Saturday, August 31, 2013

Saturday commute lxxxviii: frontiers of the railway child

.. for when you lose your happiness,
I always say, you lose your life.

.. Wordsworth dramatises the predicament
by recollecting the sense of alienation
and traitorous disaffection which he ex-
perienced in church during the prayers 
for the success of the English armies.
No shock before or since, Wordsworth says,
no blow administered to what he calls his
moral nature equalled the disorienting
pened in his loyalties. And, of course,
the poem in which Wordsworth reports the
trauma is the very poem whose composition
was part of the process of healing the
trauma. 'The Prelude' is about a conscious-
articulating its conflict and crises. And
the same could be said of much poetry from
Northern Ireland. For the best efforts there
have been evident in writing that is a mode
of integration, of redistributing the whole
field of cultural and political force into
a tolerable order.

       When we climbed the slopes of the cutting
       We were eye-level with the white cups
       Of the telegraph poles and the sizzling wires.

       Like lovely freehand they curved for miles
       East and miles west beyond us, sagging
       Under their burden of swallows.

       We were small and thought we knew nothing
       Worth knowing. We thought words travelled the wires
       In the shiny pouches of raindrops,

       Each one seeded full with the light
       Of the sky, the gleam of the lines, and ourselves
       So infinitesimally scaled

       We could stream through the eye of a needle.

The Burial at Thebes
  A Version of Sophocles' 'Antigone'
  Speech of The Messenger
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004©

The Redress of Poetry
  The Frontiers of Writing
  Oxford lecture
  November 23, 1993
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995©

Station Island
  The Railway Children
Faber & Faber, 1985©


Friday, August 30, 2013

Long night out

   But when the sun shines on the earth,
   In reality
   It does not shine on a thing that remains
   What it was yesterday.
   The sun rises
   On whatever the earth happens to be.

And there are indeterminate moments
Before it rises ..

Before one can tell
What the bottle is going to be -
Porcelain, Venetian glass,
Egyptian .
Well, there are moments
When the candle, sputtering up,
Finds itself in seclusion,
And shines, perhaps, for the beauty of shining.

That is the seclusion of sunrise
Before it shines on any house.

Wallace Stevens
Collected Poetry and Prose
Frank Kermode and
  Joan Richardson, editors
Three Travelers Watch a Sunrise
  A Play
The Library of America, 1997©

Thursday, August 29, 2013

I don't want to be in politics and war

  D'you remember John Adams?
  Of course you do. We share
  our youth, from war, poli-
  tics, and (although he did
  not say it), he implied, a
  money frenzy commonly pur-
  sued in the democracies.

  On the other hand, sharing
  Adams' dream does rely upon
  an a priori seizure of cap-
  ital, if not a government.

  Government is old but money
  is quite new. It is easier,
  and so few need ever notice.

  Our nations are for hire or
  for let, and gold is always
  fungible. They are cyphers
  to allow to flutter by day, 
  to haul them down at night.

  To be cut from that cloth.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

If the shoe fits

Under the circumstances -
to which, momentarily, we
will come - it was perfect-
wonder what footwear to ad-
opt for his parade by the
reflecting pool today. Hop-
ing for the best could take
at least two forms, and in
naturally were more.

The circumstances that per-
plexed him were not meteor-
but tweakingly rhetorical:
were out en masse, to giggle
at his naïveté. They accused
him of walking to summon a
better world; and nothing de-
lights a right-winger more,
than to cite the folly this

No, he resolved, I'll just

Monday, August 26, 2013

An extreme lack of dignity in the conduct of the state

I could almost fancy my-
self ripening too, along 
with the oranges and the 
limes in that grateful 
warmth - or in watching 
the dace that darted to 
and fro in the fish-pond, 
at the bottom of the gar-
den, with here and there 
a great sulky pike hanging 
midway down the water in 
silent state, as if it 
mocked at their impertin-
ent friskings, - I had more 
pleasure in these busy-idle 
diversions than in all the 
sweet flavours of peaches, 
nectarines, oranges, and 
such like common baits of 

Is this in the short list
of the brightest and most
humane prose writing this
language has heard? Ignor-
ing the intensity and del-
icacy of this writer's
bucolic similes, is there
not, when you hold your own
child close, praise for the
vision of his development?

Mr John Kerry attended the
St Paul's School. I hold a
Paulie, with several of whom
I rowed, and not a few with
whom I got drunk over cards
in those undergrad years, to
a reasonable standard of sob-
riety when introducing one to
a new war.

Now I hear, the sulky pike is
about to chastise the little
fish, for besmirching the vows
of a government which does not
reign over them. How used one

Mad as it could be portrayed
to be, I feel an obligation 
to my readers to dissect this
tragic series of remarks, as
virtually a Virgilian ledger
of the corruption of a harvest.
The sensation - and we all do
know it - of ripening under a
struggle to learn and to mas-
ter - is such, in Lamb, that 
the catastrophe of any mis-
direction feels like a dis-
avowal of nature, itself.

At the moment, however, one
has to rely on the theory of
republican government: that
all are implicated by consent
in its conduct. If one can
consent to a war precipitated
on the basis of revolting pic-
tures; if one cannot contain
one's panic when the evidence
of rage's impotency is exposed; 
if one can honestly regard death
as an instrument of instruction,
then one may assert any umbrage
as a Cause. And cut the cards.

  A Reverie
London Magazine
January, 1822

Jonas Kloch

Theirs was a dignity springing

Theirs was a dignity springing
from the very depth of their
desolation; as to be naked is
to be so much nearer to the be-
ing a man, than to go in livery.

I wonder, that a lifetime of
listening to right-wing cal-
umnies against the human hand-
iwork of feudal oppression can
fail to inoculate one for their
refrain, every time demand for
justice gains a common cadence
in the street. Underneath all
the undoubtedly meretricious
manipulations of symbolism to
be expected in this week's re-
vival of 1963's mobilisation
at the Lincoln Memorial, in-
cluding yet another mockery
of commitment by the President,
there remains the unblinkable
fact of feudalism's enduring
fashion, and lower still, the
flippant phrases of its ideo-
logy. I remember when Summer
re-runs of our sitcoms could
draw us back to our devices
with more dramatic credibil-
ity. Suspense is not a strong
suit in our demagogues, and
human character is conspicu-
ous by its absence.

I've been spending the most
wonderful mid-August days
just now, thanks to my in-
whose recommendation of a
philosophical new text has
filled some hours with the
tellingly distilled botan-
icals of pure Thatcherism.

John Gray's ruminations an-
ticipate so well Gerson's
and Will's, Krauthammer's
and Brooks' to befall us
this week, that I'm almost
ready to pay for them im-
mediately, instead of al-
lowing any implication of
Gray's being for hire to
mar his native villainy.
I have friends who make
the same excuse for these
four horsemen, emolument
exhibiting its gift for
redemption, yet again.

The catarrh of contumely
scarcely gathers specific
gravity of spittle, any-
more, clichés of contempt
cascading from the gorge
as the dessications of old
wind that they are. A few
dolorous misprisions of Con-
rad here, a putrefaction of
Pascal there, and we have a
text bought and paid for in
perpetuity, by the inculcated
prejudices of the lucky. The
gentlest essayist in this lan-
guage saw them coming by their
going, in satire struck from
Shakespeare - 

Age, thou hast lost thy breed.

  A Complaint of the Decay
  of Beggars in the Metropolis
London Magazine
June, 1822
Jonathan Bate, editor
Elia and The Last Essays
  of Elia
Oxford University Press, 1987©

Hermès, 2012