Sunday, December 31, 2017

A year, untuning just one string

Pandarus. You have no judgment, niece. Helen herself
          swore th'other day that Troilus, for a brown
          favour - for so 'tis, I must confess - not brown
          neither -

Cressida. No, but brown.

Pandarus. Faith, to say truth, brown and not brown.

Cressida. To say truth, true and not true.

A year of desperate misdirection in resistance to rampant, ruthless treachery in American high office found commentator after commentator promising that the next infraction would clarify one's purpose, not to say the plain obligations of words. What began as a universal revulsion with leering denunciation of a female for being female, reaches now a peak in dithering conjecture on what to say about a multi-front war on fact, its institutions, and their survival in the shakiest society this continent has ever known. What is more galling than a privileged voice that will not speak, for fear of what is plain, if not the falseness of objection, gaudily ornamented? Shame now wrings its perfect emulation, as our schoolboy mourns the half-eclipse of his curriculum, just not its tireless prince. He comes.

         The specialty of rule hath been neglected.
         And look how many Grecian tents do stand
         Hollow upon this plain, so many hollow factions.
         When that the general is not like the hive
         To whom the foragers all repair,
         What honey is expected? Degree being vizarded,
         The unworthiest shows as fairly in the mask.

         The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre
         Observe degree, priority, and place,
         Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
         Office, and custom, in all line of order.
         And therefore is the glorious planet Sol
         In noble eminence enthron'd and spher'd
         Amidst the other; whose med'cinable eye
         Corrects the influence of evil planets,
         And posts like the commandment of a king,
         Sans check, to good and bad. 

                                    But when the planets
         In evil mixture to disorder wander,
         What plagues and what portents, what mutiny,
         What raging of the sea, shaking of earth,
         Commotion in the winds, frights, changes, horrors,
         Divert and crack, rend and deracinate
         The unity and married calm of states
         Quite from their fixture! 

                                 O, when degree is shak'd
         Which is the ladder of all high designs,
         The enterprise is sick. How could communities,
         Degrees in schools, and brotherhoods in cities,
         Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
         The primogenity and due of birth,
         Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
         But by degree stand in authentic place?

         Take but degree away, untune that string,
         And hark what discord follows. Each thing melts
         In mere oppugnancy; the bounded waters
         Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores,
         And make a sop of all this solid globe;
         Strength should be lord of imbecility,
         And the rude son should strike his father dead;
         Force should be right - or rather, right and wrong,
         Between whose endless jar justice resides,
         Should lose their names, and so should justice too.

         Then everything includes itself in power,
         Power into will, will into appetite,
         And appetite, an universal wolf,
         So doubly seconded with will and power,
         Must make perforce an universal prey,
         And last eat up himself.

William Shakespeare
Troilus and Cressida
  I, iii, 78 - 123
ca 1608
Kenneth Palmer
The Arden Shakespeare
Methuen, 1982©

René Girard
A Theatre of Envy
  William Shakespeare
Oxford University Press, 1991©

i   Michael Verheyden

ii  Christopher Thompson
    Oil on canvas

iv  Constantine Manos
     Photograph, untitled
     Northern Peloponnese


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Saturday commute cxlix: Pursuit and the genial element

 2017 has given cause to reconsider
 the vulnerabilities of the elements,
 as much as their inherent integrity,
 fickle as well as constant, which can
 deflect as well as temper one's way
 in them. They seem to constitute such
 a system, of their own, as to tempt
 understanding to treat them as predict-
 able. Affections, for example - of ex-
 perience as ancient as a bath, if not
 of sustenance, itself - are even less
 the unvolatile flux of our way in them 
 than their system is inviolate. They
 are subject to other systems, as much
 as reflections of them, in their way.


Friday, December 29, 2017

Suppose it were Friday cxlv: With you all the way


                                      British Legation
                                      15 February [1951]

               Dear Anne,

               A brief line to let you know that Eve
               is coming to London for a fortnight in
               order to scout around and see what she
               thinks about having the baby there; I've
               told her to drop you a line and perhaps
               when she comes to Oxford you'd be good
               enough to give her tea and tell her 
               roughly what the form is ..

               There is no news to give you much that
               you don't see in the papers; ah yes! I
               have struck a great blow for poetry. 
               While in Trieste I found, hiding in a
               garage, too big to be used, a perfectly
               gigantic car - a Horch: the German Rolls-
               Royce. Eight cylinder, forty horse power.
               It used to belong to Goering and then to
               the general commanding the area. I bought
               it for a song and brought it back. It is
               lovely, silver-grey, sleek and with a fun-
               ny old-fashioned look. It makes you feel
               like a film star of the twenties. We call
               it Hermann and are planning one mad summer
               of plutocracy in it before the war breaks
               out [rumored, with the USSR]. As a matter
               of fact you have often seen Hermann in the
               newsreels - do you remember the entry into
               Prague etc with one of the big shots stand-
               ing up in the front and giving the boys the
               salute. That's how I go to the office now.
               Everyone is speechless with rage, and few
               will speak to me these days. But the Bel-
               grade police force is deeply respectful.

               There are two horns on the car, bass and
               tenor. I say that I've struck a blow for
               poetry because it is an ideal poet's car:
               too large for any purpose except triumphal
               entries, and so expensive to run that only
               a lunatic would buy such a thing. I shall
               sell it to Tito when I leave. He already
               has one but not as nice as mine. Wish you
               could come out and admire it.


Spirit of Place
  Letters and Essays
  on Travel
Alan G. Thomas, editor
New Haven, Connecticut

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Alabama goes voting ii

Our morning news brings sad evidence
of an apostasy in Alabama's defrocked
Judge Roy Moore, appealing an adverse
turn in his fate to a secular venue,
a State circuit court in Montgomery.
Why he didn't go straight to his burn-
ing bush for relief from democracy,
is not for one to speculate; but the
humiliation this must bring to his
flock surely must incur our sympathy.
Had they hidden so, only to be seen?

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Chistmas Eve rising

           Ye Mists and Exhalations, that now rise,
           From hill or steaming lake, dusky or grey,
           Till the sun paint your fleecy skirts with gold

If one were to imagine all
the capabilities of language
in advance, it's doubtful if
we'd reach Milton. On Christ-
mas Eve I tend to keep a com-
forting practice, of sitting
up with a snifter of Scotch
to read from Dryden's Aeneid,
but poetry comes up earlier
to me this year, as pressing
its case with morning coffee.

I spent the previous evening,
tossing and turning over where
I had read of the impressions
conveyed to me by this anony-
mous photograph at an elegant
website; but as is often the
case with me, this is why my
dog and I go out upon a dawn,
to rebuild as with the day.

The rather wonderful British
scholar, Alexandra Harris, re-
minds us that John Milton's
Morning Hymn in Book V of his
Paradise Lost was the first po-
etical work ever cited by Tur-
which may or may not have en-
tered Wordworth's mind as he
read from it to Dorothy, over-
looking the valley of Brathay,
"[when] it seemed we had nev-
er before felt deeply the pow-
er of the Poet" (1810).

If there had seemed to be dis-
couragements in power's resort
to language in this year, I'd
not pretend that Milton were
necessary, for allaying them.
Anyone with our slenderer ac-
quaintance of its protections,
has been obliged to heed them.

But this was a poet who plain-
ly believed it of poetry, that
dawn is its manifesting moment.
Something like strength, more
than power, distinguishes this
perception and its fulfillment.
What one feels, is its nerve.
John Milton, a new winter mor-
ning, walking with one's dog.

John Milton
Paradise Lost
  V, 185-187

Alexandra Harris
  Writers and Artists
  under English Skies
Thames & Hudson, 2015©

ii  Leonardo da Vinci
    A copse of trees
    Chalk on paper
    Collection HM Queen Elizabeth II

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Rescue of the houseguest: Our book of the year

One couldn't characterize the con-
sternation in the guest room as a
groundswell of dissidence over the
lack of a book of the year, but it
has projected a clear enough sus-
picion of rudeness in that depriva-
tion, as to moot the effect of the
bonsai, bibelots, bouquets and bon-
bons scattered about that sanctuary.
It's enough, it seems, to put the
cabin's insulation against the in-
ternet in an almost monastic light.
And, no, this was not one's intent.

                                    I know I will go back
             down & that it will not be the same though
             I shall be sure it is so. And I shall be even
             deeper by rhyme and cadence, more held
             to what isn't mine. Music is truly
             the sound of our time, since it is how we most
             deeply recognize the home we may not
             have: the loss is trust and you could
             reverse that without change.

If this is so, then the prose essay is how we most deeply recognize the home which we might not keep, by acts of revocation, reform, perverse Reconstruction or degenerate negligence. Such prospects, setting the tone of 2017 in the United States, our book of the year arrives by discerning compilation of an epistolary trust of great range and penetration, whose virtues - fearlessness, acuity, vitality and consistency - place these essays under comparison with very few writings conducted over a comparable span of time. And there isn't a redundant tone or concession to fashionable flippancy in a one of them. 

             . . But is this a long or a short time?
             I have, however, worked on this place, as
             one speaks of working on some new language.
             I have studied it a bit, driven about alone,
             inland, looking, wondering. Is the quiet a
             true tranquility and peacefulness? I some-
             times think it is and then again - perhaps
             it is something else. There is about the re-
             gion a curious and fascinating softness that
             seems to spread like a blanket over the hard-
             ness of rock and woods and icy turf. This is
             a perturbation, this ambiguous softness in
             the drifting fogs, the thick greens of the
             trees, the dampness, the swampy meadows. It 
             is in the people, too, in the men as well as
             in the women. Not a tropical softness, . .
             but the odd snowy lassitude of isolation.

American readers in the English language
are indebted to the vigorous and discern-
ing critic, Darryl Pinckney, for an edi-
Hardwick, which effusively explode with or-
iginal penetration, music, panache, and
incisive grace. The temptation to quote at
length from them is as intensely seductive
as the qualities of Maine, she discovered,
above. But this aspect of her extraordinary
perceptions has warned critics off, to go
read the whole thing, instead, since that
pathbreaking essay from 1959, The Decline
of Book Reviewing, with which she prefig-
ured her creation, with her husband and
their stupendously competent neighbors, 
of a periodical which has set the standard,
ever since. In a year which saw the loss
of its longtime master-editor, this astute
selection works a double rescue, of guests
who know where their language is welcome.

Mr Pinckney, a former student of hers at
Columbia (from which she had dropped out,
to go write), presents fine contributions
of his own now, to her New York Review of
Books, and a solidly persuasive defense
of his processes of exclusion and selec-
tion. There is an appendix for tracing
the breadth of her publishing, which un-
fortunately omits dates. This compromises
the anthology's primary structural advan-
tage - a chronological sequence of ent-
ries to furnish some supportive context
to every one. But her consistency, with-
out redundant tone or lazy resort to a
familiar stylistic accent, is proof of
more than a self-controlled and trusted
mind; it is the work of determined, con-
stant application, across a broad spec-
trum of human life. Pinckney relates, how
she would frequently decline subjects if
they held no interest to her, but to this
attractive model of behavior, there was
unfailingly a corollary, of illuminating
the house where we might stay.

i   J.H. Prynne
       The White Stones
        Thoughts on the 
          Esterházy Court Uniform
    New York Review Books, 2016©

ii  Elizabeth Hardwick
     1916 - 2007
     The Collected Essays
     Darryl Pinckney, editor
       In Maine
    New York Review Books, 2017©

Phillip Helmke
  Jennifer Adler, photography