Wednesday, December 31, 2014

the huge, unrecorded hum of implication

Some of the charm of the past consists of the quiet -- the great distracting buzz of implication has stopped and we are left only with what has been fully phrased and precisely stated. And part of the melancholy of the past comes from our knowledge that the huge, unrecorded hum of implication was once there and left no trace -- we feel that because it is evanescent it is especially human. We feel, too, that the truth of the great preserved monuments of the past does not fully appear without it.

Lionel Trilling, Manners, Morals and the Novel, from The Liberal Imagination (1950))

The fact that there is a word for silence is an aesthetic creation.

(Jorge Luis Borges, Poetry, from Seven Nights, tr Eliot Weinberger (1984))

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

in animals

Though the Senses know not from what Places or Parts, Cold comes, or what it Causes, yet they know that we have here at this time Cold with all its Potent Strength, as an Army of Flakes of Snow, with Ammunition of Hail for Bullets and Wind for Powder, also huge Ships of Ice, which Float in the Main Sea, and stop up all the Narrow Rivers; also Cold and its Army Shooting forth the Piercing Darts, which fly so Thick and Fast, and are so Sharp, as they enter into every Pore of the Flesh of all Animal Creatures, whereby many Animals are Wounded with Numbness and Die Insensibly although Mankind bring what strength they can get against Cold, as an Army of Furs, where every Hair stands out like a Squadron of Pikes, to resist Cold's Assault; and Ammunition of Coals serves for Bullets, and Ashes for Powder, with great Loggs for Cannons, Billets for Muskets and Carbines, Brush. Faggots for Pistols, where the Bellows as Firelocks, makes them fly up in a Flame; also great Pieces of Beef for Ships for Men of War, with Cabbages for Sails, Sausages for Tacklings, Carrots for Guns, and Marrow-Bones for Masts, Ballasted with Pepper, and Pitch'd or Tarr'd with Mustard, the Card and Needle being Brewis* and Neat's Tongues, the Steers-men Cooks, besides many Pinnaces of Pork, Mutton, and Veal, and Flying Boats, which are Turkies, Capons, Geese, and the like, all which Swim in a Large Sea of Wine, Beer, and Ale, yet for all this we are Beaten into the Chimney-corner, and there we sit Shaking and Trembling like a Company of Cowards, that dare not stir from their Shelter; and many in the Sea-fight have been Drowned, from whence some have been taken up Dead-Drunk, then carried and Buried in a Feather-bed, where, after a Long Sleep, they may have a Resurrection, but how they will be Judged at that time they Rise, whether Damned with Censure or Saved by Excuse, I cannot tell.

(Margaret Cavendish, Sociable Letters (1664))

So slight
that in animals and limbs
- what more that in reputation and disrepute -
like a worm and trampled down
and like me
              and soon
So slight
             and as all
so slight and

(Gunnar Björling, from You Go the Words, tr Fredrik Hertzberg (2007). The dates I'm giving for translated works are the dates of the published translations, not the originals. This long poem was completed in Swedish in 1955. I read You Go just after or before Inger Christensen's Alphabet and was surprised a little bit later when Christensen cropped up at Biblibio and Wuthering Expectations. She is not a household name in the English-writing world but there she was anyway, like a sprig of mushroom in the grass.)

* brewis could mean either broth or bread soaked in broth, according to the Collins English Dictionary. "C16: from Old French broez, from broet, diminutive of breu broth."

Monday, December 29, 2014

from the describable qualities of things

Slow execution was typically associated with lasting artistic value in classical art theory. Thus Zeuxis explained that he painted "slowly so that my paintings will live for a long time," and Apelles mocked the artist who completed a painting in a single day saying, "you need not tell me … the work itself shows it." In the Renaissance too mistrust of rapid execution remained paramount. For example, Vasari himself was strongly criticized for completing his frescoes in the Cancellaria at Rome too quickly. Michelangelo's withering comment on being told that they had been finished in a hundred days ("e si vedi") directly echoed that of Apelles. However, the same theoretical tradition certainly championed works showing the kind of lightness of touch which merely suggested quickness of execution. […] And yet this modern lightness of touch was not to be confused with mere time-saving.

(Tom Nichols, Tintoretto: Tradition and Identity (1999))

We involve ourselves in endless perplexities in trying to deduce excellence and beauty, unity and necessity, from the describable qualities of things, we repeat the rationalistic fiction of turning the notions which we abstract from the observation of facts into the powers that give those facts character and being.

(George Santayana, The Sense of Beauty (1896))

Sunday, December 28, 2014

so tiny that they are like the sound of a tinkling bell

The sky is pure and cool, lying wide open to all the stars. There is a great flock of worlds up in that endless meadow, tiny, teeming worlds, so tiny that they are like the sound of a tinkling bell; as I look at them, I can hear thousands of tiny bells.

(Knut Hamsun, tr. Paula Wiking, Look Back on Happiness)

O up in height, O snatcht up, O swiftly going,
Common to beechwood, breathing was loving, the yet
Unknown Crickley Cliffs trumpeted, set music on glowing
In my mind. White Cotswold, wine scarlet woods and leaf wreckage wet.

(Ivor Gurney, Old Thought, from the Collected Poems)

The world is not to be cheated of a grain; not so much as a breath of its air is to be drawn surreptitiously.

(John Ruskin, The Crown of Wild Olive)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

olive trees bearing splendid fruit

In particular, it is recorded of Sir William James, that he regarded this emperor with feelings of abhorrence so personal and deadly, as to refuse him his customary titular honours whenever he had occasion to mention him by name. Yet it was the whole Roman people that conferred upon him his title of Augustus. But Sir William, ascribing no force to the acts of a people who had sunk so low as to exult in their chains, and to decorate with honours the very instruments of their own vassalage, would not recognise this popular creation, and spoke of him always by his family name of Octavius.

(Thomas de Quincey, The Caesars (1851))

None of the immortals or of mortal men heard
her voice, not even the olive trees bearing splendid fruit.
Only the gentle-tempered daughter of Persaios,
Hekate of the shining headband, heard from her cave,
and lord Helios, the splendid son of Hyperion heard
the maiden calling father Kronides; he sat
apart from the gods away in the temple of prayers,
accepting beautiful sacrifices from mortal men.

(Anonymous, To Demeter, from The Homeric Hymns, tr. Apostolos N. Athanassakis (1976))

Friday, December 26, 2014

the transportive leaf

[…] I could not say then that my vein entering

along the cell walls disresemble the transportive leaf:
I mean, if one speaks of mysticism, it makes good science,
which is the best part of science, that it makes mysticism

discussable without a flurry: and yet too, the discrete
annihilated, suddenly here it is blandished and available:
things go away to return, brighter for the passage

(A.R. Ammons, Sphere (1974))

Now I beseech God love me as well as I love a plain-dealing man, earth is earth, flesh is flesh, earth will to earth, and flesh unto flesh, frail earth, frail flesh, who can keep you from the work of your creation.

(Thomas Nashe, The Unfortunate Traveller: or, the Life of Jack Wilton (1594))

Thursday, December 25, 2014

both of them know neither the future nor the ending

The specific feature of Surrealistic writing, whether it be autobiographical or automatic, is, in fact, less the lack of knowledge of its final destination as such, than the identical position into which this lack places both the reader and the author in the face of a text whose unfolding neither the one nor the other controls, and about which both of them know neither the future nor the ending.

(Denis Hollner, tr Rosalind Krauss, Surrealistic Precipitates: Shadows Don't Cast Shadows, quoted by Krauss in Robert Rauschenberg: a Retrospective (1997))

A net is a large thing, past thy fadoming, if thou cast it from three, but if thou draw it to thee it will lie upon thy arm.

(John Donne, Sermon 14 (1620s))

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

soup with a few sprigs of bindweed

After her parents died and her brother left for the underground, my mother lived alone, fretting and pacing through a whole year of days. The house, three main rooms and three outbuildings, was deserted but for her. It was difficult enough to clean it and scrub the floors. On top of that, there was the garden to maintain and defend from an invasion of weeds. As soon as she had weeded one corner, weeds would swallow up another. At noon, when the summer heat reached its peak, the cry of a black cuckoo bird was enough to make her jump in terror. She came and went in silence, followed only by her own shadow.

A straw fire licking at a stoneware cooking pot filled with the daily rice. A jar of salted vegetables stinking in the corner of the house. A steamed fish pickled in its own brine. Or a hard-boiled egg on a tiny plate. A clear soup with a few sprigs of bindweed plucked from the hedge.

(Duong Thu Huong, tr Nina McPherson, The Paradise of the Blind (1993))

[Georges Bataille] links abjection to "the inability to assume with sufficient strength the imperative act of excluding."

(Julia Kristeva, tr. Leon S. Roudiez, Powers Of Horror: An Essay On Abjection (1982))

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

swifts (hirundines apodes) among the rubbish

But a clergyman, of an inquisitive turn, assures me, that when he was a great boy, some workmen, in pulling down the battlements of a church tower early in the spring, found two or three swifts (hirundines apodes) among the rubbish, which were at first appearance dead, but on being carried towards the fire revived. He told me, that out of his great care to preserve them, he put them in a paper bag, and hung them by the kitchen fire, where they were suffocated.

(Gilbert White, The Natural History of Selborne (1789))

It was characteristic of the vein of unhappy sluggishness and inertness in him that only when impressions had subsided into the remote past could he be thrilled by them. The reality of the present seemed always weighted with something hurting.

(John Cowper Powys, Weymouth Sands (1934))

Monday, December 22, 2014

a site of desires, relations, drives, fantasies and projections

Usually at the end of the year I take a few of the books I've read and mush them together. This year I'm going to try out a few days of quotes.

It was as if the unfortunate man's paroxysm of terror had reached such a point that it had broken down some biological barrier between animal sensibility and the sensitiveness of such inorganic planetary substances in the stellar galaxy as can be imagined shrinking at the threat of some atomic explosion that could throw them back into the void of non-existence!

(John Cowper Powys, The Inmates (1952))

This scene captured the predicament of misrecognition: the self is not the naturally bounded organism (a thing within the world), but a site of desires, relations, drives, fantasies and projections that cannot possess the coherence of a body.


It is the body as a bounded organism, centred on a looking face whose gaze can be returned by the mirror, that not only represses the chaotically dispersed and relational manner of our existence; it also operates as a figure of reading. We read other bodies as though they harboured a sense of interior meaning that might be disclosed through communication, and we read texts as though they operated like bodies -- as well-formed wholes possessing a systemic logic, the sense of which might become apparent.

(Claire Colebrook, Death of the Posthuman: Essays on Extinction, Volume 1 (2014))

Thursday, December 18, 2014

the chief ingredient of this composite? Scorn.

Defending himself, he suggests he is too porous but imperfectly porous even, not everything getting through: penetrable, enstormed, deaf, "I'm deaf, and have to speak at random," though others are not leaky; a woman is "charming," a dog is "yellow," just one adjective each is enough for that summary, a solid nice adjective, so, not everything is indistinct and hard to understand, a teenager in the United States was wrong not to care when her mother sold the family home. "She should have laid her cheek against that wall and never gone away from it." What is he reflecting on here, besides a fact of his time overseas?

Language, that is to say, does not issue from reflection but is an inherent element within the activity of reflection itself; it is an integral part of the body of reflection.

-- wrote Geoffrey Hill in the essay Poetry and Value. There's a contrast between the helplessness that Hamsun describes and the control that he asserts. Something between those two states is unstated. The words "Shipwrecked sailors lie quiet as dead goats | in a winding sheet of sponges," occur to me, from Sally Purcell's translation of Nikos Gatsos's work of 1943, Amorgos -- the feel of smothering, I think, is where that goes (there's a beautiful poem) -- and then -- I try to remember if Hamsun's characters ever have those moments of revelation that fix an impression by attaching it to some memory or influence from the past, those moments of conclusion, like the one that Henry Miller described in a letter to Anaïs Nin, dated July, 1933, when he told her that "a whore sitting in this cafe" had "a composite" resemblance to his mother, his first wife, and his second wife. "What should I say was the chief ingredient of this composite? Scorn." So he is able to summarise three women from three different periods of time; he reaches a kind of fastening. "I see the three of them by their nostrils, that telltale dilation."

Hamsun would have been angry if anyone had tried to enclose him in the way Miller has enclosed the three women. There is nothing in Overgrown Paths that makes the author more scornful than one doctor in an asylum who pretends to know about him. "This was probably his way of showing his staff how infinitely deep his investigation of me went, almost back to the womb." A bully, this psychiatrist Langfeldt. "He knew that the staff would remain silent." This is what you are like when you want people to think that you absolutely know things. "[A]ll the modern knowledge he has picked up from textbooks" is not as intrinsically right as the author's humble confusion, good confusion, as Nagel's confusion is good and ultimately harmless; as the narrator in Hunger harms no-one but himself. "An intentional helplessness, an infection from the Bible"

He [Langfeldt] is so secure in his knowledge. But that is not the same as being secure in the old knowledge: nothing can be known for certain!

(Yet, yet, Hamsun will psychoanalyse him: "Professor Langfeldt knows in his heart that he is not very well suited for delving into and fiddling with the intimacies of someone else's marriage.")

Monday, December 15, 2014

helplessness, an infection from the Bible

If the authorities listened to Hamsun then they would know that he lives muddled, according to himself: he reiterates it in Overgrown Paths. "It is a mysterious concept which I am unable to figure out." "But here the riddle began for me." "I wasn't great shakes at thinking deep yet and I just stood there." "A sheath knife has found its way into my room, I don't know how." "I have long wracked my brain over getting my galoshes repaired now that fall is approaching. They go back to the First World War but still have good soles; it's just that the right one is torn and won't stay on my foot." When a young woman walks into the room "not only do I stand there naked from the waist up, I don't even have my teeth in place." He sees himself characterised by "a sufferance of my own shortcomings. An intentional helplessness, an infection from the Bible."

Politics are not divorced from the galoshes, the false teeth, and the decent helplessness, this Biblical failure that is dignified by abjection, submission, which appears in the holy text many times -- it is not -- Biblical -- he implicitly protests -- to ask a person to pretend to know their politics. The letter that he wrote to the court when he was defending himself against the charge of fascism is the most tangled expression of helplessness in the memoir.

I tried to understand what National Union was about, I tried to get to the bottom of it, but it didn't amount to anything. However it may very well be that I wrote in the spirit of National Union now and then. I don't know because I don't know what the spirit of National Union is. But it may have happened that I wrote in the spirit of National Union, that something had seeped into me from the newspapers I read. In any case my articles are there for anyone to see. I'm not trying to minimize them, to make them more trifling then that are, it may be bad enough as it is. On the contrary I am ready to answer for them now as before, as I always have been.

This is the only time when the expression of muddle is itself in any way muddled. In every other instance he is clear. He can even remove himself to the camera-like distance necessary for humour. "I stand there naked from the waist up." (I need to remember that Hamsun is a clown. Nagel is a clown and the narrator of Hunger is a clown.) When he writes he is not confused. He wanders between the distant and recent past but his intentions are constant. He has more self-control than Ruskin, who propels himself into Rose La Touche.

The anti-British xenophobia from his pro-Nazi writings has disappeared. Now he praises British authors. "[T]he great Swift in England …" "Stevenson […] was a genius in eruption …" Does this belong to the instinctive dodging that I think I see in, "But it may have happened …"?

Readers of The Last Joy (1912) know that his ideas were leaning toward fascism twenty years before the National Union/Nasjonal Samling party was invented (1933) and the something in the newspapers would not have seeped so much as chimed.

Monday, December 8, 2014

if I could speak without any restriction, the wind would turn around to acquittal

Hamsun's gaolers have told him that he mustn't go farther away than a certain specific point but his character in the book has been clarified until we can see that it is in his nature to walk a long way through the trees, and therefore he must go past the designated point; nothing else would be reasonable: he will go up a hill.

His good judgment is proven when he meets, in the forest, a man named Martin who encourages him to read an unpublished autobiographical manuscript, a strange man and not a fool, Martin, a wandering preacher, with the habits of one of Hamsun's own characters, staying apart in a baffled, thoughtful way whenever someone is suffering. "I didn't dare show myself too often but only sent greetings at Christmas and the other holidays. This, too, made her sore at me …"

The authorities do not know what is best, Hamsun says; he would solve the whole problem if they would stop locking him up and let him speak. "For I knew in my heart that if I could speak without any restriction, the wind would turn around to acquittal for me, or as close to acquittal as I would dare to go and the court accept. I knew I was innocent, deaf and innocent; I would have done very well in an examination by the public prosecutor just by telling the truth. But this situation was confounded by the circumstance of my being locked up month after month …"

Martin is innocent too. The woman is "sore at me" because he lent her husband money for a project and the man died. Now the widow blames him. "Here," Hamsun might as well be saying, "is the way this drama should be played out. The accused is not imprisoned, he is free to roam, he presents his case freely, a reader reads it freely, and nobody can blame him now that we understand his side. Events were beyond his control."

Distressed, then, choked, restricted, his point of view not seen. "I do not think it is distinctly enough felt by us that the beak of a bird is not only its mouth, but its hand, or rather its two hands." (Ruskin, Love's Meinie.)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

in charge of it all for the time being

What evidence we think we have of that obduration might be called character. Hamsun's early people try to avoid the fixative effect of character as it exists in the construction of books where a human being is thickened and slowed down, or slowed down then thickened so that the author can observe whatever they hope is there, Hamsun using that thickened, slowing, simplifying technique on himself in his memoir, On Overgrown Paths: behold, a stubborn, humble, deaf old man confronted by a whimsical bureaucracy, a man who is easy to understand, a decent prosaic man.

On the 14th of June I was taken by car from my home and brought to the hospital at Grimstad -- my wife had been picked up a few days earlier and and taken to the women's prison in Arendal. Now, of course, I could no longer look after the farm. That was very unfortunate, inasmuch as a mere youth was left in charge of it all for the time being. But it couldn't be helped.

(tr. Sverre Lyngstad)

They remove his pistols, they put him in an institution; they are unreasonable and he is tolerant. "Again, this [command] was surely not to be taken literally, but I would like to be an obedient probationary prisoner."

And when he disobeys them he is only being sensible, he is sane, and I think of Ruskin demonstrating his sanity in the Praeterita, these two men appealing to fairness and goodness; both of them are sure that it is there in the reader's heart: the reader is sensible, the reader will see, the reader is not a human displaced from them as the authorities are displaced; the reader, the reader, this friend the reader who can be trapped inside their point of view and not allowed out, behold this frankly predatory view of the reader, who will not immediately learn why the author of Overgrown Paths has been taken away from his farm, or why his two pistols were confiscated, or why his wife was removed to a prison, and so it seems dystopian inside the book, though outside the book he was being charged with treason.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

of disorder

Nagel and the equivalent characters in Hamsun's other books are “like escaped convicts” writes Woods. I agree so where is the crime?

(Not even what but where?)

Time is after them, police officer Time (they keep trying to evade Time. Nagel stays in bed when he should be up; it's petty), but Isak in Growth is contented at all points of time.

In them all you have a kind of Romantic self-ness: very emotional; they would rather be emotional than comfortable. Not to burn with a hard gemlike, etcetera, but to flutter, or, in Isak's case, to be a Norwegian brand of immovable potato. That secret immobility seems to be the evidence of self-ness in so many books, as I keep noting and noting, even in Joyce, Ulysses flying around the core Bloom, until the unstated question in so much of literature becomes, how much inconsistency will it take to destabilise a person's self-ness; and then there is Clarissa in Clarissa, whose will is an annihilating bomb, but I am not referring to anyone's will, only to the phenomenon that so many writers seem to detect at the heart of everything else in a person; and which may only be, hark, the tentative definition that A.R. Ammons once gave of poetry: "a linguistic correction of disorder" (A Note on Incongruence, 1966).

(I am not sure that the phenomenon is there in Clarissa. I don't think so. I believe that the characters, as they are described, have aspects, the despairing aspect for instance, or the friend aspect, and then will, but not the detached central obduration that I believe I can see depicted by implication in, eg, Hamsun, or by statement in Peake, the isolate apartness that is assumed to exist, no character really isolated in Clarissa but linked constantly with letters so that they are always spoken about: Samuel Richardson not assuming that Clarissa has it, nor assuming that she doesn't have it, but the idea not occurring to him anywhere; the whole notion absent from that book, though do the letters themselves, the mental picture of letters, does that make me think of aspects, aspects, turned towards the reader's face like a set of pages?)

Friday, November 21, 2014

how false, how little authentic

At first this was a comment at Séamus Duggan's Vapour Trails blog but it disappeared when I hit publish or post or whatever that button says and therefore I am going to try to reconstruct it here; or think back on it, more likely, since that was several days ago. I had already been saying something about the childishness of Nagel in Mysteries, the naivete of his attention-getting performances (“performance” from Scott G.F. Bailey in those same comments); the kidlike haphazard cunning that he has, how he would rather confound people with lies than cultivate his reputation steadily and slowly with his violining adult skill: “he switched to a weighty, powerful pathos, a fortissimo passage with the force of a fanfare.”

Musicianship means attainment in ordinary forward-progressing chronological time. He feels disassociated; he assures his audience that the disassociation is part of his own feeling, and the reader is asked to wonder what sincerity means when he says, “If you only knew how false, how little authentic it was! But I made it look very authentic, didn't I?”

Conclude that this disassociation is not meant to be casual, helpless, or simply “a result of” some condition apart from him -- urbanisation, the industrial age, "the modern spirit of Norway" (which Hamsun hates in Look Back on Happiness (1912)) -- since he is working to uphold it with his words and actions.

Not "hapless," as Woods says, unless it is a willed haplessness.

He refuses to be known as a violinist. Instead he wants to live inside a state of being not-known, and committing himself to the, you could even say the word job, of embodying the not-known thing, which, in the work of Arthur Machen (who lived around the same time, born in 1863 and dying in 1947, Hamsun living a little longer, from 1859 to 1952) -- was often a woman or a part-woman transported by uncanny magic into a protoplasmic state of existence. See: The Great God Pan, The Shining Pyramid, The White People, and carry over into the prosaic multisex theatricals of The Three Imposters.

Now that I've mentioned Machen I want to decide that Nagel strives to uphold himself as a protoplasm; nobody knows what he is; and he puts effort into his bad disguises that are typically penetrable, but the penetration is always confusing and never revealing. Nagel keeps the potential for conclusions to himself.

The conclusion of Hamsun's protoplasm is the same as the conclusions of Machen's.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

built in one

I'm going to begin this post with a list of other people who have been writing about Hamsun -- so --

- Séamus at Vapour Trails
- Jean at Howling Frog Books
- Tom at Wuthering Expectations
- Richard at Caravana de recuerdos
- Scott G.F. Bailey at Six Words for a Hat

“A storm of interruptions,” in Wood's description of Hamsun, is also a storm of truncations. What is being truncated? Not the book. A book is never truncated or interrupted. Every mystery is a truncation and the solution at the end is a shot at de-truncation in retrospect. From now on I'm going to have it in my head that Mysteries is called Truncations, or else Interruptus. The seasonal rolling-round chronology described by Hamsun in Growth of the Soil isn't able to be truncated: you can't clip half the winter months out of a year.

Hamsun loves the natural world* but his stories do not behave like nature, like bees or flowers. They behave in an opposite way, and the people in these stories, by virtue of being people, are forced to move around and speak (turning this over in my head after a response to Richard in the comments) -- they are not permitted to be treelike, which, I think, would solve all of their problems, poor muddled lambkins, why not dole out a pat and a hand of grass from the godlike clouds, unless we're enjoying their angst -- see -- for example -- Isak in Growth, that trunkish man, “enormous, with a torso that seems built in one to the knees. A certain pomp and splendour about him; his equator was astounding” (tr. W.W. Worster) -- how elemental he is, and how satisfied, "a worker," and he always acts like one; he is not the narrator in the Wanderer books, who has run away from another life in the city, of some kind.

Is he a philosopher? asks the narrative voice on the first page, is he a criminal? but on the second page the author lets you know that the question doesn't matter. Isak is what he is. He is what he appears to be. “Only a worker, and a hardy one.”

In Mysteries you can spend the whole book asking, "What is this person, who is this man?" but in Growth you are answered and answered: "A tiller of the ground, body and soul; a worker on the land without respite." "Isak could not work a mine, being a farmer and a clearer of forest land." "A broad-shouldered man, well filled out, nothing astral about him at all." He is solid and whole, says the author. Even historically, he is intact. "A ghost risen out of the past to point the future, a man from the earliest days of cultivation, a settler in the wilds, nine hundred years old, and, withal, a man of the day." (Meanwhile the narrator in Hunger is shuddering on the spot. Is he a man of now or then, or only of the moment in which he makes his decisions?)

Hamsun's proactive blocking in fact echoes or mimics the tactics of his own characters. Nagel is still present, but he is the author. You thought I wrote about men who wander? Here is a man who absolutely does not. You thought you knew who I was -- ha --

The book itself, though, comes with the sense of truncation or lacuna; the mining company barges in with its equipment as if it's about to dominate the local naïfs (this set-up has been brewing for a while, with Hamsun dropping hints) but the showdown never happens, the company peters out and wanders off, the farmer keeps going as he must … it's very strange. You think: shouldn't something have happened there?

Nagel and his violin case are figures in a similar trick.

It's people, in Hamsun's books, who are the avatars of truncation. The tremors in Pan begin to spread when Edvarda comes to visit the narrator in his hut at the edge of the forest and afterwards “a breath of something strange met me; it was as though I were no longer alone there.”

From then on people are always popping their heads in. It's like Flinders Street Station in that hut.

* Many examples. Here's one: "I walked through the forest, I was moved to tears of rapture, I kept saying, Dear God, to be here again!" (Under the Autumn Star, tr. Oliver and Gunnvor Stallybrass). Another: "I thank God for every heather flower I have seen; they have been like tiny roses on my path and I weep for love of them" (Pan, tr. James W. McFarlane).

Saturday, November 1, 2014

not a continuous wave but a storm of interruptions

James Wood, discussing Hamsun in the LRB, compares the behaviour of the protagonists of Hunger, Mysteries and Pan to that of “escaped convicts, these heroes erase their tracks as they proceed, and this seems to be hapless rather than willed: they carry no continuous memory of what they have said or done from scene to scene.” The self is “patched together,” Wood writes, quoting Strindberg, but the word he uses is “soul.” “[Hamsun] took from Strindberg the idea that the soul is not a continuous wave but a storm of interruptions.” Where does Woolf's work fall in that continuum, I wonder, but more pressingly I ask myself why Wood should describe the acts of these characters as the behaviour or experience of souls rather than selves, unless he is thinking of Strindberg's title-in-translation, Growth of a Soul (1914).

 (Myself, if I tried to imagine a soul, I would describe it as a supernature that does not act, it is not decisive and changeful or impressed: it is, as Gormenghast castle essentially is, regardless of its damaged walls, the snow around it, the sun in summer, or other eventualities.)

“Hamsun’s novels of this period, and in particular Hunger, are deliberate perversions of the Christian system of reward and punishment, confession and absolution, pride and humility,” writes Wood, who was raised in an Evangelical household, like Ruskin; his one work of fiction is called The Book Against God (2003), and he sees religion, souls, souls, but I, thinking about Hamsun some more, I see houses; and the narrator of Hunger (1890) is unhoused, the protagonist of Mysteries (1892) has to pay to house himself for a while in a rented room (where he stays in bed during the day and roams around at night but more on that later); and the one in Pan (1894) has troubles with his housing because it doesn't belong to him; then you have the author's dream-travel memoir (1903), you have Knud Pedersen roaming the Norwegian backwoods in the Wanderer books (1906, 1909, 1912); you have this restlessness.

Homes are likes twigs in a stream: they touch and snag the characters, they do not keep them still; even the miller's son who remains in love throughout Victoria (1898) (which makes him unusually steady for Hamsun since the reader always knows what he wants) -- even he will shift from the country to the city and back again several times as if locations make him itch.

By the time Hamsun writes Growth of the Soil in 1917 (why is the translated title so similar to the Strindberg?) the transcendent spirit that represents all of the main characters in his novels is ready to try a different tack. It goes out on the first page into the wilderness and finds a place for a house. “He nods, to say that he has found himself a place to stay and live: ay, he will stay here and live” (tr. W.W. Worster).

But he is still stubborn and not-sensible -- the sensible citizens only come along after he has shown them that it is possible to live here -- the not-sensible protagonists in the earlier books who will do this or that because a whim has told them which way to go are still in the soil-man who stays in one spot, for if he decides to move a rock now then he will move it, and he doesn't know why he feels compelled to say one thing or another; his memory is scaled to seasons rather than humans; it is instinctive feeling rather than thought, and he has no particular background, like the others -- is he an escaped criminal? wonders the narrative voice on page one -- “or a philosopher, maybe, in search of peace”? -- the author suspecting that the reader expects a character to have a chronological background and likewise chronological thoughts -- but refusing to let them have those things, no, they'll have something else.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

you know not, you omniscient nullity

Captain, laughs the audience, we have been allowed to know who is suffering in this scene and it is not you -- thinking like that as they hear the Captain complain to the badgered, haunted Woyeck, “You keep stabbing at me with those eyes of yours.” Woyzeck has been stabbed too; the Doctor pays him to eat nothing but peas and then he assaults him with scientific attention. “It walks upright. Wears coats and pants.”

Doctor examines a cat through his magnifying glass and spots a rabbit louse. Rare new species, he says. I go back to Woolf again, whose self won't stop passing judgment. “And further, there was another prick of the pin: one was wasting one’s chance.” Once she decided in a letter, that “To a person of imagination, Land's End is as impressive as the Equator” (1st of October, 1905, writing to Violet Dickinson, in The Letters of Virginia Woolf: Volume 1, 1888 - 1912), which, if you wanted, you could connect to Ruskin in his private correspondence with himself (The Diaries of John Ruskin, Vol. 2: 1848 - 1873), writing, “that all forms are thus either indicative of lines of energy or pressure, or motion, variously impressed or resisted,” with Land's End as the form and the measuring, weighing imagination as energy, pressure, or motion.

Then I turn to Knut Hamsun, whose narrator, in Hunger, is trying to find the source of judgment; and who tries to evict it from its stronghold with his transgressions. Accusing God of hating him, he shouts --

I tell you, you have used force against me, and you know not, you omniscient nullity, that I never bend in opposition! I tell you, all my life, every cell in my body, every power of my soul, gasps to mock you -- you Gracious Monster on High. I tell you, I would, if I could, breathe it into every human soul, every flower, every leaf, every dewdrop in the garden! I tell you, I would scoff you on the day of doom, and curse the teeth out of my mouth for the sake of your Deity's boundless miserableness! I tell you from this hour I renounce all thy works and all thy pomps! I will execrate my thought if it dwell on you again, and tear out my lips if they ever utter your name!

(translated by George Egerton)

Nothing responds to the blasphemy and soon he's saying “God” casually again without shame, as if that speech had never existed. “I was, God be praised, all right in my senses as any man.” Judgment isn't always very perpetual, though in Dorothy Wordsworth's Journals it seems to be, and if she loves her brother today then she will love him again tomorrow; and the sheep will be beautiful no matter when they appear in the landscape -- next week, next month, whenever -- she seems to have a steady source of appreciation on which she naively draws; like a fictional character she seems guileless, whereas the narrator of Hunger is volatile, like a person.

(n.b., I began reading Hamsun after I saw this post at Wuthering Expectations.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

beauty extravagantly greater than one could expect

I clicked on a link to Berfrois' reprint of Evening Over Sussex by Virginia Woolf from Death of a Moth (1942), and found her approaching a similar experience, different solution; her method is unphysical: she will push ideas outwards by writing an essay, and she does not need to touch the countryside of Sussex. Her imagination observes itself creating compartments so that it can share help between them. The self in her is not monolithic, it is social. “[I]t is well known how in circumstances like these the self splits up and one self is eager and dissatisfied and the other stern and philosophical,” she says. (This is a clearly-drawn picture in contrast to Lawrence's dusky lily-innard. Woolf looks around and witnesses democracy. Lawrence sees it too, and hates it. He hates that promising scientific clarity. No wonder his solutions are so whimsical and useless. "If the men wore scarlet trousers as I said, they wouldn't think so much of money" (Lady Chatterley's)).


But, I thought, there is always some sediment of irritation when the moment is as beautiful as it is now. The psychologists must explain; one looks up, one is overcome by beauty extravagantly greater than one could expect — there are now pink clouds over Battle; the fields are mottled, marbled — one’s perceptions blow out rapidly like air balls expanded by some rush of air, and then, when all seems blown to its fullest and tautest, with beauty and beauty and beauty, a pin pricks; it collapses. But what is the pin? So far as I could tell, the pin had something to do with one’s own impotency. I cannot hold this — I cannot express this — I am overcome by it — I am mastered. Somewhere in that region one’s discontent lay; and it was allied with the idea that one’s nature demands mastery over all that it receives; and mastery here meant the power to convey what one saw now over Sussex so that another person could share it. And further, there was another prick of the pin: one was wasting one’s chance; for beauty spread at one’s right hand, at one’s left; at one’s back too; it was escaping all the time; one could only offer a thimble to a torrent that could fill baths, lakes.

If her self did not prick her air balls then maybe she could continue to watch the pink clouds forever or until the sun goes down, but the brain flooded by products of the senses (“beauty and beauty and beauty” -- the best description, in her opinion, is this repetition, which I read as closer to an uttered groan or sigh than to Mrs Morel's dumb swoon) has reasserted itself in the form of a duty, “one was wasting one's chance” comes the warning; the essay itself is the cyst that has come from an “irritation.” The self is not only mastering the landscape, it is mastering her.

Or interrupting her: this thing you are doing so easily, you may not do it.

None of that answers the question, “Why an essay?' when she could have used interpretive dance or any other method. Writing is not being explained. Reading Carl Richard Mueller's translation of Georg Büchner's Complete Plays and Prose I thought of Woolf's words, “escaping all the time,” in light of the Captain's conversation in the opening scene of Woyzeck.

Captain: Not so fast, Woyzeck, not so fast! One thing at a time! You're making me dizzy. What am I to do with the ten extra minutes that you'll finish early today? [etc]

The Captain is flooded with world and he doesn't have any way out; he has not found a solution, as Woolf has done -- her mind's eyes rotating from one phrase to another as they search for an intellectual hook. So she rescues herself.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

falling of waters

There are senses in all three of them, the touching in Lawrence, the seeing for Wordsworth and the listening for the character in Jahn, Geoffrey Hill being closest to Lawrence, early Hill most directly: “There is no bloodless myth will hold,” from Genesis, and those lines about things being struck, faced, and walked on; then going on through more forces until the revealment of forces becomes one of the oeuvre's purposes. “The mountain stamped its foot | Shaking, as from a trance. And I was shut | With wads of sound into a sudden quiet” (God's Little Mountain (1959)). The biggest force has always been the one that is trying to shut him up. It appears in different disguises. “Recap on words like compassion that I | never chanced in your living presence” (In Memorium: Gillian Rose (2007)).

John Donne in his tenth sermon believes that prophets should always speak with strength, which means against some opposition. “[T]hunder, and wind, and tempests, and chariots, and roaring of Lyons, and falling of waters are the ordinary emblems of his [ie, God's] messages, and his messengers, in the Scriptures.”

Dorothy Wordsworth, though, just states everything that is most immediate: that's how she seems to proceed, and very gentle, but I never forget her glittering sheep, which I mention often.

“Do I need to touch the world if I want to experience it at the swooning level, or do I look at it instead, or hear it?” you ask, and there you go; you have various replies. The purpose or goal is that greater privacy which comes through the flesh: other people might make up thoughts for you but no one else can look for you, and no one else is swooning in the garden except Mrs Morel. Lawrence is all about a collaboration between flesh and non-flesh. Still, it looks as if it is the frustration with people outside himself that helps him to write, especially later. The Plumed Serpent is a frustrated book. Not even the violence at the end seems cathartic for him. In Sons and Lovers it is enough to have Mrs Morel putting her hand in a flower. In Serpent he wants cults, drums, and costumes, and I laughed. An artist needs to find their scale, said Richard Tuttle as he was being interviewed by Ross Simonini recently. “One can distinguish between scale and size. Usually, we are happy with the issue of size—if it's small, it's small; if it's big, it's big. But scale is a question of the individual. Each person, everyone ever born, has a unique scale. They have it like a unique fingerprint. You can decide to find your scale. The day you find it is a day you remember. It changes your life. Your parents may determine your size, but you determine your scale.” In the Serpent I think I see Lawrence mislaying whatever it is that Tuttle means by the word scale. Lawrence is scaled to a lily.

Monday, October 6, 2014

all swum together

Powys made me think of Mrs Morel from Sons and Lovers who has the Powysian infinity in her garden with the flowers stretching and the air itself shiny, as if it is solid or magical (glass is shiny, water is shiny, surfaces are shiny but where is the surface of the air?), everything, all emotional effects, physical, physical, which C.S. Lewis decided was one of the characteristics of medieval allegory: “It is as if the insensible could not knock at the door of the poetic consciousness without transforming itself into the likeness of the sensible [...] Allegory, besides being many other things, is the subjectivism of an objective age,” in The Allegory of Love: a Study in Medieval Tradition.

She became aware of something about her. With an effort she roused herself to see what it was that penetrated her consciousness. The tall white lilies were reeling in the moonlight, and the air was charged with their perfume, as with a presence. Mrs. Morel gasped slightly in fear. She touched the big, pallid flowers on their petals, then shivered. They seemed to be stretching in the moonlight. She put her hand into one white bin: the gold scarcely showed on her fingers by moonlight. She bent down to look at the binful of yellow pollen; but it only appeared dusky. Then she drank a deep draught of the scent. It almost made her dizzy.

Mrs. Morel leaned on the garden gate, looking out, and she lost herself awhile. She did not know what she thought. Except for a slight feeling of sickness, and her consciousness in the child, herself melted out like scent into the shiny, pale air. After a time the child, too, melted with her in the mixing-pot of moonlight, and she rested with the hills and lilies and houses, all swum together in a kind of swoon.

Here is the thing itself and not a euphemism; here is the lily, here, touch. Becoming “aware of something” was the smallest part, the easiest part, your consciousness is penetrated, so, now, you didn't do that: it was done to you by the atmosphere, now she feels the atmosphere with her hands. She has to make an “effort,” she has to “rouse” herself; this transcendence has a work ethic. “She touched the big, pallid flowers on their petals.” Go in, go in. “She put her hand into one white bin.” Establishing her critique, “She bent down to look at the binful of yellow pollen; but it only appeared dusky.” It's only after she has gone through this physical wrestle that she gets her savoury moment.

Then I'm looking at the passage flowerville quoted from Hans Henny Jahnn under the heading, “The Nature of the Artist,” in her essay Landscape as the Origin of Music in Hans Henny Jahnn's Shoreless River: the artist is listening and absorbing, not touching, and Dorothy Wordsworth, in her journals, doesn't have to fondle the landscape the way Mrs Morel does and still she comes away with similar sensations, she feels swoony and rapt, she sees nature shining “and she rested with the hills and lilies and houses,” but she gets there by walking across the countryside and seeing the objects in it.

After tea we went to Butterlip How and backwards and forwards there. All the young oak leaves are dry as powder. A cold south wind portending Rain. After we came in we sate in deep silence at the window -- I on a chair and William with his hand on my shoulder. We were deep in Silence and Love, a blessed hour.

(The Grasmere Journals, Wednesday 2nd June, 1802)

Monday, September 29, 2014

in which we arrive at the kind of ecstasy described by Proust

I think of John Cowper Powys and the message that he offered to any moment, glance, glimpse, or little incident. “You are massive and endless,” he promised, “you are not closed, you are not over, nothing is over,” expanding the glimpse of ordinary dung in Porius, and seizing, for example, a wall in Spain -- “I have no doubt that my turning the walls of the Seville tobacco factory into a clash of such vast immemorial ideas as those represented by Siegfried on one hand and Parsifal on the other, was one of the most deeply authentic, deeply felt and fully realized gestures of my life” (Autobiography) -- stuffing the moments; and by stuffing he is trying (if you believe him) to hint at an ecstasy there, noting it in Proust:

[T]he mood in which we arrive at the kind of ecstasy described by Proust and without which, he admits, most people go through their entire life, is not a mood connected with what we call “beauty,” nor with what we call “truth,” nor with what we call “love.” It is a mood or let me say a moment when we are made rapturously happy by what Wordsworth calls “the pleasure which there is in life itself.”

(Marcel Proust: Reviews and Estimates in English, ed. Gladys Dudley Lindner)

He will make his characters “rapturously happy” in that way -- though “happy” is the wrong word: they are beyond happiness into a place where “happy” is irrelevant, the invocation of rapture dismisses happiness -- hence the mythopoeic realism of his books, in that any instant, no matter how minute, is the hero at the end of the fairy tale, the human being, formerly misrepresented by their smallness, becoming a king or queen: the moment is momentous, it is ecstatic, it is in fact monstrous (if you think of the endlessness of it, and this piece of royalty reigning forever, getting bigger, attaching itself not only to Parsifal and Siegfried but also to everything that those two are attached to, and then furthermore, etc, seeping instantly everywhere, the whole world gassed in microseconds); it is full of words, it has bulk, it risks being ridiculous up there with its prosy fat and sceptre; and an onlooker during one of Powys' lectures in the United States described the entire performance as “vaudeville.” “Instruction or interpretation of literature was entirely subordinated to entertainment” (J.W. Abernathy, in a letter to The Dial, March 26th, 1917).

Powys, however, called it “a sort of transmigration of my soul.” “I succeeded eventually in hollowing myself out, like an elder-stalk with the sap removed, so that my whole personality, every least movement I made, and every least sound I made, and every flicker, wrinkle, and quiver of my face, became expressive of the particular subject I was interpreting,” which he sees in Proust as well. “Proust keeps up his serpentine progress through the hearts, nerves, and brains of all his people with an intensity of analysis so exquisite, so finespun, so levelling, that instead of feeling the mixture of puzzled and respectful awe we feels in the presence of Joyce and even of his alter-ego Stephen, we are prepared to argue with him in our own minds, so real have his people become to us, and expostulate with him as to his treatment of them, as if all he had done was just introduce us to them, and that formality once safely over we could take our own view of their proceedings and their fate ...”

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

utterly vanished -- how strange it was

Moments being weighted and weighed is what I see then, when I look, and why do I see them, and what am I looking for: well. The load lost: “it was his sayings one remembered; his eyes, his pocket-knife, his smile, his grumpiness and, when millions of things had utterly vanished -- how strange it was! -- a few sayings like this about cabbages” (Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway).

And then the madness of swagmen in Don Watson's book, The Bush: Travels in the Heart of Australia, the author proposing that the “jolly swagman” in Paterson's poem might have been jolly because he was not all there, mentally speaking, this schizophrenic fleeing persecution (the one down the road who screamed at me, “Police! Police!”), and yet sanity would do the same job, the security officers at one of the casinos having a man flee on them the other night when all they were going to do was trespass him, but he fled, they fled after him (and that moment's weight was felt electrically by the officer, he reported afterwards: he could feel a voice inside him telling him not to run, but instinct took over and he ran as a dog runs when you run away from it. Walk away next time! they told the man when they caught him. Walk calmly and we wouldn't have worried about you, but you ran), they felt suspicious now, they did a background check, and behold the man had warrants out for his arrest -- now in gaol. “For thy Self is the master of thyself, and thy Self is thy refuge. Train therefore thyself well, even as a merchant trains a fine horse”  (The Dhammapada, tr Juan Mascaró).

But my point was that we tend to forget the likely insanity of swagmen in spite of it being stated throughout the literature of the time, on and off, and Henry Lawson finishing his story with those words about the bush, “the nurse and tutor of eccentric minds.”

It is so unacknowledged that there is not even any denial of it.

The man in the casino was sane, and so I'm guessing was the one on Friday night who acted against a taunt by knocking one victim unconscious and beating the other one's face against the edge of a concrete box until the skin was off his forehead. I never expected to see another man's skull, remarked the security sergeant. The forehead-man was drunk when he came up with the taunt, and potentially delirious with the lightness of moments; say he felt instinctively that his moments had no consequences. “'Here shall I dwell in the season of rains, and here in winter and summer;' thus thinks the fool, but he does not think of death.”

Thursday, September 18, 2014

part of who we are

The duty, which began as a game, to post every Wednesday and Saturday, is going to stop, I think; I've convinced myself that it's possible for me to do it, and now that I'm convinced, I'll end -- but I am not ending the blog, only the schedule -- remembering Proust as he criticises Sainte-Beuve, in By Way of Sainte-Beuve, (tr. Sylvia Townsend-Warner) for putting out a column every Monday:

During ten years, everything that he would have husbanded for his friends, for himself, for a long-projected book that doubtless he never would have written, had, week after week, to be licked into shape and sent out into the world. Those stores where we keep precious thoughts, the thought round which a novel should have crystallised, the thought he would have unfolded in a poem, another whose beauty had suffused a day for him, welled up from the depth of his mind as he read the book he was to write about, and heroically, to embellish the offering, he sacrificed his dearest Isaac, his last Iphigenia.

“Especially in matters of work we are all of us to a certain extent like Mr. Casaubon in Middlemarch who devoted the whole of his life to labours which produced results that were merely trivial and absurd” (Jean Santeuil, tr (?) Gerard Hopkins); the same thought expressed by Yeats in pursuit of another thought: “The more I tried to make my art deliberately beautiful, the more did I follow the opposite of myself” (Discoveries).

Henri Bergson, “The route we pursue in time is strewn with the remains of all that we began to be, of all that we could have become” (Creative Evolution, tr. Arthur Mitchell), and it is only after I copy out those words that I remember that Bergson was one of Proust's lecturers at university, as well as his in-law, the husband of his cousin, Louise Neuberger, whose surname suggests Germanness; and it is from German that I find another perspective on those “remains.” Oh, says Jochen Poetter, your experiences are not discarding and littering, they are accumulation.

It is as with every powerful experience (caused by man or fate) that leaves on us its mark, becoming an integral part of who we are. Thus it is not surprising when the visitor only partially resurfaces from his vision of the cathedral and the pictures. Though he will quit the cathedral the following morning, a connection will remain. Perhaps he will drag this edifice around with him for the rest of his days, allowing it to attach itself to his carapace like the pyramidal projections on the back of an old spider crab; not a burden to this long-legged creature, living as he does meandering weightlessly about the ocean floor. Quite the contrary: the fixtures will be loved, they will lighten his loneliness and entertain him with ever-new stories. The polished eye stalks will watch with joy as green veils of algae settle into the empty shells, waving to and fro in the currents and stroking his prickly back.

(from The Tangential Point of a Diaphanous Presence in the book Richard Tuttle: Chaos, the/die Form tr. Mary Fran Gilbert)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

make an imaginary addendum

You have Heep saying “humble” for the comfort of others, you have Walter Murdoch being humble for himself; there is the idea that happiness means some region of ignorance being maintained and even policed, not unacknowledged but actively defied with force and effort. Heep puts his whole life into it and is an embodiment of an innocent desire for goodness, light and truth -- not his own desire but the innocent desire of other people; he is other people's curdled innocence, and is a revenant of innocence that rots everything when he approaches it: friendship, marriage, sonliness, whatever, here he is, sort of a physical thing between yourself and the sprawling black unsolvable darkness. It is not Agnes who dulls down the horrors, it is him.

(When I think back to whoever-it-was's notion that Agnes is a totem more than she is a character, I want to see them in an invisible partnership, Heep the active repellant-of-darkness, Agnes the static repellent, and both of them occurring in orbit around David like neutrons.)

Murdoch's favourite police weapon is this phrase: “A blow-out on tripe and onions.”

Until I knew it, I was in the habit of using another formula, the saying of a character in Dickens -- in Great Expectations, if I remember rightly -- 'Wot larks!’ That, too, was a comfort; but Lady Dorothy’s formula is more invariably comforting.

Lady Dorothy, in the middle of a discussion about her friends' favourite foods, “wonderful things which only a chef of genius can prepare, and which are to be seen only on the tables of the very rich,” said, “Oh, gimme a good blow-out on tripe and onions.” Use it, says Murdoch: it will bring you back to basics.

Similarly when I read in Mr Bertrand Russell an account of the universe as modern science presents it to our view, ending with the words, ‘only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built’ -- the obvious comment that springs to one’s lips at once, is ‘Wot larks!’ But this, though comforting, is not wholly convincing. The right comment is ‘All right; and now, let’s have a blow-out on tripe and onions.’ The moment you have said that, you know that your soul is saved.

You should use it when you talk back to a book or when you rewrite a speech in your head. “To make an imaginary addendum to the Governor-General’s message, -- something like ‘To mark the universal grief, the Government House blow-out on tripe and onions has been postponed for a week’ -- relieved the tension of one’s mind.”

The formula is always inward and mental, never used aloud, and Heep's formula works best too, inside the closed system of a prison. See chapter sixty-one of David Copperfield.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

various newspapers for discourses

How could he not be, I say (meaning Paterson's presence in Bertram Stevens' Anthology of Australian Verse, and Stevens in the preface referring to him as one of two poets who were writing “the first realistic Australian verse of any importance,” Lawson being the other), but then remember that Walter Murdoch left Paterson out of The Oxford Book of Australasian Verse -- defying this sentence in his own introduction: “From this gathering the reader will—or so I hope—be able to get a fair idea of the kind of poetry these lands have been fashioning.”

Here the word “fair” has two meanings. On one hand Murdoch was habitually nondogmatic; a shading like “fair” is part of his normal vocabulary; and the essay of his that used to appear in school readers (“When I was at school during the 1940s, our English readers included an essay in praise of tripe and onions,” says his grand-nephew in the introduction to a recent collection of his essays (On Rabbits, Morality, Etc (2011)) starts with modesty, confident modesty (“The essay is to prose what the lyric is to poetry […] it is brief, informal, modest” (Murdoch: The Essay)), or he is “avuncular,” as other writers have said.

The Australians have a reputation for hospitality; and the hospitality of their newspapers is simply extraordinary. For instance, I myself have, in the past few years, been given space in various newspapers for discourses on every kind of topic, from rabbits to the League of Nations, from the poetry of Keats to the proper way of killing fowls, from cabbages to kings. But, curiously enough, I seem to have omitted, hitherto, to write an essay on tripe and onions.

It is not, of course, easy to be sure of this. I could make certain by hunting through the files …

(On Tripe and Onions)

But he won't, he says. It would make him too much like the wife of Lot. The language of humility can be proud; he writes the phrase “humble common sense” and with it he can dismiss Bertrand Russell and Walter Pater very casually, without explaining why they are wrong, they are just on the wrong side of his own common sense, which is humble, almost in the Uriah Heep way, it is meant to deflect despair or some other bad reaction, “things which would depress us horribly if we had to receive them in silence.” Heep's sneer is the difference; he knows that he is defacing his aggression for the benefit of other people. Murdoch, if you take him at his word, is doing it for the sake of happiness.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

in which a continuous state of mental distress is prolonged, unrelieved by incident, hope, or resistance

Enough about Stevens' anthology, says Daniel Deniehy, yawning: wrap up with something, tie off with some remark about his selection, my god, I say looking startled, this is not a review -- what is it then? -- a unloved violation of clarity, I said: I think, well, bush ballads almost absent, and the 1800s section of Les Murray's New Oxford Book of Australian Verse (1986) is vastly different, convict ballads, bushranger epics (“Jack Gilbert was a bushranger of terrible renown | For sticking lots of people up and shooting others down”), translations of Aboriginal oral poetry, which of course Stevens didn't; but what if he had, and why should I expect him not to?

(Noticeable, when I read books of verse by the New Zealanders Bathgate and Wilcox, the melancholy and guilty poems about the romance of a defeated Maori, “Here once the mighty Atua had his dwelling | In mystery,” from Wilcox's Onawe in Verses from Maoriland, and no counterpart in any of the Australian books so far. Not so in Australian prose, where it appears quite early. Leakey in The Broad Arrow had a character make a speech about it. Ditto Louisa Atkinson in Gertrude the Emigrant.)

Murray will take poems from Anonymous (or: the Collective Mind) and Stevens will not, no, more of a poet-canon-builder, Stevens, asking who is there, who can I acknowledge, even when they are only “fairly good”?

No doubt sociological reasons for that, Deniehy says sagaciously, if you wanted to look for them.

Murray's choice from Mary Gilmore is a piece about a small dead girl, and so is Stevens', but Murray's is a less whimsical poem, though you can't blame Stevens for choosing his Little Ghost over Murray's The Little Shoes That Died, when you look it up and discover that the first publication of Little Shoes occurred in the Sydney Morning Herald on the 5th of November, 1938, and Stevens' book came out more than two decades before.

Banjo Paterson is in Stevens' Anthology because how could he not be; and yet as I write those words, I remember that Yeats left Wilfred Owen out of The Oxford Book of Modern Verse in 1936, saying that “passive suffering is not a theme for poetry” after Matthew Arnold's preface to his Poems in 1853.

For the Muses, as Hesiod says, were born that they might be ‘a forgetfulness of evils, and a truce from cares’: and it is not enough that the Poet should add to the knowledge of men, it is required of him also that he should add to their happiness. ‘All Art,’ says Schiller, ‘is dedicated to Joy, and there is no higher and no more serious problem, than how to make men happy.' [So spake Leigh Hunt, says Daniel Deniehy] The right Art is that alone, which creates the highest enjoyment.


What then are the situations, from the representation of which, though accurate, no poetical enjoyment can be derived? They are those in which the suffering finds no vent in action; in which a continuous state of mental distress is prolonged, unrelieved by incident, hope, or resistance; in which there is everything to be endured, nothing to be done. In such situations there is inevitably something morbid, in the description of them something monotonous. When they occur in actual life, they are painful, not tragic; the representation of them in poetry is painful also.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

an air of human music

I assert my right not to be Dora Wilcox, says Daniel Deniehy; I assert my right to write like music, “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music,” that line they always quote from Walter Pater, an old line to you though it is not as old as me, who died in 1856, twenty-one years before it was written. I never knew it.

For while in all other kinds of art it is possible to distinguish the matter from the form, and the understanding can always make this distinction, yet it is the constant effort of art to obliterate it. That the mere matter of a poem, for instance, its subject, namely, its given incidents or situation — that the mere matter of a picture, the actual circumstances of an event, the actual topography of a landscape — should be nothing without the form, the spirit, of the handling, that this form, this mode of handling, should become an end in itself, should penetrate every part of the matter: this is what all art constantly strives after, and achieves in different degrees.

The “chamber music” of a fly in Proust, “evoking heat and light quite differently from an air of human music” in the Moncrieff translation, gives the fly itself the character of summer, “the flies' music is bound to the season,” and of course it is bound to the fly as well, in a chain (my imagination makes me wonder if the singing fly is accidentally telling the universe that it wants to aspire to the condition of music as well, since it is going in that direction, and one day we will all grant the wish it never asked for and it will disappear ...), see, then, I have tied myself to night, not night, your night, their night, it's my Night, and Wilcox has a bellbird and a nightingale, the bellbird bound to Australasia, the nightingale bound to England, a bondage expressed over five lines in London and again in Two Sonnets from the book Rata and Mistletoe (1911)

I. The Nightingale

Last eve I heard an English nightingale
Pouring her very soul out to the sky,
When nothing moved save Solitude and I
Pacing the fields together till the pale
Enchanted moonlight flooded all the vale.
And she sang on, and high and yet more high
Toward Heaven thrilled that rich and passionate cry,
Till at the full it seemed to flag and fail.

Thou art the embodied Spirit of the Past,
O Nightingale ! thou singest Love and Sorrow
For all that was, for all that could not last,
Being too perfect ; never shall to-morrow
Assuage thy pain, nor ever grant relief
For thy superb and all-consuming grief.

2. The Bell-Bird

Not so thou carollest at break of day,
O Bell-bird ! when the world is flushed with light
And slips triumphant from the clasp of night,
And the wind wakes and blows the clouds away,
And the hill-spirits rise and shout at play,
Rejoicing. Then thou takest sudden flight
From tree to tree, and warblest with delight.
Thou and thy comrades, jubilant and gay !

Thou singest of the Future, radiant Bird !
Surely the Gods have lent thee sacred fire
And taught thee songs forgotten or unheard
By old-world men ! thou singest of Desire,
Youth, and high Hope, and the infinity
Of all we dream the Newer Worlds may be.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

the subject is simply preaching

I wasn't slack in my speeches, he says, in parliament – you were sharp, I agree, you were the opposite of yourself as a poet, relaxation, sweetness, psht, you were impatient: “Preaching on the subject is simply preaching, whether the thing be worked up in the best infernal patterns and coloured with brimstone, or full of sympathies and sentiment and graceful mournings for what is holiest and loveliest in woman,” you said when you were talking about prostitution in 1859, but poetry is like a different species to you, you let it erase so much of you – it's a place to be beautiful, he says: it's the right outlet pipe or dwelling place for beauty and peace. I'm going to find someone who disagrees with that, I say (of course there are people who disagree, he says, but they didn't write my poems).

What about Dora Wilcox (1873 - 1953), in the same anthology as you?

Why Dora Wilcox? he asks – we were talking about nostalgia and I thought of her, I say. In London (1905).

When I look out on London's teeming streets,
On grim grey houses, and on leaden skies,
My courage fails me, and my heart grows sick,
And I remember that fair heritage
Barter'd by me for what your London gives.

Then she describes the past; she recalls details --

   Nor shall I hear again
The wind that rises at the dead of night
Suddenly, and sweeps inward from the sea,
Rustling the tussock

She grieves. Then she examines her grief.

Yet let me not lament that these things are
In that lov'd country I shall see no more;
All that has been is mine inviolate,
Lock'd in the secret book of memory.

Then she decides that there is another purpose for memory, it is not only there to make her “heart feel sick,” it is a point of access; she can use it. She gets her courage back. (“My courage fails me.”) She had a little focus, one person standing or sitting still, looking at the road and thinking, but now she has a large focus, going, finding, “walking unconstrained,” accompanied by sympathetic presences, though in London she is not accompanied by anyone, “speech seems but the babble of a crowd” in London.

… walking unconstrained
By ways familiar under Southern skies;
Nor unaccompanied; the dear dumb things
I lov'd once, have their immortality.
There too is all fulfilment of desire:
In this the valley of my Paradise
I find again lost ideals, dreams too fair
For lasting; there I meet once more mine own
Whom Death has stolen, or Life estranged from me, --
And thither, with the coming of the dark,
Thou comest, and the night is full of stars.

Your point? he says -- that she is using her poetry unpeacefully to pursue, like an eagle, and you are using yours to perpetuate a stasis or present moment with music and with soft opposites that cancel one another out more or less: the lovers then the “field of slain,” these two given such similar weight that neither one exists and they fray apart under the pressure of being the same thing; in her the “teeming” crowds are less important than a convolvulus, and the nightingale is not as beautiful as the bellbird. We can't all be Dora Wilcox, he says.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

baby's fading bloom

I tell him that I still don't respect Song for the Night. But you read De Quincey, he says. Yes I say, but we like different things in him; De Quincey's eccentricity (which is attention) led him to unusual convolutions or crevices (On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth) but you are the opposite, look, you write glosses, “her baby's fading bloom,” nostalgia for younger days at the nanny's knee … do you know how many poets in this anthology are suffering from nostalgia, I say: it's an epidemic – don't blame me for Bertram Stevens' taste in poems, he says, and don't tell me there's not nostalgia in the poems being published in your lifetime.

No, that's true, I say; I was reading the Island interview with Gwen Harwood earlier today and she said that she was “nostalgic even for five minutes ago.” When did she die? Nineteen ninety-five. And how many poems have I read about a living poet's dead father. But you can be suspicious of nostalgia, the way Geoffrey Hill is, or measureful, you can mediate between the past and the present (books mediate between the past of the writer's writing and the present of the reader's reading, say that writers themselves are measuring nostalgia), you can be Harwood and regard the past as if it's a courtroom where you go to be condemned in the present --

Good angel
give me that morning again
and let me share, and spare me
the shame of my parents' rebuke

she writes in Class of 1927 (I can't replicate her layout; the "good" should be over to the right) -- or

Anguish: remembered hours

when she recalls her mother in Mother Who Gave Me Life -- or you can have a more holistic grief, like the one that Cyril Connolly published in The Unquiet Grave, which is one of the books, Harwood says, that brought her towards poetry --

When I contemplate the accumulation of guilt and remorse which, like a garbage-can, I carry through life, and which is fed not only by the lightest action but by the most harmless pleasure, I feel Man to be of all living things the most biologically incompetent and ill-organized. Why has he acquired a seventy years life-span only to poison it incurably by the mere being of himself?

-- or you can say just, “Oh, nostalgia, alas,” as if it's one-dimensional and not part of you, and you were one of the ones who said, “Oh, nostalgia, alas.” You're slack.

I still have form in my poem, he says: which is a subspecies of ruthlessness, or a slaughterhouse, like memory. (Touché.) You keep ignoring that. I did mention music, I mutter; I said the whole purpose of the poem was music – then why are you criticising it for sticking to its bones? he asks, if you've already said that the bones were the point?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

brought about by that power of gentleness

Reading over Daniel Deniehy again I imagine him coming back at me like this (but in his own words, not these): “That's not true. My Song for the Night doesn't exist for 'no reason.' Night is sweet and charming and I love those things, I value those things, I have dedicated myself to kindness” (tears seriously in his eyes), “kindness and fairness – no hereditary aristocrats! I argued in parliament when Wentworth wanted to create a peerage in Australia. 'It is yours to offer them a land where man is bountifully rewarded for his labour, and where a just law no more recognises the supremacy of a class than it does the predominance of a creed,' I said. Bountifully rewarded. People will be good if you're good to them; we should offer education to all adults in the Mechanics' Institutes, but you teachers, don't patronise the students.

'As if two-thirds of those who never rank themselves at all with what is specially termed “the working classes” are not as thoroughly illiterate, in every true and deep sense, as the most culture-lorn mechanic who planes cedar or hammers leather; and as if every human being is not going through a course of education from the cradle to the grave.

'I was educated in sorrow myself, as I got older: 'she whom De Quincey called ‘Our Lady of Darkness’ has laid her awful hand upon my heart,' I told my wife in a letter, and we should fight back against that 'Mater Tenebarum,' as he calls her: 'she storms all doors at which she is permitted to enter at all;' my fight is so little – my weapon is so little – poor Night. Leigh Hunt, another weapon of mine.

'There was too much boyish goodness and sweetness in him to sympathise very heartily with the fiercer struggles of men. At his heart was for ever the whispering consciousness that things might be better brought about by that power of gentleness of which he has sung with a grace more delicate than the graces of the Sicilian muse he so loved. He was right, if men would only look upon the thing as the loving poet did. But, meanwhile, Leigh Hunt had philosophy as well as pleasure on his side. “Nothing,” says Goethe, “is an illusion that makes us happy.”

'Suggestive mysticism, that's what Night is, not time-wasting, and if Wordsworth thought it was worth it then so do I. 'One of the best things in the essay is a defence of Wordsworth's suggestive mysticism against Jeffrey's unfair demand for absolute definiteness and perspicuity in poetry,' I said in my review of Walter Bagehot's Essays. Read my poem Love in a Cottage. I respect the simple pleasures that suggest a larger principle at work: 'A cottage small be mine,' that's the crux of everything; my wife in To His Wife might be pretty or she might not but I don't talk about it because the important thing is her kindness. She is 'solace for this wrung and rifted heart' from go to whoa.

'For me, who for this thronging world’s hot strife
A prize hath brought to be
Among the known—but sweet too dearly earned;
Ah, pray for me.

'Be moved by me: I drank myself to death in Bathurst. 'Occasionally, at night, I feel more depressed and wretched than I think any human being, in Australia at all events, ever before felt. I keep at home, not going out or visiting anywhere, entering no hotels, and if from intense depression I take a little brandy, it is only in my own room at night,' is what I wrote to my wife fifteen days before I vomited blood and collapsed in the street. I was promising, I was witty, I was charismatic; they still remember me today when they use the words, 'bunyip aristocracy.' My phrase! 'Few would recognise the once gay and genial Member for Argyle in the poor, broken, prematurely aged man, tottering with feeble steps and staggering gait along the least frequented paths of the city where his bright, hopeful boyhood had been passed.' (E.L. Martin in Life and Speeches of Daniel Henry Deniehy (1884) quoting a character sketch by 'an impartial and kindly eye-witness — the Hon. Geoffrey Eagar.') De Quincey in Levana: 'Therefore it is that Levana often communes with the powers that shake a man’s heart: therefore it is that she dotes on grief.'”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

choose, fair ones, to rove

Daniel Deniehy the “graceful singer” admired the work of Charles Harpur (1813 - 1868), an early Australian poet who, like Fowler, gave J. Sheridan Moore a stab in the guts. “I was further induced to take the course I have followed, in consequence of the recent reproduction, in an obscure sectional weekly newspaper, of an illiberal criticism, by Mr. CHARLES HARPUR, on one of my poems, a criticism which I hope that gentleman will yet have the honesty and manliness to modify, and which, I am sure, the public will never endorse.” So he published Spring-Life. Where's that criticism now? I can't find it anywhere but Spring-Life has been uploaded as a .pdf by the University of Sydney. Left there like a sort of dropping deposited by the criticism.

He seems to have been easy to stab, Moore, a reactive and critical person, one who wanted standards applied, and hence his involvement with the Month, a literary journal that was supposed to set a nice tone in the colony, bringing him up against the will of Charles Harpur. "Moore was esteemed by some but condemned as a charlatan by the native-born members who distrusted him and F. E. T. Fowler because of their snobbish emigré valuation of literature propounded in the Month" (from The Austraian Dictionary of Biography).

Bertram Stevens puts him in a group with Deniehy and a few other poets. “D. H. Deniehy, Henry Halloran, J. Sheridan Moore and Richard Rowe contributed fairly good verse to the newspapers.” Bad praise but he added him to the Anthology anyway.

O the Night, the Night, the solemn Night,
 When Earth is bound with her silent zone,
And the spangled sky seems a temple wide,
 Where the star-tribes kneel at the Godhead's throne;
O the Night, the Night, the wizard Night,
 When the garish reign of day is o'er,
And the myriad barques of the dream-elves come
 In a brightsome fleet from Slumber's shore!
      O the Night for me,
      When blithe and free,
Go the zephyr-hounds on their airy chase;
      When the moon is high
      In the dewy sky,
And the air is sweet as a bride's embrace!

(from A Song for the Night)

Four verses Deniehy spends messing around like that before he gets to the punchline.

      Wide is your flight,
      O spirits of Night,
By strath, and stream, and grove,
      But most in the gloom
      Of the Poet's room
Ye choose, fair ones, to rove.

In between you have a dying baby and “heaps of slain” “on the battle plain,” which, if you take the poem seriously, should be disquieting, this poet bouncing past corpses so that he can climax with imaginary spirits in his room. They “rove,” they fly, they pass, they do nothing concrete; they are flâneurs but not interesting flâneurs since they see nothing with their own eyes; they are an atmosphere and Song for the Night is a prose atmosphere. The deaths are there because he has already mentioned lovers, “Love in their eyes, | Love in their sighs,” and the key to Night is metamorphosis, “sacred Night,” “charming Night,” “wizard Night.” There is love, then there is death; it is a dramatic contrast. The purpose of this poem is to make you wait while it goes past; it is like a piece of music with “night” as a motif. There are no lovers, there are no babies, the writer and the reader have to tacitly agree that none of these things exist, they are not even honestly suggested to have existed, they are nothing but a passing impression of flavour or smell; they are a bit of coloured dye in clear water. The words are supposed to sing, not mean and the challenge for the author is a strange kind of pure aesthetic challenge: can he detain a piece of your time for virtually no reason; can he demote or muffle boredom?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

many brave soules losd

I search for old examples of the word "song" together with "poetry," in order to prove my own point to myself or to somebody else (then wondering why and who but pausing too briefly over it and pushed along by my own momentum, which has to be partly anxiousness stimulated by the sight of a thin old man pulling a Subway wrapper out of a bin – there are too many – like the children of Jude the Obscure, “The children were past saving, for though their bodies were still barely cold it was conjectured that they had been hanging more than an hour“ -- there are so many "past savings" here, mad, mad, lying on shirts, rocking on top of electrical boxes -- the box was under a mesquite tree -- in a desert at a hundred and ten nobody is mad enough to sit in the sun; you would have to be sane and stubborn --) -- that the conflation of poets with singers used to be normal and now it isn't.

“Sing, Heav'nly Muse,” says Milton in 1664, “I thence | invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song.” He abducts, with the word “Heav'nly,” the pagan Muse from Homer and upgrades it to a new technology of worship, a habit that Alexander Pope continued after him in 1715 when he translated the opening lines of the Iliad: “Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring / Of woes unnumber'd, heavenly goddess, sing!”

Milton could read his Homer in Greek but if he had looked at a translation then it would probably have been Chapman (c. 1559 - 1634), who starts his own Iliad with the more commanding word “resound.”

Achilles’ bane full wrath resound, O Goddesse, that imposd
Infinite sorrowes on the Greekes, and many brave soules losd
From breasts Heroique—sent them farre, to that invisible cave
That no light comforts; and their lims to dogs and vultures gave.

His Muse, in the opening lines of the Odyssey, will not sing, she will inform. “The man, O Muse, inform.” "Inform" is sort of accurate according to the Rev. Lovelace Bigge-Wither, author of A Nearly Literal Translation of Homer's Odyssey Into Accentuated Dramatic Verse (1869), who chooses “tell.” “Tell me, oh Muse.”

The man, O Muse, inform, that many a way
Wound with his wisdom to his wished stay;
That wandered wondrous far, when he the town
Of sacred Troy had sack'd and shivered down

Alliteration, I think as I look at those lines, is the sign of oral transmission. In prose it is like a pawprint from an animal that has gone past. Chapman's Muse doesn't sing but his poet sings. “To hear a poet sing the sad retreat | The Greeks perform'd from Troy.” Why does his “sack'd and shivered” town sound familiar? The anonymous Pearl Poet used the same seesaw before him in Gawain and the Green Knight: “troye […] brittened and brent.”

(Adrian West recently blogged about the artistic excitement of women being hurt. Troy, too, beaten, bashed, always popular.)

In 1961 Robert Fitzgerald brought the opening of the Odyssey closer to Milton -- “Sing in me, Muse” -- an observation that, if you take it on its own, with no other examples around to modify the idea, contradicts the point I was trying to make earlier; and the substitution of the word “sing” for “make poetry” has not been falling out of use for at least the past hundred years, because, look, it was being used in 1961 while Bigge-Wither in 1869 completely ignored it. John Donne, in The Triple Fool (1633), distinguishes between poems made silently and poems sung aloud.

    I am two fools, I know,
    For loving, and for saying so
        In whining poetry ;
But where's that wise man, that would not be I,
        If she would not deny ?
Then as th' earth's inward narrow crooked lanes
    Do purge sea water's fretful salt away,
I thought, if I could draw my pains
    Through rhyme's vexation, I should them allay.
Grief brought to numbers cannot be so fierce,
For he tames it, that fetters it in verse.

    But when I have done so,
    Some man, his art and voice to show,
        Doth set and sing my pain ;
And, by delighting many, frees again
        Grief, which verse did restrain.
To love and grief tribute of verse belongs,
    But not of such as pleases when 'tis read.
Both are increasèd by such songs,
    For both their triumphs so are published,
And I, which was two fools, do so grow three.
Who are a little wise, the best fools be.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

his quiet way

There is an abundance of evidence that singer and sing can be synonymous with poet and write, but when was the last time I saw anyone praise a poet by calling them a graceful singer, which is the phrase that The Cambridge History of English and American Literature (1907 – 21, in eighteen volumes) uses to describe the Australian poet Daniel Deniehy (1813 – 1868)? The same History says that J. Sheridan Moore (1828 – 1891) “sang in easy style of Australian scenes;” and the writer himself asserted that it was his duty to “sing” -- Vignette --


In the shining day —
In the shadowy night —
On his quiet way —
'Mid the world's fierce strife —
Where the flowers bloom —
Where the forests fade —
When his soul's in gloom —
When in light arrayed —
The Poet, to his instinct true,

-- is the first piece in Spring-Life: Lyrics (1864), which might be his only poetry collection, “an honest and affectionate, if not very valuable, contribution to the Literature of Australia,” as he tells you in the preface, “I am no poet, in the high and true sense of the word,” he says; I am a man who has written some incidental verses and sold them to “newspapers, or the pages of magazines.” One of the pieces was going to be set to music. “When I first wrote them, it was my intention — and I had hopes at the time of being able — to issue a series of Australian Songs, with appropriate music by some of our best composers. […] I hope I may yet be able to accomplish my first purpose, and issue a series of Australian Songs, which, both as regards Music and Words, will do us no discredit in the judgment of those who form the highest tribunal of Art-Criticism in London.”

He is so apologetic that he seems actually ashamed of the book and not just modest, but he will publish anyway because other people have been stealing his poems. “I allude more particularly to the cool and skilful appropriation made in Texts for Talkers (London: Saunders, Otley, and Co., 1860), where extracts from pieces of mine are given as the productions of one OAKFIELD.” Once Spring-Life is published they will not be able to steal from him any more and OAKFIELD will not steal anyway for OAKFIELD is dead, “beyond the reach of praise or censure,” and OAKFIELD never existed, you realise, when Moore writes about “a sly hint ... elsewhere prefixed [in Texts for Talkers], to the effect that “OAKFIELD” and the author of the “Texts” are identical” -- then who was OAKFIELD? -- if he was “the author of the “Texts”” then he was Frank Fowler, a British journalist who lived in Sydney between 1855 and 1858, a man that Moore was “familiar” with, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography. “Well known, if not universally popular, in Sydney's literary milieu, Moore was familiar with such men as N.D. Stenhouse, Richard Rowe, James Lionel Michael, Daniel Deniehy, W.B. Dalley, Henry Kendall, John Woolley and Frank Fowler, and edited the Month.” Fowler co-founded the Month.

When Fowler went back to London he published a memoir in which he seems to praise Moore, not by name but with a piece of code that the Sydney gang would have understood, when he opens a list of “The weekly press, in Sydney” with the words “a carefully-edited Catholic journal.” That journal was named Freemans and Moore was the editor from '56 to '57. Fowler's memoir, Southern Lights and Shadows, was published in 1859. He died four years later at the age of thirty.

When I remember that Texts was published in 1860 and Moore made his accusation in the preface only one year after his colleague was dead, I wonder if the news of the death had acted on him like a word of permission.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

imagine singing

What about the other poets in the Anthology?

The first time I read Bertram Stevens' choice I came away with a quick impression of softness and grandness or quietness and grandness, the language of grandness (“gold,” and “purple” objects, verbs happening “oft”) without royal aggression: here were people who would rather talk about roses than say anything satirical, here nostalgia was the fad, never comedy – and even on a second and third look it's not a funny book, Stevens not a man who cared about humour in poems (see his selection from Banjo Paterson -- nature things and Clancy of the Overflow), and Walter Murdoch in 1918 wasn't mad keen either, in The Oxford Book of Australasian Verse – still, the different level of attention in the second and third go-arounds penetrated that first impression and now I realise that a few poets like John Farrell (1851 – 1904) had the impatience that I smelt faintly, faintly when I was reading Bathgate's Sydney.

“The noisiest find quiet graves,” is the way he sums up the deaths of British adventurers abroad in Australia to England (1897), which may not look like much but when I saw him write in close phrases through the whole poem I thought that here was a poet whose ideas came to him so vividly that they came as song.

“I imagine singing I imagine | getting it right,” wrote Geoffrey Hill once, and Paul Muldoon, talking about T.S. Eliot in 2011, said, “He has a great ear, a rarer and rarer commodity these days, even among fairly highly regarded poets.” Ezra Pound is an advocate of song in The ABC of Reading. It's possible that Hill, who admires Pound, was echoing the ABC when he associates “singing” with “getting it right.” But Hill is hard on himself and uses absolutes. Not “getting it acceptable” but “getting it right.” “Either the thing moves, RAPMASTER, or it | does not,” is what he believes* in Speech! Speech!, the enjambment reminding me of the same before the word “mute” in Wordsworth's There was a Boy, which I would not have thought of if Himadri at The Argumentative Old Git hadn't written about it in July.

The moment of silence before the admission of incapacity, that's what I'm looking at, does not speak in one case, does not work in the other. “Hopefully, RAPMASTER, I can take stock | how best to oút-ráp you.” There's always something to live up to. (The Moldovan bots have overtaken the Russians in my stats.)

* He challenges the value of movement ("I disclaim spontaneity, | the appearance of which is power") but not the fact of it. "I wíll | mátch you fake pindaric for trite | violence, evil twin."