Friday, November 18, 2016

Reference points for the pending era

Sun in the heaven,
Thou art the cause of my mirth,
Star in the evening
Thine is my province since birth;
Depths of the sky
Yours are the depths of my worth.

 An American poet who concentrated
 repeatedly on reference points to
 mark, or verify a "normal life" -
 despite external conditions - wrote
 this short poem in comparative youth
 and called it, Self-Respect. That in-
 teresting value, seeming these days
 to have precipitated the least res-
 pectful moral framework for knowing
 normal life, ever to descend upon
 America, comes back to mind as so
 many grope for reference points now,
 to endure it, and of course, not
 merely to transcend it but to erase
 it. Voltaire's Écrasez l'infâme isn't
 the phrase we need, but it's apt.
 What one wants, are reference points
 for pursuing humane life.

Resistance is not an interval, 
but absorption necessarily is. 
The extraordinary debasement 
of our culture, to be exalted 
early in the coming year, can-
not be repulsed without some 
period of digesting its ignom-
iny, humiliation, and ravaging 
malice. Simply the reflections
the facts summon to qualify it,
excite its Bacchic vengeance.

We take time, not to ignore,
not to delay, not to console,
but to refine that resolve
which is the vessel of hope.
We don't presume, our proven-
ance does more than anticipate
us. No. But it is galactically
competent, and does not melt
before some snarling meteor.

             Build up the walls about me; close each door;
             And fasten all the windows with your bars;
             Still shall I walk abroad on Heaven's floor
             And be companion to the singing stars.

             Whether your prison be of greatest height
             Or gloomier depth, it matters not. Though blind
             I still shall look upon the burning light,
             And see the flowers dancing in the wind.

             Your walls will disappear; your doors will swing
             Even as I command them. I shall fare
             Either up hill or down, and I shall be
             Beside the happy lark when he takes wing,
             Striking sweet music from the empty air,
             And pass immortal mornings by the sea.

Wallace Stevens
Frank Kermode
  and Joan Richardson
Wallace Stevens
  Collected Poetry
  and Prose
The Library of America, 1997©

ca 411 BC
Robin Robertson
Daniel Mendelsohn
Harper Collins, 2014©

John Richmond
Self Portrait
ca 1840


  1. In this time of upheaval and change, I look to the past—to poets and painters and other artists who have weathered storms—for comfort, assurance and examples of what it is to be steadfast and resolute. I look to beauty for what glimpses of truth I can obtain there. I look to you for sage commentary and a sense of community. I am consoled.

    1. I come here to ask for the same thing.