I caught this morning morning’s minion, king- dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing, As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear, Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.
Some people who commissioned Boston’s City Hall were probably thinking they were bringing something new and wonderful into the world: Inspiring, modern, transformative.
The folks at bureaucratic levels up-top would steer this concrete ship, scanning the Horizon for The Future. The People down below, justly and benevolently guided, would feel welcome and do people-y, citizen-y things as though in a terrarium.
Maybe that’s why it’s not so popular.
At least it isn’t Buzludzha, The Communist Spaceship plopped down as though from a world of Pure Ideology, Nature properly subdued:
Folks, my life’s pretty good, but we all have moments when a poem can be there to comfort us.
Sometimes, the bleak can be desired; a dreary, iron-gray winter sky in November. Frost upon gravel in an abandoned parking-lot. Knotweed. Slush beneath snow. A few images clearly passing as your feet, fingers and face become numb: Green-glass under lakewater.
Clear water in a brilliant bowl, Pink and white carnations. The light In the room more like a snowy air, Reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow At the end of winter when afternoons return. Pink and white carnations – one desires So much more than that. The day itself Is simplified: a bowl of white, Cold, a cold porcelain, low and round, With nothing more than the carnations there.
Say even that this complete simplicity Stripped one of all one’s torments, concealed The evilly compounded, vital I And made it fresh in a world of white, A world of clear water, brilliant-edged, Still one would want more, one would need more, More than a world of white and snowy scents.
There would still remain the never-resting mind, So that one would want to escape, come back To what had been so long composed. The imperfect is our paradise. Note that, in this bitterness, delight, Since the imperfect is so hot in us, Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.
Well, it’s not a photograph quite abstract enough to get to mid-century American abstract expressionism, anyways.
Where did poems and paintings go, exactly, within the imaginations of many in this past generation now passing away?
Why I Am Not A Painter
I am not a painter, I am a poet. Why? I think I would rather be a painter, but I am not. Well,
for instance, Mike Goldberg is starting a painting. I drop in. “Sit down and have a drink” he says. I drink; we drink. I look up. “You have SARDINES in it.” “Yes, it needed something there.” “Oh.” I go and the days go by and I drop in again. The painting is going on, and I go, and the days go by. I drop in. The painting is finished. “Where’s SARDINES?” All that’s left is just letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.
But me? One day I am thinking of a color: orange. I write a line about orange. Pretty soon it is a whole page of words, not lines. Then another page. There should be so much more, not of orange, of words, of how terrible orange is and life. Days go by. It is even in prose, I am a real poet. My poem is finished and I haven’t mentioned orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.
Poems require your mouth and mind to come alive. But aren’t there real things, to which these words refer within our visual memories, out in the world?
Are you lost within the peaks and valleys of the sounds, mesmerized by the singer and the song (poet and poem), as well as the underlying patterns, working upon your mind?
What are you doing with your visual imagination?
If you’re like me, maybe you just want a few minutes of pleasure; a return to when your mind (if you’re getting older) encoded sounds into a map within, during times of impressionable openness.
Strange how they stick around:
As posted: Let’s go further back, now, to a place and time which we’ve never experienced, but live partially within:
Maybe it’s Pilgrim’s pride, or perhaps the Puritan pursuit of image-less purity, or the Colonialists ecumenical style, or maybe even some Shaker weirdness that finds itself up for analysis.
Perhaps somewhere there’s a spare, Yankee work ethic resting on a simple, wooden shelf in the ‘American mind.’
Could such a thing be discovered within mid 20th-century modernism?
Robert Hughes takes a look at Donald Judd’s ‘Temple Of Aesthetic Fanaticism,’ and Richard Serra’s nod to Jackson Pollack and abstract expressionism in the rawness of material sculpture. You know, making stuff (a potentially sensitive subject with so many technological changes going on right now).
(link may not last):
As for Land Art, Michael Heizer’s life’s-work land-art project is apparently complete, if such a thing can be complete:
Apparently, Heizer’s been working since 1972 on this sculpture in the Eastern Nevada desert, which was originally called ‘Complex One.’ It’s morphed into his life’s work, called City. It’s very large. It can’t be moved. You can’t reproduce it. It represents a break from traditional sculpture. It can’t be put in a museum and it’s not clear that it has a function.
In Brasil, they just started from the top-down and built a city that doesn’t work that well for people: Brasilia: A Planned City
I have to confess that seeing that structure upon the wide open emptiness of Eastern Nevada is comforting for the familiarity it brings. It’s a little bit of order upon the unknown, and the design, or lack thereof (about which a man may wonder), within Nature herself. I think this is why a military installation out in the desert can captivate the imagination as it’s been known to in Hollywood and in the public mind (dreaming of aliens and conspiracies).
To expand on that theme, Wallace Stevens might shed some light. He was an American poet on the hinge between Romanticism and Modernism:
Anecdote of the Jar
I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.
The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.
It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.
What do you do with an uncivilized, wild land? Import European learning and literature “atop” it? Christian tradition and the Natural Law? Import the triumph of the Western mathematical sciences and technology? Import its movements of the arts and the individual artist?
That’s a nod to this site’s international readers. Maybe it’s worth posting some poems and music to share with others.
Thanks to everyone for stopping by. It’s appreciated.
Sailing After Lunch
It is the word pejorative that hurts. My old boat goes round on a crutch And doesn’t get under way. It’s the time of the year And the time of the day.
Perhaps it’s the lunch that we had Or the lunch that we should have had. But I am, in any case, A most inappropriate man In a most unpropitious place.
Mon Dieu, hear the poet’s prayer. The romantic should be here. The romantic should be there. It ought to be everywhere. But the romantic must never remain,
Mon Dieu, and must never again return. This heavy historical sail Through the mustiest blue of the lake In a really vertiginous boat Is wholly the vapidest fake. . . .
It is least what one ever sees. It is only the way one feels, to say Where my spirit is I am, To say the light wind worries the sail, To say the water is swift today,
To expunge all people and be a pupil Of the gorgeous wheel and so to give That slight transcendence to the dirty sail, By light, the way one feels, sharp white, And then rush brightly through the summer air.
***Wallace Stevens is often going meta and abstract, confusing nearly all readers, while indulging heavily in a lush Romantic style which later transitions to more blank verse modernism. He’s sailing and he’s writing. He’s charting new waters, the old dandy.
Neither Far Out Nor In Deep
The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.
As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull.
The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be—
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.
They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep
Some popular songs have buried themselves into people’s minds as well: Young love on a blanket. Shadow and sun. Days that seem to last forever. Songwriting that appeals to innocence and common experience.
Life’s got darker sides, too, and so does human nature. Atlantic City became an East-Coast economic center for legal gambling; an empire which rose and fell. The seediness was never that far from the surface.
I An old man sits In the shadow of a pine tree In China. He sees larkspur, Blue and white, At the edge of the shadow, Move in the wind. His beard moves in the wind. The pine tree moves in the wind. Thus water flows Over weeds.
II The night is of the colour Of a woman’s arm: Night, the female, Obscure, Fragrant and supple, Conceals herself. A pool shines, Like a bracelet Shaken in a dance.
III I measure myself Against a tall tree. I find that I am much taller, For I reach right up to the sun, With my eye; And I reach to the shore of the sea With my ear. Nevertheless, I dislike The way ants crawl In and out of my shadow.
IV When my dream was near the moon, The white folds of its gown Filled with yellow light. The soles of its feet Grew red. Its hair filled With certain blue crystallizations From stars, Not far off.
V Not all the knives of the lamp-posts, Nor the chisels of the long streets, Nor the mallets of the domes And high towers, Can carve What one star can carve, Shining through the grape-leaves.
VI Rationalists, wearing square hats, Think, in square rooms, Looking at the floor, Looking at the ceiling. They confine themselves To right-angled triangles. If they tried rhomboids, Cones, waving lines, ellipses As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon Rationalists would wear sombreros.
I quite like this one. Perhaps it’s because of what I see as a Romantic sensibility fitted to imagistic purpose.
As to that final stanza: That’s a lot of very lush language to describe what are, to my mind, very visual-field, mathematical concepts. Stevens was a poet of lush language, celebrating it like the old dandy he was, but also translating the Romantic arrangment of language to the spare, image-based aims of modernism. Make it new and strip it down.
Perhaps, this is more the tension occurring here rather than that of a frustrated mathematician.
I’ll try and stir the pot a bit:
‘…modern rationalism is what commonplace minds made out of the inspiration of men of discrimination and genius.’
Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. Pg 6.
One might ask what kind of genius? Artistic, linguistic and poetic? Or rather mathematical and physical? Parts of this debate could be said to stretch back to the Greeks, at least. They exist [such debates] all around us today, within our universities, politics and lives.
Personally, I’m reminded of many modern debates over reason, what it can do , what it can’t, and also many rationalist/anti-rationalist reactions to it.
The Romantic impulse generally involves a return to Nature and the countryside, away from civilization. The poet and the artist also invite one back to one’s own sense experience anew; the ambitious attempting to celebrate the emotions and grand themes without a hint of irony (love, death, war).
At least, many try and show us as we are and can be to ourselves.
“Stevens’s conscience made him confront the chief issues of his era: the waning of religion, the indifferent nature of the physical universe, the theories of Marxism and socialist realism, the effects of the Depression, the uncertainties of philosophical knowledge, and the possibility of a profound American culture, present and future.”
“Stevens’s poetry oscillates, throughout his life, between verbal ebullience and New England spareness, between the high rhetoric of England (and of religion) and the “plain sense of things” that he sometimes felt to be more American…”
‘My point is only that Santayana — the Spanish-born, Boston-bred, Harvard educated cosmopolite — stands out as an unusual specimen in the philosophical fraternity. He wrote beautifully, for one thing, commanding a supple yet robust prose that was elegant but rarely precious or self-infatuated’
and Kimball on Santayana’s interaction with William James:
‘Temperamentally, the two men were complete opposites — James bluff, hearty, the thorough New England pragmatist in manner as well as philosophical outlook: Santayana the super-refined, sonnet-writing, exquisitely disillusioned Catholic Spaniard. In many ways, Santayana was closer in spirit to William’s brother Henry.’
For what it’s worth, I recall a deeply Catholic lament and longing in the Spanish character, which can be combined with a kind of clear-eyed realism and stoicism, but not always. The faith runs deep in St Teresa and her passions, and despite Miguel de Unamuno’s rationalist influences, I remember a general preference for wisdom in the Tragic Sense Of Life.
Something clicked regarding Spain when I finally visited the Escorial outside of Madrid after many months of being in that city. It’s a grand castle of course, but it also struck me as rather plain, barracks-like at times. Very austere. It was explained that the Escorial was both a royal palace and a monastery:
‘Philip’s instructions to Herrera stipulated “simplicity of form, severity in the whole, nobility without arrogance, majesty without ostentation,” qualities clearly illustrated by the long sweep of these facades.’
‘El Escorial was built to honor St. Lawrence, who was burned on a grill. In order to remind the citizens of his martyrdom and sacrifice, the entire building is a grill. Yes, it is shaped like a grill. There are paintings of St. Lawrence on a grill, grills are carved into the doorways, the weather vain is in the shape of a grill, the backs of chairs are supposed to be grills, the list literally could go on forever.’
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.
Throw something at it and see if it sticks. I like Helen Vendler’s interpretation….
What do you do with an uncivilized, wild land? Import European learning and literature “atop” it?
The nature/culture divide? Nature is wonderful but it is to culture where we must return. If you are an artist, you turn towards direct experience in this land, but…you also turn to that which inspires you…European learning and thought….the products of other cultures.