Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saturday commute lviii: time in the rigging

      The salt is on the briar rose,
      The fog is in the fir trees.
      The sea howl
      And the sea yelp, are different voices
      Often together heard: the whine is in the rigging,
      The menace and caress of wave that breaks on water,
      The distant rote in the granite teeth,
      And the wailing warning from the approaching headland
      Are all sea voices ..

T. S. Eliot
Four Quartets
  The Dry Salvages
Harcourt, 1943©

That's the trouble with some neighbourhoods

At a certain hour a fellow is vulnerable to being caught, admitting that he really isn't doing anything in particular, before he's awake enough to realise that at the other end of the line is Betty Commilfaux, lamenting the default of her evening's extra man, right in the middle of a rubber of bridge. And you, so gainfully contesting with your English Cocker for nesting rights at the foot of the bed, as to ignore the precedent of con-cession your bailing her out will mean, agree to sit in. Ripples of your indiscipline will pervade not one but two memories, even if you do carry the night by delivering Betty her biscuit.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Suppose it were Friday lvii: finding the words

for David Letimide

What delights the poet, then,
in the exposition of an idea?

I am afraid the answer is
offered Harvard's Helen
Vendler in her Clark Lec-
tures at Trinity College 
in 2003 - an annual rite
in letters on a par with
being offered the Order
of the Garter for endur-
ing the scrutiny of the
Victoria Cross. To this
ingredient, she offered
two others from Alexander
Pope - memorableness and

If, then, it is not so much ideas that Pope is after as the representation of his own more vivid form of thinking, how shall we define the kind of thinking the literary reader finds in Pope? Living thought must establish itself as the norm at the very beginning of the verse .. Living thought has to be quick and mobile, ever darting to extremes and polarities, but resting in none of them. Living thought must, like ordinary thought, character-ise, allegorise, reason, de-nominate and analogise - but it must also jump up and down, over and under, left and right; it must swell and contract, leap from register to register, joke and feel pangs.

     Above all, it must advance 
     too swiftly for instant 
     intelligibility: the reader 
     must hang on for the ride, 
     bouncing to the next hurdle 
     hardly having recovered his 
     seat from the last. It is 
     as if the poet wants to 

     This is what thinking is 
     really like: have you 
     ever known it?

In his Epistle ii from the poem Vendler is discussing, An Essay on Man (1733), Alexander Pope lends her this explicit support:

Most strength the moving principle requires;
Active its task, it prompts, impels, inspires.
Sedate and quiet, the comparing lies,
Form'd but to check, delib'rate and advise ..

Always when one comes to the Essay, 
the glory of play is what rises 
closest to the formative surface, 
permeating and suffusing that 
veneer as we feel in our sweetest 
exertions. Even 'sedate and quiet'
as our posture may be, we engage
in that extracting, idealising
race which is the victory of
our poetry - to make itself our
natural mode of discourse with
those we love: memorable, con-
cise, too fleet to refuse. 

Helen Vendler
Poets Thinking
  Alexander Pope: Thinking,
  Miniaturizing, Modeling,
  and Mocking Ideas
Harvard University Press, 2004©

Alexander Pope
The Poems of Alexander Pope
  An Essay on Man, II, 67-70
John Butt, editor
The Twickenham Text
Yale University Press, 1963©

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Called back

Mr Laurent. Mr Laurent. Mr Laurent.
With three cool fingers pressed on
the back of my hand, I heard a calm
feminine voice calling to me, and
awakened to see my young Swedish-born,
Brown University-educated, New York
residencied internist standing at my 
side as I emerged from surgery in my 
hospital room in Virginia. I have con- 
fided that she is beautiful, I have 
tried to show that we can not give 
up the balsam of that reality in any-
thing. My belief had told me, she
would be there, but to come back from
unconsciousness in this way is to feel
repair in its greatest depth.

My last words to her, via telephone before my peripheral arterial by-pass operation, were that it was undeniably certain that she had saved my life. This was a race against time, wringing tighter every day. I remember, at our first visit, how her quiet I just wish we knew what is causing this gave me complete confidence in her care. And, within hours, leapfrogging whole protocols of other tests, she had me in the painstaking hands of interventional radiologists who immediately passed me into surgery, with as exhaustive a map of an arterial system as has ever been drawn.

I was extremely unwell, without knowing it except in incidental pains and odd discolourations. And although this surgery was a godsend, it delivered me rather only to a new life of self-repair in ways of living - with which I am eager to get started. I have a great project, which perhaps I had lacked, and the experience gathered that perspective in myriad small enormous ways. A youngster whose tumblr I warmly admire posted a superb portrait of Eliot on the same day, with the most exquisitely apposite quotation from East Coker, rinsing me in that lifelong relationship ~
To arrive where you are, 
to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way 

wherein there is no ecstasy.

But, always, some France. I had a note from a young mother of two, distracted by her husband and son, inventing mathematics and lunch down the hall, by her daughter practicing ballet in the adjoining sitting room; and one could not but see her as the solar center of an antic vitality, which I find handsomely verified in her garden in the Touraine.

Cascades of signals of actual loveliness compete, in any recovery space, with breath-shortening pain and mind blunt-ing medications. Studying alternative versions of Dylan's Tom Thumb's Blues one afternoon, I was interrupted by a visit from my presiding surgeon, a guy about my age. I told him, Here, you gotta borrow this, there's more to it than we thought. As in Kerouac's sad Big Sur and in Eliot's most caustically bitter imagery, there is the great beauty of the caring human voice, confessing to its default condition of love. Mr Laurent. Mr Laurent. Mr Laurent.

T. S. Eliot
The Four Quartets
Mariner Books, 1968©

Bob Dylan
No Direction Home
Film sound track
Martin Scorsese, director
PBS, 2005©

iii  Matthias Lauridsen

iv   Private source

v    Derek

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My favourite clothespin vi: wearing the day as one's own

Jean-Pierre Léaud
Henri Decaë, photo
François Truffaut


              Antoine Doinel boosted a machine
              à écrire from his adoptive father's 
              office, the only one there was, and 
              sped with it, hunched over in strides 
              that burst like goblets on the stony 
              stair to the lunchtime street, his 
              classmate waiting anxiously: to shock 
              a flock of pigeons still exploding from 
              a gutter as he comes to us in flight.

              There is no saying some things.

              Until its final frame, for which the
              shot above is a preparation - like
              David Lean's speck in the desert dis-
              tance for Omar Sharif - the dominant
              signature of this film is that of the
              hurry. Yet beneath this pace a dialectic
              struggle between expulsion and retention,
              effacement and treasuring is continuous
              and elegantly momentous, on the wearing
              and bearing of time. Now, in moments,
              the rhetorical machine will stop, and
              there it will be.

Les Quatre Cents Coups
Les Films du Carrosse©

Interlude prolonged

The previous posting dates
from Monday, the 5th, and
the one which follows dates
from Tuesday, the 6th. To 
my satisfaction they give an
authentically lovely effect,
of a world where they belong
together. Theirs are search-
ing, candid qualities, not per-
taining to red mug, blue linen 
in the native sense but to its 
explorations since 2010.

I resorted to my telephone on 
the 8th, to reserve the entries
in draft, when I learned I would 
be away from this page for sev-
eral more days than expected. In
reposting them now in their or-
iginal sequence, I position that
absence in the past, but still

Readers have therefore seen these
postings but not this interlinea-
tion. I lately came to my house and
paged the lead surgeon from my busy
cardiovascular intervention, which
had taken me by surprise and not a
few infusions of greatly disorient-
ing medications, to tell him that
although there were some bleeding 
to report, I was resting quietly on
my back, reading funny stories from
The New Yorker. He told me this was
the perfect thing to do, and that I
was plainly on the right path. I 
didn't think it necessary to say, 
these were pretty severe satires
from Dorothy Parker. I'll smile, but I like it to be for a good cause. :)

I wish people who come to this page for delight to feel the per-sistence of miracles behind it. I just come to say, I know ours is a beautiful study, that no refine-ment of the native gift for it is ill-pursued; and that if we happen to cite Clément Chabernaud on the cable-knit turtleneck, it is not for lack of miraculous precedent. Whose miracle is this, anyway, we ask each other, as uncertain as March: the ultimate grace note of the sweetest heart ever to engage in cinema, or the inexhaustible autonomy of delight? How does all of this go on, with so little general uproar of cognition?  

In the hospital, a friend brought me the inconceivably worst piece of literature for this proposition, yet I doubt that I'd ever have found its perfect magnificence in any other setting - Jack Kerouac's delirium tremens saga, Big Sur. Against a ghastly authenticity in remembrance there lay that paradox of an artist giving life and loyalty to his narrative of excruci-ating helplessness, which allows us to regard Guernica as a brilliant Stubbs.
At the same time, there were wonderfully kind notes from friends I had asked for permission to say I was afraid. This is what my brother asked of me one night. I hope I was so generous.

Monday, March 12, 2012


I shall be without Whit for a few
days and this page, without me. I
leave a light in the window for 
Tuesday in a posting queue - 
but with reluctance. I would rath-
er avoid commanding attention in 
absentia. Still, everyone has a
thing he wouldn't have wanted not
to have said, in case he were to
keep walking, instead.

With this entry, 'though, an ar-
gument. We must not relegate re-
gard for this face to its gender;
and yet we do. I have an unthink-
ably beautiful new doctor, whose
voice and face and manner give me
acceptance as much as confidence,
in what she says. The condescen-
sion in ladies to this quality of
theirs is insufferable, the dis-
placement of the subject taking
the turn, chronically, of meas-
ured praises for conduct rather
than for being. And too bad, for
the being of this face is a pre-
cipitation of bliss beyond any
divide of desire or edict of
taste. It isn't relevant, how 
well she wears it; that specu-
lation insults the suspension, 
not of disbelief, but of be-
lief configured in the blind-
ness of infancy. Possibly, I
remark only on a quality in

With this argument, 'though, a
commendation. In this past week
my reading has given me two as-
sociations of photography and
poetry which touch, in an exem-
plary way, on our natural re-
sponse to naturalism in either 
form. Readers of this page will
be glad to notice these blog en-
tries, resisting comparing one
with the other, where the photo
takes precedence in one and the
poem in the other. Possibly, in
either, I remark only on a qual-
ity in age.

No, we don't, do we, dine in

Photograph Peter Lindbergh

Photograph Nestor Almendros