Saturday, October 3, 2015

One detail defines the whole....

A sweating summer on the roads
Reduced my weight by many loads.
Now I can go without a shirt
At last, to beaches, and to flirt
With women -- but the birds have flown
From autumn's blast and winter's groan.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

This Planetary Grindstone

The force of metaphor....

And what else have I seen? A beautiful and far-famed insect -- do not mistake, I mean neither the Emperor, nor the King of Sardinia, but a much finer specimen -- the firefly. Their bright light is evanescent, and alternates with the darkness, as if the swift wheeling of the earth struck fire out of the black atmosphere; as if the winds were being set upon this planetary grindstone, and gave out such momentary sparks from their edges.

-- From LETTER VII (June 8th, 1824), in The Letters of Thomas Lovell Beddoes. Elking Mathews & John Lane, London, 1894.

You Do Not See

A striking distinction between types of poetry (and types of fiction, too): "You did not see before," versus "You do not see."

"Having to know and being unable to know characterizes all the various Symbolist poems discussed in this chapter; it is a statement of their essential method. Now, poets and critics have been shouting up 'strangeness' for a long time. Perhaps the most persistent shouters of late have been the Russian Formalist critics, who proclaimed ostranenie ('strangifying') as the cornerstone of all imaginative literature. But for these critics, as for others, strangeness is nearly synonymous with newness, and, as has been pointed out, there is nothing novel about that kind of strangeness in poetry.
"The quality seen in [Symbolist poems] is of another order.... The strangeness of Symbolist poetry is identified with mysteriousness -- in other words, not only that which had been previously unknown, but that which is unable to be fully understood, that which perpetually lies just beyond our grasp. The difference is great. Where a poetry of newness says, "You did not see before," a poetry of strangeness asserts, "You do not see." Whatever its preferred subjects, themes, or artistic creeds, a poetry of this kind always has the same refrain: that the most basic structure people hold in common, language, is not held in common at all. To the extent that such a poetry can have meaning, to the extent that we can participate in its unfolding, it is a triumph of our ability to sense emotion in tone or to grasp fundamental similarities and parallels. It is, for all that, a triumph in the midst of incomprehension -- a victory in a world where, as readers, our own uncertainty and separateness is being established in the same breath."

-- From
The Techniques of Strangeness in Symbolist Poetry, by James L. Kugel. (Chapter 4.)
Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1971.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Out of Your Whispering

Yet, methinks,
The manner of your death should much afflict you:
This cord should terrify you.

Not a whit:
What would it pleasure me to have my throat cut
With diamonds? or to be smotherèd
With cassia? or to be shot to death with pearls?
I know death hath ten thousand several doors
For men to take their exits; and 'tis found
They go on such strange geometrical hinges,
You may open them both ways; any way, for Heaven sake,
So I were out of your whispering.

-- From The Duchess of Malfi, by John Webster.
Act IV, Scene 2.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Unfinished Traceries

F. L. Lucas on Thomas Lovell Beddoes:

"At war within, he spared neither his country, nor his contemporaries, nor himself -- poor dramatist devoid of dramatic gift! But he was too hard on his own work. It is difficult to read through. I have done so twice, and never shall again. But I return with ever fresh astonishment to his fragments. The unfinished traceries, the ruined aisles of this gaunt sham-Gothic cathedral that he left half-built and roofless to the scorn of Time, will outlast many a newer and more finished edifice; saved by the almost unearthly perfectness of here a carved line, there a sculptured monster; and by the strange owl-light of its atmosphere in which Death's Jester wandered to his early and disastrous end. There is often more quintessential poetry, I feel, in three lines of his than in as many pages of other poets not without repute. Only wreckage remains of him; but enough to sustain his memory in that sea of Eternity into which he heard Time's river falling, himself so soon to fall."

From "The Playboy of the Netherworld," in
Studies French And English, by F. L. Lucas. Books For Libraries Press, New York, 1969 (Original publication, 1934).