Via The New Criterion: ‘The Intolerable Dream’-Don Quixote, The Lone Genius & Bathing Within The Warm Bath Of The (S)elf

Full piece here.

Of some interest:

‘Having read so many chivalric epics that his brains have “dried up,” the hero decides that he has been called to revive chivalry and restore the Golden Age in this Age of Iron. But as the book proceeded, Cervantes realized that he had hit on something much more profound than a simple parody. The story kept raising ultimate questions about faith, belief, evidence, and utopian ideals. When do we need caution and when risk? Should we seek to transform reality or the way we perceive it? Do good intentions or good results define moral actions? And what is the proper role of literature itself?’

Tilting at Windmills, a reading group of Don Quixote done back in 2007.

On Nabokov’s reading of Don Quixote, via a NY Times article:

What Nabokov’s eyes kept seeing as he prepared his lectures was the accurately perceived fact that the book elicits cruel laughter. Cervantes’ old man who had read himself into insanity and his smelly squire were created to be the butt of mockery. Quite early, readers and critics began to sidestep this Spanish fun and to interpret that story as another kind of satire: one in which an essentially sane, humane soul in a crass and unromantic world can only appear as insane.

If you have any good links, or links to reviews, please pass them along…

My two cents: I’m currently thinking that the modern ‘Well of The Self’ has deep roots within Romanticism, and the idea that the artistic genius alone must make sense of the world. This lone genius will Return to Nature as cradle, delivering man or (M)an back to himself, and back to his most basic experiences, hopes and a sense of wonder (once with a Christian, now often within a modern, transmogrified metaphysic).

The Romantic genius, to some extent, must turn against the city, industry and technological change, going back to the countryside. The (M)odern Man, a la Eliot, must turn back to the city, man’s industry, and technological change and remake the world anew, so that we may carry our souls forward. The (P)ostmodern man must create entire worlds and meaning for himself, isolated and alienated from all traditions and other people, left struggling against the void.

There are options, of course, and nihilism is clearly one.

If true, one can easily extrapolate from such a vision towards how we’ve ended up not only with individualism, but radical individualism, and a constant negotiation left up to each individual between all existing institutions of authority and moral/immoral legitimacy.

I’m seeing a lot of basic individual loneliness, desperation for group membership, meaning, and search for some kind of relationship between (N)ature and the (S)elf through others and through political tribalism.

This also can lead to the clear and present unstabilizing political dangers of anarchy, radical liberation, and doctrinal certainty forming beneath the reasonableness found within the high, liberal doctrines of Enlightenment (R)eason and (M)an. The social activists and ‘wokists’ on the scene are nothing if not zealous about their ideas. The ‘-Ismologists’ keep promising some kind of ideal world, which always seems to fail in fully arriving (and this failure always seems to be someone else’s fault).

Perhaps many people are inflating politics and the study of politics, the study of people in groups (sociology), and the study of our interior lives (psychology) to idealistic and almost mythic proportions, coming to lean upon these epistemologies, and politics itself, with hopes I do not necessarily share.

It wasn’t so long ago that all sins were to be reconciled with a loving God; a confession in the booth. I’m seeing many of the same human desires, hopes and beliefs now directed at therapists, comedians, politicians and artists, sometimes able to bear significant weight, often unable to do so.

Ah well, Dear Reader.

There’s a lot of wisdom in reading Don Quixote.

Have I convinced you of any of this?

Here’s a stanza from ‘Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird‘ by Wallace Stevens, transitioning from Romanticism to Modernism, wrestling with faith and more modern doubt, staying the course with good Dutch-German insurance-executive sobriety and also lasting late in the night with passionately abstract poetic imaginings:

VII
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

Also:

The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.

Sunday Poem And A Photo-Autumn

Park

Lament Of The Middle Man

In late October in the park
the autumn’s faults begin to show:
the houses suddenly go stark
beyond a thinning poplar row;
the edges of the leaves go brown
on every chestnut tree in town.

The honking birds go south again
where I have gone in better times;
the hardy ones, perhaps, remain
to nestle in the snowy pines.
I think of one bold, raucous bird
whose wintry song I’ve often heard.

I live among so many things
that flash and fade, that come and go.
One never knows what season brings
relief and which will merely show
how difficult it is to span
a life, given the Fall of Man.

The old ones dawdle on a bench,
and young ones drool into their bibs;
an idle boffer, quite a mensch,
moves fast among the crowd with fibs.
A painted lady hangs upon
his word as if his sword was drawn.

Among so many falling fast
I sometimes wonder why I care;
the first, as ever, shall be last;
the last are always hard to bear.
I never know if I should stay
to see what ails the livelong day.

I never quite know how to ask
why some men wear bright, silver wings
while others, equal to the task,
must play the role of underlings.
“It’s what you know, not who,” they swore.
I should have known what to ignore.

I started early, did my bit
for freedom and the right to pray.
I leaned a little on my wit,
and learned the sort of thing to say,
yet here I am, unsatisfied
and certain all my elders lied.

A middle man in middle way
between the darkness and the dark,
the seasons have tremendous sway:
I change like chestnuts in the park.
Come winter, I’ll be branches, bones;
come spring, a wetness over stones.

Jay Parini

A Larkinesque quality?

Wednesday Poem-Robert Frost

Gathering Leaves

Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.

But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.

I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight,
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who’s to say where
The harvest shall stop?

Robert Frost

Two Photos And Four Autumn Poems

646B-Fall Branch Reflection

Autumn Poem

I have come to a still, but not a deep center,
A point outside the glittering current;
My eyes stare at the bottom of a river,
At the irregular stones, iridescent sandgrains,
My mind moves in more than one place,
In a country half-land, half-water.
I am renewed by death, thought of my death,
The dry scent of a dying garden in September,
The wind fanning the ash of a low fire.
What I love is near at hand,
Always, in earth and air.

Theodore Roethke

609B-Fall Circle-Lake 3

Sonnet 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
   This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
   To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

William Shakespeare

Four Poems For Robin

An Autumn Morning In Shokoku-ji

Last night watching the Pleiades,
Breath smoking in the moonlight,
Bitter memory like vomit
Choked my throat.
I unrolled a sleeping bag
On mats on the porch
Under thick autumn stars.
In dream you appeared
(Three times in nine years)
Wild, cold, and accusing.
I woke shamed and angry:
The pointless wars of the heart.
Almost dawn. Venus and Jupiter.
The first time I have
Ever seen them close.

Gary Snyder

Autumn

The thistledown’s flying, though the winds are all still,
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill,
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot;
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red-hot.

The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread,
The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead.
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed,
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.

Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.

-John Clare

Thursday Poem-James Merrill

A Renewal

Having used every subterfuge
To shake you, lies, fatigue, or even that of passion,
Now I see no way but a clean break.
I add that I am willing to bear the guilt.

You nod assent. Autumn turns windy, huge,
A clear vase of dry leaves vibrating on and on.
We sit, watching. When I next speak
Love buries itself in me, up to the hilt.

James Merrill

Wednesday Poem-Wallace Stevens

Postcard From The Volcano

Children picking up our bones
Will never know that these were once
As quick as foxes on the hill;

And that in autumn, when the grapes
Made sharp air sharper by their smell
These had a being, breathing frost;

And least will guess that with our bones
We left much more, left what still is
The look of things, left what we felt

At what we saw. The spring clouds blow
Above the shuttered mansion-house,
Beyond our gate and the windy sky

Cries out a literate despair.
We knew for long the mansion’s look
And what we said of it became

A part of what it is . . . Children,
Still weaving budded aureoles,
Will speak our speech and never know,

Will say of the mansion that it seems
As if he that lived there left behind
A spirit storming in blank walls,

A dirty house in a gutted world,
A tatter of shadows peaked to white,
Smeared with the gold of the opulent sun.

Wallace Stevens

A little authoritative and paternal, but a Romantic poet. A modernist, brilliant with language but precise in meaning, abstract, somewhat philosophical.  They say he had a deathbed conversion. Here’s another line of his:

The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.“

And then just to frustrate matters more:

Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.

David Hume

See Also:  Wednesday Poem: Wallace Stevens-Anecdote of The Jar…and while I may not agree with his conclusions, Denis Dutton knows aesthetics pretty well and philosophy too:  Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’…Bryan Magee Via Youtube: ‘John Passmore on Hume: Section 1′

f-30-moving-carousel-1

Wednesday Poem-Robert Frost

A Late Walk

When I go up through the mowing field,
The headless aftermath,
Smooth-laid like thatch with the heavy dew,
Half closes the garden path.

And when I come to the garden ground,
The whir of sober birds
Up from the tangle of withered weeds
Is sadder than any words

A tree beside the wall stands bare,
But a leaf that lingered brown,
Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought,
Comes softly rattling down.

I end not far from my going forth
By picking the faded blue
Of the last remaining aster flower
To carry again to you.

Robert Frost

Tuesday Poem-Dana Gioia

California Hills In August

I can imagine someone who found
these fields unbearable, who climbed
the hillside in the heat, cursing the dust,
cracking the brittle weeds underfoot,
wishing a few more trees for shade.

An Easterner especially, who would scorn
the meagerness of summer, the dry
twisted shapes of black elm,
scrub oak, and chaparral, a landscape
August has already drained of green.

One who would hurry over the clinging
thistle, foxtail, golden poppy,
knowing everything was just a weed,
unable to conceive that these trees
and sparse brown bushes were alive.

And hate the bright stillness of the noon
without wind, without motion,
the only other living thing
a hawk, hungry for prey, suspended
in the blinding, sunlit blue.

And yet how gentle it seems to someone
raised in a landscape short of rain—
the skyline of a hill broken by no more
trees than one can count, the grass,
the empty sky, the wish for water.

Dana Gioia

Thanks, reader.  What are you doing with your imagination? (the first and last lines).

Missed the month by one day….

Four Poems & A Short Story Collected Throughout The Years-Aging

Men At Forty

Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.

At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it moving
Beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.

And deep in mirrors
They rediscover
The face of the boy as he practises tying
His father’s tie there in secret

And the face of the father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.
They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something

That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortgaged houses.

Donald Justice

IV

My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.

William Butler Yeats

Whole poem here (Vacillation).

An Old Man

In the inner room of the noisy café
an old man sits bent over a table;
a newspaper before him, no companion beside him.

And in the scorn of his miserable old age,
he meditates how little he enjoyed the years
when he had strength, the art of the word, and good looks.

He knows he has aged much; he is aware of it, he sees it,
and yet the time when he was young seems like
yesterday. How short a time, how short a time.

And he ponders how Wisdom had deceived him;
and how he always trusted her—what folly!—
the liar who would say, “Tomorrow. You have ample time.”

He recalls impulses he curbed; and how much
joy he sacrificed. Every lost chance
now mocks his senseless prudence.

…But with so much thinking and remembering
the old man reels. And he dozes off
bent over the table of the café.

C.P. Cavafy (translation from the Greek found here).

The Old Fools

What do they think has happened, the old fools,
To make them like this? Do they somehow suppose
It’s more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools,
And you keep on pissing yourself, and can’t remember
Who called this morning? Or that, if they only chose,
They could alter things back to when they danced all night,
Or went to their wedding, or sloped arms some September?
Or do they fancy there’s really been no change,
And they’ve always behaved as if they were crippled or tight,
Or sat through days of thin continuous dreaming
Watching the light move? If they don’t (and they can’t), it’s strange;
                               Why aren’t they screaming?

At death you break up: the bits that were you
Start speeding away from each other for ever
With no one to see. It’s only oblivion, true:
We had it before, but then it was going to end,
And was all the time merging with a unique endeavour
To bring to bloom the million-petalled flower
Of being here. Next time you can’t pretend
There’ll be anything else. And these are the first signs:
Not knowing how, not hearing who, the power
Of choosing gone. Their looks show that they’re for it:
Ash hair, toad hands, prune face dried into lines –
                               How can they ignore it?

Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms
Inside your head, and people in them, acting
People you know, yet can’t quite name; each looms
Like a deep loss restored, from known doors turning,
Setting down a lamp, smiling from a stair, extracting
A known book from the shelves; or sometimes only
The rooms themselves, chairs and a fire burning,
The blown bush at the window, or the sun’s
Faint friendliness on the wall some lonely
Rain-ceased midsummer evening. That is where they live:
Not here and now, but where all happened once.
                              This is why they give

An air of baffled absence, trying to be there
Yet being here. For the rooms grow farther, leaving
Incompetent cold, the constant wear and tear
Of taken breath, and them crouching below
Extinction’s alp, the old fools, never perceiving
How near it is. This must be what keeps them quiet:
The peak that stays in view wherever we go
For them is rising ground. Can they never tell
What is dragging them back, and how it will end? Not at night?
Not when the strangers come? Never, throughout
The whole hideous inverted childhood? Well,
                             We shall find out.

Philip Larkin

It’s barely twelve pages long, dear reader.

What are you doing with your time and imagination?

You’re fine, Mr. Corte.  In fact, you’re looking a little better than yesterday…:

‘Giuseppe Corte didn’t need anything, but he began to chat freely with the young woman, asking for information about the clinic. In this way, he learned about the hospital’s unique practice of assigning its patients to different floors in accordance with the gravity of their illness. On the seventh floor, the top floor, only the very mildest cases were treated. Those whose forms of the illness weren’t grave, but who certainly couldn’t be neglected, were assigned to the sixth floor. More serious infections were treated on the fifth floor, and so on and so forth. Gravely ill patients were housed on the second floor; and on the first floor, those for whom all hope had been abandoned.’

You probably spent a lot of energy when younger, wishing to be older, and as you get older, find yourself spending time wishing you were younger.

 

Thursday Poem-Walt Whitman

Facing West From California’s Shores

Facing west, from California’s shores,
Inquiring, tireless, seeking what is yet unfound,
I, a child, very old, over waves, towards the house of maternity, the land of migrations, look afar,
Look off the shores of my Western Sea—the circle almost circled;
For, starting westward from Hindustan, from the vales of Kashmere,
From Asia—from the north—from the God, the sage, and the hero,
From the south—from the flowery peninsulas, and the spice islands;
Long having wander’d since—round the earth having wander’d,
Now I face home again—very pleas’d and joyous;
(But where is what I started for, so long ago? And why it is yet unfound?)

Walt Whitman