, malleable, extensive.
And even in gold they are; for we do find
Seeds of them, by our fire, and gold in them;
And can produce the species of each metal
More perfect thence, than Nature doth in earth.
Beside, who doth not see in daily practice
Art can beget bees, hornets, beetles, wasps,
Out of the carcases and dung of creatures;
Yea, scorpions of an herb, being rightly placed?

        —Ben Jonson, out of The Alchemist (1941)

A searchlight sweeping
picked up “The Hornet”
Hardly had he undressed when he
heard again that low swish of
“The Hornet” on her return from scouting circuit of the
      Thames estuary
solidifying disguises

who died in an automobile accident
had developed a
then, imperceptibly

        —John Ashbery, out of “Europe” (The Tennis Court Oath, 1962)

Timbrels & violins sport round the Wine-presses; the little Seed;
The sportive Root, the Earth-worm, the gold Beetle; the wise Emmet;
Dance round the Wine-presses of Luvah: the Centipede is there:
The ground Spider with many eyes: the Mole clothed in velvet
The ambitious Spider in his sullen web; the lucky golden Spinner;
The Earwig armd, the tender Maggot emblem of immortality:
The Flea: Louse: Bug: the Tape-Worm: all the Armies of Disease:
Visible or invisible to the slothful vegetating Man.
The slow Slug: the Grasshopper that sings & laughs & drinks:
Winter comes, he folds his slender bones without a murmur.
The cruel Scorpion is there: the Gnat: Wasp: Hornet & the Honey Bee:
The Toad & venomous Newt; the Serpent clothd in gems & gold:
They throw off their gorgeous raiment: they rejoice with loud jubilee
Around the Wine-presses of Luvah, naked & drunk with wine.

        —William Blake, out of Milton, a Poem in 2 Books (1804)

My next bullet caught him somewhere in the side, and he rose from his chair higher and higher, like old, gray, mad Nijinski, like Old Faithful, like some old nightmare of mine, to a phenomenal altitude, or so it seemed, as he rent the air—still shaking with the rich black music—head thrown back in a howl, hand pressed to his brow, and with his other hand clutching his armpit as if stung by a hornet, down he came on his heels and, again a normal robed man, scurried out into the hall.

        —Vladimir Nabokov, out of Lolita (1955)

But I also find that J [Matthew Josephson] stirred up a hornet’s nest in me this summer with his words about getting away from current formulae, from Heine to Wallace Stevens, by experimentation in original models, etc. and my reaction to this stimulation is to work away from the current impressionism as much as possible. I mean such “impressionism” as the Cocteau poem (trans.) in the Little Review, which you have probably see. Dada . . . is nothing more than the dying agonies of this movement, maladie moderne. I may even be carried back into “rime and rhythm” before I get through, provided I can carry these encumbrances as deftly and un-self-consciously as, say, Edward Thomas sometimes did.

        —Hart Crane, out of a letter to Gorham Munson (26 November 1921)

what high lurking hornets buick the moose

        —Ron Silliman, out of Crow (1971)

And I will send hornets before thee, which shall driue out the Hiuite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite from before thee.

        —Exodus 23:28, out of the King James Bible (1611)

There is a hornet in the room
and one of us will have to go
out the window into the late
August midafternoon sun. I
won. There is a certain challenge
in being humane to hornets
but not much . . .

        —James Schuyler, out of “Buried at Springs” (Freely Espousing, 1969)

                                        Lightly falls the grieving light
over the heel of Great Spruce Head Island, like cool
words turning their back on the bayness of the bay
and open water where the swell says heavy things

and smoothly to the nonreflective caves. Clover lies,
in its mauve decline, to the butterflies and bumblebees
and hummingbirds and hornets finding not their sucking
appetites attractive in its stirring dryness, robbed

out of succulence into fainting, rattling noise . . .

        —Frank O’Hara, out of “To an Actor Who Died” (c. 1955)

      The ride in a neat plate-glassed electric train from Dobbiaco to Cortina was very impressive. The vertical granite turrets go on for miles and miles. On how stupendous a scale Nature know how to be boring; tears cmae to the eyes at the extent of the imposture:

“. . . . .   . . . . . .   . . . !
“. . . . .   . . . . . .   . . . ?
“. . .   . . .”
. . .   . .   . . .   . . . . . . !
      I have bought a copy of my hero Goldoni’s comedies and am rivetting my mind to the problem of how the HUMAN MIND hides and reveals itself in comedy. I like to think that such an enquiry never before was pursued in Room 15 of the Albergo Italia.
      These days my more “consecutive” travelling companion and I have had many a tussle over that SUBJECT-MATTER which has become the gadfly in our minds, the hornet in our ear.
      This is not the letter to include our tentative little lumières . . .

        —Thornton Wilder, out of a letter to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (6 August 1935)

Some writers be of opinion, That dead Bees if they bee kept within house all a Winter, and when the Spring is come, bee laid forth in the hote Sunne to frie, and one whole daie be kept covered all over with figtree ashes, they will revive and be quicke againe. But suppose they be not onely dead, but their bodies also lost and gone, some say they may be repaired and a new swarme engendred, by laying the fresh paunches of oxen or kine newly killed, with the dung, garbage and all, within a dunghill there to putrifie. Virgill affirmeth,21 that the carkasses of any young steeres, will doe the same: like as dead horses will breed Waspes and Hornets: and Asses carrion turne to be Beetle-flies, by a certaine metamorphosis which Nature maketh, from one creature to another.

        —C. Plinius Secundus, out of The Naturall Historie, translated by Philemon Holland (1601)

Charon in Lucian, as he wittily feigns, was conducted by Mercury to such a place, where he might see all the world at once; after he had sufficiently viewed, and looked about, Mercury would needs know of him what he had observed: He told him that he saw a vast multitude and a promiscuous, their habitations like molehills, the men as emmets, “he could discern cities like so many hives of bees, wherein every bee had a sting, and they did nought else but sting one another, some domineering like hornets bigger than the rest, some like filching wasps, others as drones.”

        —Robert Burton, out of The Anatomy of Melancholy (1652)

Examined the Hornets’ nest near Hubbard’s Grove—suspended from contiguous huckleberry bushes. The tops of the bushes appearing to grow out of it, little leafy sprigs, had a pleasing effect. An inverted cone 8 or 9 inches by 7 or 8. I found no hornets now buzzing about it. Its entrance appeared to have been enlarged—so I concluded it had been deserted—but looking nearer I discovered 2 or 3 dead hornets—men of war—in the entry way. Cutting off the bushes which sustained it I proceeded to open it with my knife. First there were half a dozen layers of waved brownish paper resting loosely on one another—occupying nearly an inch in thickness—for a covering. Within were the six-sided cells in 3 stories suspended from the roof & from one another by one or two suspension rods only—the lower story much smaller than the rest. And in what may be called the attic garret of the structure were two live hornets apparently partially benumbed with cold, which in the sun seemed rapidly recovering themselves, their faculties. Most of the cells were empty, but in some were young hornets still, their heads projecting—apparently still-born.— perhaps overtaken unexpectedly by cold weather. These insects appear to be very sensible to cold. The inner circles of cells were made of whitish—the outer of brown or grayish paper. It was like a deserted castle of the Mohawks.— a few dead ones at the entrance of their castle.—

        —Henry David Thoreau, out of the Journal (25 September 1851)

air in a hornet’s nest
over the water makes a
solid, six-sided music . . .

a few utterly quiet scenes, things
are very far away—“form
is emptiness”

comely, comely, love trembles

and the sweet-shrub

        —Jonathan Williams, out of “A Vulnerary” (An Ear in Bartram’s Tree, 1969)

Here is 2 species of Hornets, their Sting very painfull, especially the large pied black & white, which build large conical Nests hanging from the bows of Trees in shady forests; the smaller yellow, which builds their nests of the same form & material, in the ground commonly under the roots of decayed Trees.
      Here is a large & very usefull fly much of the form of a Hornet, but much larger & have no sting. They are called guard flys because in some situation of this country generally about the Sea coast & a good distance back from it they constantly swarm about cattle & horses & catch the Bot & stinging flys, which they eat & carry away to their nests in the earth, & as soon as these very extraordinary & useful insects arive, the tormenting biting fly immediately disappear.

        —William Bartram, out of Travels in Georgia and Florida, 1773-74: A Report to Dr. John Fothergill (1943)

At home, it’s blizzard or a curved banana-moon
on a window sash, soap flakes on wash day
and door knobs wet; hornets' nests in tobacco pipes.
I must possess myself, get back into pure duration . . .

        —Lorine Niedecker, out of “Progression” (Collected Works, 2002)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Skunk Works*

Gerald Murnane

Something to love:
One day, I decided not to go on reading one after another book of a sort that could be called literature—that day was only a few months before the day when I decided to write no more fiction. When I made the earlier decision, I intended to confine my reading in future to the few books that I had never forgotten; I would reread those books—I would dwell on them for the rest of my life. But after my decision to write no more fiction, I foresaw myself reading not even my few unforgotten books. Instead of reading what could be called literature and instead of writing what I called fiction, I would devise a more satisfying enterprise than either reading or writing. During the rest of my life I would concern myself only with those mental entities that had come to me almost stealthily while I read or while I wrote but had never afterwards detached themselves from me: I would contemplate those images and yield to those feelings that comprised the lasting essence of all my reading and my writing. During the rest of my life I would go on reading from a vast book with no pages, or I would write intricate sentences made up of items other than words.
Thus, Gerald Murnane, out of Barley Patch (Dalkey Archive, 2011). Epigraph out of Jack Kerouac’s Doctor Sax: “The Turf was so complicated it went on forever.”

Revery of a language without words. Walking the dog in the cut light of morning, humidity halved and mounting: a lissome roiling and gabble under a porch. Dog at full alert and tug. Four skunk kits, a surfeit of skunks, a wave pattern of four skunks inseparably rippling: and if I found myself thinking of Pound’s Excideuil where (Kenner) “a wave pattern’s lilt in the stone on the high parapet proclaims an eternal form educed from flux”—
Whither go all the vair and the cisclatons
and the wave pattern runs in the stone
on the high parapet (Excideuil)
Mt Segur and the city of Dioce
Que tous les mois avons nouvelle lune
—and light itself “cut” (how central cutting is to Kenner’s Pound—“a parataxis of sharp-cut perceptions, one word apiece” and Fenollosa’s definition of “things” being merely “cross-sections cut through actions” and how a word “relies for energy on the sharp cut of its syllables” and Gaudier-Brzeska’s cutting brass and all echoing Pound’s own “house of good stone / each block cut smooth and well fitting” and definition of rhythm as “a form cut in TIME” . . .) Some vast book sorting itself into chapters whilst I stood marveling at the black and white motility of skunkery. (Oddly: one meaning of vair is “A fur obtained from a variety of squirrel with grey back and white belly, much used in the 13th and 14th centuries as a trimming or lining for garments.”)

To write “intricate sentences made up of items other than words”—to end the clumsy heaping up of letter-made nonces and negligibles, to hand a man a rasher and a shrug with no intermediary needed, that kind of unprotracted (unprotected) sentence-ry. Somehow a story of the Sitwells, whose “male line died out with the merchant and philanthropist William Sitwell in 1776” seems apt. Sitwell’s nephew, one Francis Hurt, inherited the iron works (“by the end of the seventeenth century the Sitwells were the world’s largest makers of iron nails”) at William Sitwell’s death and took up the surname too, one son, Sitwell Hurt, becoming in the process Sitwell Sitwell. (Evelyn Waugh in 1961, in a diary, regarding the perennially plaintive Osbert, suggested, with vicious wit, that the “hypersensitive descendant should resume the patronymic and call himself Sir Hurt Hurt.”) One wonders if some sleuthing mightn’t disclose a genealogical intricacy wherein Edith Sitwell’s kin to bluesman Mississippi John Hurt. He of the lines (“Spike Driver Blues”):
You just take this hammer and carry it to my captain
Oh tell him I’m gone
Won’t you tell him I’m gone.

John Henry, he left his hammer
Layin’ aside the road
Layin’ aside the road.

John Henry, he left his hammer
All painted in red
All painted in red.

You just take this hammer and carry it to my captain
Yes tell him I’m gone
Won’t you tell him I’m gone . . .
Et cetera. She of the lines (“Fantasia for Mouth Organ”):
. . . She wrung me on the mangle
When the hot sun’s jangle
Bent the North Pole to South, and
Wind hyperborean
Dried the marmorean
Wash for a nominal
But the wheezing wind’s harmonium
Seemed an encomium
Of life when one is
And as life was getting barrener
I set out as a mariner—
The hero of this epopee.
I sailed on botanic
Gardens oceanic
Where siren-birds sip Bohea—
Past the lodging-houses lean
Where like oozing glycerine
The ozone drips; and the wee
Horses age had tattered
Flap along the battered
Platform grasses (green as tea) . . .
Et cetera. Stealthy mental entities . . .
* “. . . alteration of Skonk Works, the name of a fictional factory in Al Capp’s ‘L’il Abner’ comic strip . . .” “. . . company working, often in secret or in isolation from the rest of the company, on a radical and innovative project . . .” “The original operation was located next to a plastics factory which reminded workers there of the outdoor still called the ‘Skonk Works’ in the ‘L’il Abner’ comic strip by the cartoonist, Al Capp, in which one of the characters, Injun Joe, would make ‘kickapoo joy juice’ from old shoes and dead skunk . . .” “. . . one day a designer picked up a ringing phone and announced, ‘Skonk Works’ . . . Soon everyone was calling it that . . . In 1960, Capp’s publisher objected to our use of Skonk Works, so we changed it to Skunk Works and registered the name and logo as trademarks.” One thinks, de temps en temps, of writing as being oneself a company working “in secret or in isolation from the rest of the company”—that is, from oneself . . .

Friday, June 15, 2012

Pound / Thoreau

Ezra Pound, 1885-1972

Continuity and dodge. Hugh Kenner, out of The Pound Era (1971), talking about the origins of Ernest Fenollosa’s Emerson-trained “eye”* for undoing etymological knots (according to Emerson, it “finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture”):
. . . Emersonian organicism had known Chinese affinities before Fenollosa. In his Journal for 7 October 1863, Emerson copied passages from a copy of the same Confucius (Legge’s, then newly printed) that Pound carried with him on the jeep into Pisa; and the Mailla Histoire Générale de la Chine that underlies nine consecutive Cantos was in the Boston Athenaeum, its presence bruited among the Transcendentalists; and the Confucian anecdote that opens Canto 13, with its talk of swimming in a pond and playing mandolins, exists on loose pages in the Harvard College Library, in a translation made, as was Pound’s, from Pauthier’s French version, in the handwriting of Henry Thoreau.
And . . . and . . . and. “Points define a periphery.” Thoreau and Pound, some three-quarters of a century apart, translating a single Confucian piece (out of Book Eleven of The Analects) out of a single French translation, that found in M. G. Pauthier’s 1841 Confucius et Mencius: Les Quatre Livres de Philosophie Morale et Politique de la Chine. Richard Sieburth, out of the indispensable notes provided for Pound’s New Selected Poems and Translations (2010), regarding Canto XIII: “First published in the Transatlantic Review (Paris), January 1924. Pound considered this to be the ‘announcement of the backbone moral of the Cantos.’” Sieburth calls lines 5-30 “largely a paraphrase of The Analects 11, XXV, 1-8.” Pound (opening lines of Canto XIII):
Kung walked
              by the dynastic temple
and into the cedar grove,
              and then out by the lower river,
And with him Khieu, Tchi
              and Tian the low speaking
And “we are unknown,” said Kung,
“You will take up charioteering?
              Then you will become known,
“Or perhaps I should take up charioteering, or archery?
“Or the practice of public speaking?”
And Tseu-lou said, “I would put the defences in order,”
And Khieu said, “If I were lord of a province
“I would put it in better order than this is.”
And Tchi said, “I would prefer a small mountain temple,
“With order in the observances,
              with a suitable performance of the ritual,”
And Tian said, with his hand on the strings of his lute
The low sounds continuing
              after his hand left the strings,
And the sound went up like smoke, under the leaves,
And he looked after the sound:
              “The old swimming hole,
“And the boys flopping off the planks,
“Or sitting in the underbrush playing mandolins.”
              And Kung smiled upon all of them equally.
And Thseng-sie desired to know:
              “Which had answered correctly?”
And Kung said, “They have all answered correctly,
“That is to say, each in his nature.”
Thoreau’s rendering:**
But suppose his digestion is sound, still we might ask, would this man, if he were at the head of affairs, do any better than those whom he condemns? We confess that we should not like to try the experiment. We lately read an anecdote of Confucius and his disciples which is to our purpose.
      “Tseu-lou, Thseng-sie, Yan-yeou, Kong-si-hoa, were seated by the side of the Philosopher.
      The Philosopher said: make no account of my age more than if I were only a day older than you.
      Living apart and isolated, then you say: we are not known. If any one knew you, then what would you do?
      Tseu-lou replied with a brisk but respectful air: Suppose a kingdom of a thousand war-chariots, hard-pressed between other great kingdoms, add even, by numerous armies, and that withal it suffers want and famine; let Yeou (T’seu-lou) be appointed to its administration, in less than three years I could accomplish that the people of this kingdom should recover a manly courage, and know their condition. The Philosopher smiled at these words.
      And you, Khieou, what are your thoughts?
      The disciple replied respectfully: Suppose a province of sixty of seventy li in extent, or even of fifty or sixty li, and that Khieou were appointed to its administration, in less than three years I could accomplish that the people should have sufficient. As to the rites and to music, I would entrust the teaching of them to a superior man.
      And you, Tchi, what are your thoughts?
      The disciple replied respectfully: I will not say that I can do these things; I desire to study. When the ceremonies of the temple of ancestors are performed, and great public assemblies take place, clothed in my robe of azure and other vestments proper for such a place and such ceremonies, I could wish to take part in them in the quality of a humble functionary.
      And you, Tian, what are your thoughts?
      The disciple did nothing but draw some rare sounds from his guitar; but these sounds prolonging themselves, he laid it aside, and rising, replied respectfully: My opinion differs entirely from those of my three fellow disciples—The Philosopher said: What prevents you from expressing it? Here each one can speak his thought.—The disciple said: spring being no more, my robe of spring laid aside, but covered with the bonnet of manhood, accompanied by five or six men, and six or seven young people, I should love to go and bathe in the waters of the Y—, and go and take the fresh air in those woody places where they offer sacrifices to heaven to obtain rain, to modulate some airs, and then return to my abode.
      The Philosopher applauding these words by a sign of satisfaction, said: I am of Tian’s mind.
      The three disciples departed, but Thseng-sie remained yet some time. Thseng-sie said: What ought one to think of the words of these three disciples? The Philosopher said: Each one of them has expressed his opinion; that is all.”
      The narrator proceeds to tell why the Philosopher smiled; but that is obvious enough.
      For the most part, when we listen to the conversation of the Reformers, we too [are] of Tian’s mind.
Providing, surely, a measure of Pound’s “eye” for the apt and telling “gist,” the ability to shrug off extraneous verbiage.*** In Pound’s Confucius (1951), containing, too, Ta Hsio: The Great Digest and Chung Yung: The Unwobbling Pivot, he worked up another version of the lines (the translation of The Analects first appeared in a 1950 number of the Hudson Review):
      1.   Tze-Lu, Tsang Hsi, Zan Yu, and Kung-hsi Hwa were sitting with him.
      2.   He said: I am a day older than you, but pay no attention to that.
      3. You sit round saying: We are unknown, if somebody should recognize you, what would you do [L. like to do]?
      4.   Tze-Lu replied straight off the bat: “Thousand chariots’ state. Shut in between large states, and armies of invasion, grain and provision famine, I could give the people courage if I had three years’ run, and teach ’em the rules, put ’em on the square.” The big man smiled (or grinned).
      5.   “Ch’iu, how about you?”
      Replied: “Give me the job of a sixty, seventy or fifty li square district. I could give ’em abundant crops in three years. It would need a superior man to teach ’em the rites and music.” [“Abundant crops”—probably more literal: there would be enough (for the) people.]
      6.   “What about you, Ch’ih?”
      Replied: I don’t say I could do that sort of thing, should like to study, serve in the ancestral temple, at audience of the princes, ceremonial chapter style [L. & M. dark square-made robe, black linen cap] to be lesser assistant.
      7.   “Chieh (clever-boy), what about you?” Struck his se (25-string lute) with curious jingling, laid down the lute and got up, answering: Differ from the three of ’em in what they grasp at.
      Confucius said: What harm, let each say what he wants (directio voluntatis).
      (Chieh) said: Toward the end of spring, in nice spring clothes, with five or six fellows who have been capped, and six or seven kids, go bathe in I river (Shantung) with the wind over the rain dance [probably, wind for the rain dance, could be: wind suitable for the rain dance] to chant (through the service) and go home.
      The big man heaved a sigh of assent: I am with Chieh.
                        [L. calls this young man Tien.]
      8.   The three went out, Tsang Hsi delaying, and said: What about these three men’s words? Confucius said: Each one expressed his preference, that’s all.
(“L.” and “M.” refer to readings in “the annotated bilingual text in James Legge’s The Chinese Classics (1862-1871)” and [Pound’s own note] “R. H. Mathews’ Chinese-English Dictionary.) Pound, rather touchingly: “After finishing it I turned back to Pauthier’s French, and have included a number of his phrases as footnotes (marked P), sometimes as alternative interpretation, sometimes for their own sake even when I do not think he is nearer the original meaning.” And (considering the “backbone moral” remark):
The Analects are neither a continuous narrative, nor a collection of fancy ideas. It is an error to seek aphorisms and bright saying in sentences that should be considered rather as definitions of words, and a number of them should be taken rather as lexicography, as examples of how Kung had used a given expression in defining a man or a condition.
Hence, no doubt, Pound’s interjected “(directio voluntatis).” Twenty five years anon, no more the lazy lyric romp (recall: “the sound went up like smoke, under the leaves, / And he looked after the sound”), Pound’s Confucian disciples here earnest men with “projects” (not unlike the mass of literary hustlers today): “chant . . . and go home.”
* Of Kenner’s own “eye” (Guy Davenport prefacing Roy R. Behrens’s 1981 Art and Camouflage: Concealment and Deception in Nature, Art and War): “In one of Hugh Kenner’s books there is a sonnet hidden in a page of prose. As far as I know, no reader has found it, so skilfully has it been disguised. Hugh Kenner is our acutest explicator of modern literature. His immense effort has been to teach us to see what’s before our eyes but invisible to our attention.”

** Located in a lengthy footnote to Hongbo Tan’s “Confucius at Walden Pond: Thoreau’s Unpublished Confucian Translations” (Studies in the American Renaissance, 1993). “The Houghton manuscript fragment is bMS Am 278.5, Folder 12a.” Tan mentions Kenner’s The Pound Era only to report, speaking of Pauthier’s 1840 Les Livres sacrés de l’Orient which, “provided the curious ‘a portable Asia,’ and became an ‘important channel’ through which ‘works exhumed by the philologists were to enter the larger sphere . . .’”: “Even Ezra Pound based his poetic rendering of the Confucian Cantos on this book.” Both a little dopey and seemingly wrong. Kenner writes (on the page Tan points at):
In Canto XIII, the Canto about Kung, enough proper names retain French conventions of transliteration to make the immediate source unmistakable: Les Quatre Livres de Philosophie Morale et Politique de la Chine, traduits du Chinois par M. G. Pauthier. My copy is dated “Paris, 1841.” Pound’s, of whatever printing, came to him at the time of Cathay, 1914, bringing him a Confucius one could imagine speaking French maxims. The 13th Canto presents such a Confucius.
It is not unlikely that the two books differ only in title: Richard Sieburth states—note to Canto XIII—that “the primary source here is Doctrine de Confucius: Les Quatre Livres de Philosophie Morale et Politique de la Chine (Paris, 1841), which contains the ‘Four Books’ of the classical Confucian canon, whose titles (in the French Romanization) run: Lun-Yu (or The Analects), Ta Hio (or The Great Digest), Tchoung-Young (translated by Pound as The Unwobbling Pivot), and Meng Tzeu (or Mencius).” Though, admittedly, Tan’s paper concerns itself largely with “an unpublished manuscript notebook by Henry David Thoreau containing, among other writings, Thoreau’s translation of ninety-six paragraphs of Confucius from M. J. [sic] Pauthier’s Confucius et Mencius,” the omitting, of any talk of Kenner’s then twenty-year-old report of the “loose pages . . . from Pauthier’s French version, in the handwriting of Henry Thoreau” is rather odd.

*** Of note: Pound’s remarks under “Procedure” prefacing the c. 1950 versions of The Analects, what he there calls “oddments which Kung’s circle found indispensable.” Pound notes how “for 2,500 years the most intelligent men of China have tried to add to them or to subtract.” And: “After a millennium they found that Mencius’ work could not be subtracted.” Pound:
Given the tradition that the Analects contain nothing superfluous, I was puzzled by the verses re length of the night-gown and the predilection for ginger. One must take them in the perspective of Voltaire’s: “I admire Confucius. He was the first man who did not receive a divine inspiration.” By which I mean that these trifling details were useful at a time, and in a world, that tended to myths and to the elevation of its teachers into divinities. Those passages of the Analects are, as I see it, there to insist that Confucius was a Chinaman, not born of a dragon, not in any way supernatural, but remarkably possessed of good sense.
Out of “trifling details”—“to make a paradiso / terrestre.”