Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Some Birthday Poems

I.
The present is in the next room
filling pans and clanking pots;
it waits to make a phone call
with a glass of red wine and a knife...

The past looks at me from the wall
wondering if I've learned how large I am
and if I can share their largeness with them,
but all they can do is wait; I pretend
I've moved on.

The future calls like a bird from the window,
something about blue sky and the sound of a riddle
whose words are unknown,
to make the answer clearer.

It's the sound of water boiling,
the unlocking of cutlery,
the ice out of the tray
and nothing else but that.

II.
The buddha that says
all the life in the dead world
is imagined
must be imagined
in the road
to be killed.

Who has told
of what's inside the sense,
the alignment to angels
in the scent of black tea,
the gold beating heart
in the postcard of Kekemapa?

III.
Pigeons move like sheets of rain
some landing on traffic poles
to scavenge drivers who don't taste
the french fries on their fingers
but wait for the magical moment to pass,
staring without seeing
the red arrow as a key;
they can't feel the line of birds
jostle their feathers
just for them.

IV.
Angel city faces
feel free to throw
what broke through their ice,
made them stronger,
on me
but they don't like it
if I look.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Collapsing Sunday

It's bittersweet
          this peace
That in the arc of breath
          peers
Into the holes not taken
          that grow
From being dark and full
          of echonoise
What might have been
          -- what was
          but never was...

The melody repeats
          stark longings long deferred
While orchestral cushions
          -- never more than auroral ghosts --
Are as voiceless as the sky

The fact of loss
          like a gilded cage
Where sunset stays
          ambrosia out of reach
As unresolved as what hands
          make of time
The picayune weeds one threads through
          to meaning

From some dream that burned
          away before
For cold star certainties:
          elegant denials, noble vindications
The final harmonious note
          stolen by the red-tinged sky
Fading into dissonance
          -- so rich and so alive...

A glow that holds the wizened hands
          as they pass through lighted rooms
Unfolding and then putting back
          things too small to see
Not memory or wisdom
          but what must finally be
Some sacrament of love

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Glint of Flesh

Details escape
In clear sun
Endless messes connect
Conduct the current train orchestra
Optimize the glean

Simply wordcloud what you want to see
On the other side

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Poet Speaks

Los Angeles moves with quiet perfection
Too sleek to leave a scrape upon the pond,
All stories stay in the moment's motion
Like a juggler's knives.

But there's one who is still, savagely ranting
In black skullcap, white cane like an antler,
Trimmed beard, blue vest, white pants;
He stands at the crosswalk, bellowing the truth
That possesses him, one too big for words,
Almost too large for sound. He taps his cane
On the sidewalk and asks "where is reality, tell me,
Where?"

And so, in the vast stillness of Los Angeles,
Where everyone's a mask, frozen into manikins,
Swells a frisson of fear, outward like toothpicks
From an unsealed jar.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Leaving Anguilla

The memory of an orange shed
Where a homily in lacquered wood
Embodied a dream of a family

A natural mystic clan emerged from trees.

It suited the locust bean, at least,
And pidgin peas, the goat-crossed coral street

Where cats were leashed in church grass
And chickens foraged freely.

Now I sit in Hungry's Restaurant
With the mid-day Mt. Gay crowd
Burying an inarticulate prayer.

For what was
Never happened
Except as I was told how to feel

The people wearing smiles like flowers
Were never revealed.

The first sight was all we got:

Overwhelming white with sky-blue sea.

The sudden suites and green estates
Will never take the hunger away
For an unfamiliar country

And so we forgot, not sanctified
By pebble roads, we had a purpose.

All the love you gave fell through
But a boy still waits in the sand for you

To carve a lizard king.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Afternoon in Maricot

D'accord echoes in the hallowed mall
Now threadbare marble, the throat-breaking talk
Flows like a bottle of wine,
As if monks have broken a vow of silence
And the harsh judgments of delicious truth
Spin away like yarn.

O the lengths we go to evade compassion,
We walk all day long for what doesn't need us
But everywhere eyes require our large sense of wrong,
Redemption to the March of the Valrykies
To recover what was never theirs,
What pains them so to lose,
As if they once had gained it
From your sharp, inquiring eyes
That now withhold whatever empathy
That was once the only thing they had not wrong,
But it became part of a larger wrong,
Implicated in the crime it witnessed,
It joined its heart to what could only grow until it burst,
And then withdrew, the final act, where everyone
Is powerless, and always has been.

Emptier the chasm for having known there were people
Who once lived upon those hills,
Now gone inexplicably, forever.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Gift

Night waves
Night branches
Night watchmen at bars,
Lights on patios
Where wine bottles glow
As parents wane before their children's demands,
Reach for glasses.

The magic the day refused to bestow
Is piled up on the hillsides,
Organized as stars
Near ocean blackness.
No blame or irritation any more
Just the langour inside windows,
Unhappy stares and cackling slurs.

The road curves in circles
All the way around the island
But the cars keep following some longing
For a love that isn't here, at least
But may be there
A boulangerie where they speak Francais,
Or a high-end beachfront mall,
But there they beg with missing teeth
For cigarettes and love,
And there the third floor's always closed
To visitors,
It comes back in your face
Like the merciless sun:
You do not know
What you're given,
How a vault of gold
Has been laid before your feet
So you can observe
The imperfections of the coins.

And someone must pay dearly
For the ointment's shining fly
-- Fingers point and eyes collide
Til sunset masses phantasm armies
And we are left the rich savor
Of darkness,
Which feels our compassion,
Knows how hard we try,
Sees how we make the most
Of every shining token
Slung on a string,
And sometimes, in a
Certain blue light,
It might lead you out
On a pier wet with lamplight
To see the circling below
Of giant shining fishes,
A gift you've finally walked
For long enough
To stand in awe of.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Lilith Conjunct

The women were mean, despairingly crying, as they clung
          to the coffin for a body light as air.

Dogs lapped their tears like they were anti-freeze
          and cowered under abject slaps transferred.  

The phones lit up with vitriol, in hopes the clouds would stay,
         the spell could not be broken today like bread

As if they could be fed. For it was not, to them, love,
         something that fell within their purview,

It was other, it was hate, it was worthy of the raw
         discontent they'd tried with parasols to hide

For millennia it seemed: their papery smiles
         betrayed a fear that all was as it appeared,

That the man had no redeeming acts, the earth
         no cause for grace, no heaven save the rending,

Where all that lived must die, the easier to sweep away;
        creation's in the clean-up, that same old tell-tale story

As the one that murderers say, at bedtime to their grandkids
        when they stamp a kiss of dreams on warm foreheads.

Monday, November 14, 2016

On the Loss of All My Friends

Circe turned all men into pigs
Except to Odysseus, cursed
With true sight. He did not require
The wax in his ears
To endure the siren’s false song;
It was for public consumption,
So that they could pretend
To be him.

There was no great voyage
To part right from wrong,
The finale was written
By stars all along;
But learning can come
When one holds to a role
False enough
There are no ropes.

And when Penelope beckoned
And he had to be lonely again,
He saw his companions at last
As they are, clear in the dark,
Their moving figures of light
So brave and so bright;
How the heart that made him so wrong
Gave the universe flight.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Thoughts on the U.S. Presidential Election

I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse”
                                                               - “London” (1794), William Blake

William Blake describes a time quite similar to our own: a transition in the name of science and business and imperial might from a happier, clearer and more faith-based age to one of immense mental, physical, emotional and spiritual suffering. In our age, the “mind-forged manacles” are electromagnetic fantasy machines that sedate, distract and disempower us from having a clear sense of what’s happening in the outside world. The “Palace” of today is not a figurehead of God draped with gold and weapons but an invisible global financial elite that long ago took away the “divine right of kings” and has invested so thoroughly in society’s means of communication and intellectual persuasion (media, universities, foundations, politicians, charitable and religious institutions) that there barely is a visible alternative anymore to their nauseating and soul-destroying vision of reality. The “Church” of today is a subsidiary but even more destructive power that programs into the populace through the sheer power of its technological suasion the belief that life is a random collection of genetic material that will expire forever at human death, rendering our consciousness and our existence meaningless. Into this stew of mental enslavement come the “youthful Harlots” of the sexualized young, led by celebrity sex slaves, whose permissive and degrading philosophies utterly destroy the sacredness of life, male/female union, and death.

We have submitted to this so thoroughly that most people are blind to the naked reality that this system of control is, in fact, broken. The hypnotized, drugged and frightened populace just accepts the confected conflicts, the soul intrusions, and the chaining to the wheels of perpetual debt because they have better things to do with their lives than despair about things over which they have no influence. But they know, at a level that can’t be snuffed out by the consensus illuminati reality, that they are being manipulated like lab rats with lies.   

And they are, in fact, tired of it.

This is the appeal of Donald J. Trump, a man widely — and not unjustifiably — seen as an unqualified, narcissistic, cruel, plutocratic buffoon. Yet he attracts three times a day 10s of thousands of people – many of whom dropped out of the phony Repiglican/Semicrap dialectic years ago — to his rallies. Millions of people are looking at him — visible flaws and all — as a savior to a system that most think cannot even be fixed. It is a grassroots political movement the likes of which I have never seen before in my life. And its sole purpose is to, at long last, stop the lies.

Trump calls it "draining the swamp" and hoo-boy, it may reflect an ego beyond human imagining to believe it’s even possible, but by-gosh he believes and makes us believe the day of reckoning is at hand, like a new sheriff in town come to redeem his checkered past by throwing out the hired guns and crooked preachers. He is an outsider like us, who is enraged with us and for us at the shocking decline in our country. No more proof that he is not some easily corruptible system politician exists than in his protestations that they are trying to rig the election. The last four (at least) Presidential elections have all been rigged, but he's the first one to stand up so honestly against the system that divides the people and the spoils win or lose. While voters now rightly wonder how much bigger of a personal slush fund the chosen candidate of the global elite, Hillary R. Clinton, can squeeze out of corrupting bankers, lobbyists and dictators as President than as Secretary of State in return for doing their bidding, Trump is so incorruptible he won't even kiss the ass of the Republican party bosses to get the vital support he needs to win the election. He’d rather spend another $10 million of his own money because he knows that support from the rotten system comes with a price tag for the American people.

This incorruptibility gives him the freedom to talk, and the uncomfortable truths he tells may in fact set us all free. There are so many examples of this, from daring to tell Jeb of the powerful Bush crime family that his brother’s wars bankrupted the country for nothing, to having the chutzpah to inform Hillary of the Clinton crime family she would be in jail if he was president. He pierces what the late, great journalist Gavin MacFayden called “the culture of immunity” and in doing so, exposes how arrogant and fraudulent are the justifications used today to justify power. This truth-telling inspires genuine hope, of an honest accounting, from which we can rebuild a strong society from the wreckage of this house of cards we are living under now.

As an example, children are forced now in many states to have massive doses of mind-destroying mercury injected into their bodies at regular intervals during their development, but the only reason we are given for this is that we are a danger to society if we question this practice. In fact, many insiders say that the next step is compulsory vaccinations for adults, penalized by loss of Medicare and Social Security benefits we have actually already paid for. Trump is the first — and only —presidential candidate to come out strongly against forced vaccination. He dares to talk about the overwhelming scientific evidence of the link between autism and vaccinations, the dramatic increase in the number of required vaccinations, and our basic human right to not have multiple toxins —ranging from formaldehyde to monkey DNA — forced into our systems.

Similarly we see in broad daylight — dramatically ramped up during the Obama administration — the spraying of heavy metal nanoparticles in the skies, and how it reduces sunlight, sickens citizens, and alters weather patterns, yet we are given absolutely no official confirmation that this is actually happening, and if we press the point are only told that our lying eyes and over-inquisitive minds amount to a “fringe conspiracy theory” that must be stamped in the fight against the inchoate “climate change” enemy. Well, Trump sees through this “global warming scam” and values “pure water” and “clean air” over the vast expenditures now spent to poison the planet and turn its atmosphere into something resembling Venus.

After being sickened by the rampant escalation of geoengineering and GMO pesticides in our foods under Obama, we are now forced to buy exorbitantly-priced health insurance with the pharmaceutical “solutions” that now control the minds, bodies and finances of the population. Such coercion is un-American to Trump; he vows to repeal Obamacare and force the vast health insurance octopus to compete for our business instead of leading us further down the road to drug and treatment addiction.

For eight years now we have experienced an economic downturn objectively as bad as the Great Depression, deliberately created to blur national borders, destroy national currencies, systematically send production to the lowest-wage parts of the world, and force middle-class families to take on unimaginable levels of debt out of sheer survival. Instead of actual relief, we are fed food stamps from borrowed money and phony stats about full employment, great growth prospects, and the natural global economy, all so the criminals who created the crisis can through many years of free money be reliquified at the expense of the 99.9999999+% of the world’s population. Trump looks for a solution to this unfathomable level of debt and hopelessness to the past, before the invisible international bankers took over the American political system in 1913. Before the federal income tax was imposed to support the infinite debt required by the bankers who now issue our currency, the country survived and prospered by tariffs on foreign goods. Why not try actually lowering people's taxes and supporting American companies and workers? Trump knows the US has the natural resources, infrastructure, spirit of innovation and, most importantly, consumers, to once again be the most powerful economy in the world. He also vows to end the crony capitalism that infects not only the government but the economy at every level. Why not run the federal government like a business that is accountable to its shareholders: We the People?

Make no mistake, the system will not go down easily under President Trump. The financial powers will try to push the self-destruct button even before he takes office, as its hounds of hell media and clone politicians shriek “racism”, “sexism” “division,” “Hitler” in unison as if their entire existence doesn’t depend on dividing the American people into factions. For they know how easily we can be united, and they fear more than anything else that Trump will follow through on his promises to make us one country again. He wants to protect our rights by empowering local police, local schools, local businesses, appointing Supreme Court justices who vow to defend the bill of rights, ending the wars in the Middle East instead of starting new ones, and reversing this trend toward “globalization” that the citizens never consented to. But beyond all these sensible policy prescriptions he wants America to follow its heart, for we are always, easily, one at heart, and it is in the call of the heart we can believe in ourselves once again.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Odes by Hölderlin: The Peace

As if the old waters, in another rage,
       Returned in an even more terrible transformation,
          To clean, since it was necessary,

So it gaped and grew and surged from year to year
       To restlessly inundate the distressed land
          In egregious battle, so well veiled
             And so dark and pale was the head of man.

The heroic forces flew, like waves, onward
       And dwindling away, reduced you, avenger!
          It was often the servant's quick work
              To bring them, the warriors, home to rest.

O you, the relentless and undefeated
       Before the cowardly and too powerful,
          Strike until the last rank is down and
             His impoverished clan trembles from the blow,

The secret that you in spike and bridle hold
       To suppress and to further, O Nemesis,
           You still punish the dead, that now sleep
              Under laurel in Italy’s gardens,

The old conquerors otherwise undisturbed.
       And if you don't spare the idle shepherd too,
           Finally having taken well enough
               Will lavish slumber redeem the people?

Who started it? Who brought the curse? It is not
     From today nor of yesterday, and the first
          Measure’s lost, our fathers did not know,
                Driven by their spirits, and by their minds.

Too long, too long already have mortals stepped
     With pleasure on each other’s heads, man battled
          Over who would rule, feared his neighbor,
                And found no mercy upon his own ground.

Desire wanders wretched and wrong, like chaos,
     In ferment and froth across generations
          Still, wild and despondent and cold are
             The sorrowful lives of the ever poor.

But you wander quietly on your sure path,
     O Mother Earth, in the light. Your springtime blooms
          Vary the melodies as ages
             Accumulate, that’s your journey through life!

Come now, thou holiest of all the Muses,
     Beloved of the stars, revive and renew
          This peace we have longed for, give us one
             Remain of life, one heart for us again.

Innocent! The children though are almost more
      Clever than we are, although we’re old; discord
          Will not err the sense of the good, and
             Their eyes stay clear and full of happiness.

And like the other spectators, the judge looks
     With an earnest smile upon the race-tracked young,
         The fiercely aglow competitors
             Drifting their chariots through dusty clouds,

Thus Helios stands, and smiles all around us,
     And lonely are the divine, never happy,
          Because they live forever, aethers
              Flowering stars, the unbounded holy.

--------------------------------------------------------------
Der Frieden

Wie wenn die alten Wasser, die in andern Zorn,
     In schröcklichern verwandelt wieder
          Kämen, zu reinigen, da es not war,

So gählt' und wuchs und wogte von Jahr zu Jahr
     Rastlos und überschwemmte das bange Land
          Die unerhörte Schlacht, daß weit hüllt
              Dunkel und Blässe das Haupt der Menschen.

Die Heldenkräfte flogen, wie Wellen, auf
     Und schwanden weg, du kürztest, o Rächerin!
          Den Dienern oft die Arbeit schnell und
              Brachtest in Ruhe sie heim, die Streiter.

O du, die unerbittlich und unbesiegt
     Den Feigern und den Übergewaltgen trifft,
          Daß bis ins letzte Glied hinab vom
              Schlage sein armes Geschlecht erzittert,

Die du geheim den Stachel und Zügel hältst,
     Zu hemmen und zu fördern, o Nemesis,
          Strafst du die Toten noch, es schliefen
              Unter Italiens Lorbeergärten

Sonst ungestört die alten Eroberer.
     Und schonst du auch des müßigen Hirten nicht,
          Und haben endlich wohl genug den
              Üppigen Schlummer gebüßt die Völker?

Wer hub es an? wer brachte den Fluch? von heut
     Ists nicht und nicht von gestern, und die zuerst
          Das Maß verloren, unsre Väter
               Wußten es nicht, und es trieb ihr Geist sie.

Zu lang, zu lang schon treten die Sterblichen
     Sich gern aufs Haupt, und zanken um Herrschaft sich,
          Den Nachbar fürchtend, und es hat auf
               Eigenem Boden der Mann nicht Segen.

Und unstät wehn und irren, dem Chaos gleich,
     Dem gärenden Geschlechte die Wünsche noch
          Umher und wild ist und verzagt und kalt von
               Sorgen das Leben der Armen immer.

Du aber wandelst ruhig die sichre Bahn,
     O Mutter Erd, im Lichte. Dein Frühling blüht,
          Melodischwechselnd gehn dir hin die
               Wachsenden Zeiten, du Lebensreiche!

Komm du nun, du der heiligen Musen all,
     Und der Gestirne Liebling, verjüngender
          Ersehnter Friede, komm und gib ein
               Bleiben im Leben, ein Herz uns wieder.

Unschuldiger! sind klüger die Kinder doch
     Beinahe, denn wir Alten; es irrt der Zwist
          Den Guten nicht den Sinn, und klar und
               Freudig ist ihnen ihr Auge blieben.

Und wie mit andern Schauenden lächelnd ernst
     Der Richter auf der Jünglinge Rennbahn sieht,
          Wo glühender die Kämpfenden die
               Wagen in stäubende Wolken treiben,

So steht und lächelt Helios über uns
     Und einsam ist der Göttliche, Frohe nie,
          Denn ewig wohnen sie, des Aethers
               Blühende Sterne, die Heiligfreien.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Imperio do real II

The mist quickly fills the air, turns illusions into nothing at all:
Mesquite and sajuaro are as elusive as you want them to be,
Kind enough to exist or not, as we please.
What seemed so insurmountable: Raw mountains
Punctured like a scalpel and left to fester and boil,
The red flesh stretched in stripes over exposed muscle,
Volcanic shoulders draped before the lace of the sea,
While bony trees on pocked plateaus were swept up in the wind,
Catholic, incessant, life-affirming ...

                                                                   It's too austere here even for Mexicans,
With scattered haciendas on the highlands, severe pueblos near shore.
The ocean and its salts hold incomparable riches below, 
But the golden hills give off not even the sulfur of death,
They are useless except as beauty, a pose of nothing left to lose,
But still holding a place in the implicate order, universal
As they stand alone, unwanted, unknown, but no less hermetic
Than the cities, only more resolute in their resistance, their infinite
Clarity –

                        Not like the one mind of the mixing trucks
That touch up the hillsides with columns and fountains
And the textures and colors of heaven, filled in by the imagination
While the sun-burnt damianas hold the real safe from us,
Who would only sleep in its comforts without dreaming,
That thing that we do best. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Odes by Hölderlin: To Landauer

Be glad! You have chosen the lot of the good,
For you were made deep as a soul and true;
To be a friends' friend, 'twas for this you were born,
This we bring forth at your party.

Blessed are they who are in their house of peace
Like you, seeing love, abundance, and rest;
Many lives, like daylight and night, have passed through,
And you live in the golden mean.

For you the sun shines in a well-made entrance,
For you the wine ripens on the mountains,
And for you the shrewd god always happily drives
The merchandise round and about.

And child thrives, and mother is around husband,
And as a golden cloud crowns the forest,
So he's around you, a beloved shadow!
You are blessed, accustomed to him!

O be with him! For the clouds and winds will pull
Often anxious over land and houses,
But the heart finds rest in all of life's effort,
Makes from them holy remembrance.

And see! For sorrow's an expression of joy;
Pleasing like dark wine and somber music;
The party ends, and tomorrow each one goes
His narrow corridor of earth.

-------------------------------------------------------------
An Landauer

Sei froh! Du hast das gute Los erkoren,
Denn tief und treu ward eine Seele dir;
Der Freunde Freund zu sein, bist du geboren,
Dies zeugen dir am Feste wir.

Und selig, wer im eignen Hause Frieden,
Wie du, und Lieb' und Fülle sieht und Ruh;
Manch Leben ist, wie Licht und Nacht, verschieden,
In goldner Mitte wohnest du.

Dir glänzt die Sonn' in wohlgebauter Halle,
Am Berge reift die Sonne dir den Wein,
Und immer glücklich führt die Güter alle
Der kluge Gott dir aus und ein.

Und Kind gedeiht, und Mutter um den Gatten,
Und wie den Wald die goldne Wolke krönt,
So seid auch ihr um ihn, geliebte Schatten!
Ihr Seligen, an ihn gewöhnt!

O seid mit ihm! denn Wolk' und Winde ziehen
Unruhig öfters über Land und Haus,
Doch ruht das Herz bei allen Lebensmühen
Im heil'gen Angedenken aus.

Und sieh! aus Freude sagen wir von Sorgen;
Wie dunkler Wein, erfreut auch ernster Sang;
Das Fest verhallt, und jedes gehet morgen
Auf schmaler Erde seinen Gang.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

San Diego Clouds

Wearying how everything breaks
Like waves the same ways as one ages,
Disappointment locks in like a cool breeze
With the luxury accommodation.

I hold you and you disappear
Except for your spirit.
Am I alone when I'm with you
Less than when you're not there?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Odes by Hölderlin: The Passed On

I lived one fleeting day and rose on my own,
      The beautiful sleepers around as I fled.
But you asleep keep vigil on my heart, in kinship
      Your soul lays with mine in the fleeing image.
And you live there more vividly, where the spirit divine
      Brings joy to the aging, rejuvenates the dead.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Die Entschlafenen

Einen vergänglichen Tag lebt' ich und wuchs mit den Meinen,
     Eins ums andere schon schläft mir und fliehet dahin.
Doch ihr Schlafenden wacht am Herzen mir, in verwandter
     Seele ruhet von euch mir das entfliehende Bild.
Und lebendiger lebt ihr dort, wo des göttlichen Geistes
     Freude die Alternden all, alle die Toten verjüngt.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Short

The women on the Palmdale bus
Are so beautiful on Friday.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ode to the Smart People

Dead ends in every direction — the limits of a snake's tongue —
Blind mind feels its way through the grooves of the hole
Like they are accidents of design ...

                                                                        That's the way it lives,
All sense and reaction, whatever is out there a black prompt
Which may or may not know, how tongues are predictable,
Draw limited conclusions, and how whatever crack is sensed
Can be re-sealed with ease ...

                                                             How illumination
Is the perishable food, in a trap that sets it free.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Terpsichore

Let it go, the water glinting from the moon said,
For everything of earth and sky must move,

And heaven knew these changes a long time ago,
For karma flows like clouds across the blue.

The one who hurt you’s tattooed with the same wound
And pain too much the same to feel yours too.

For all your yo-yo dancing in the typhoon eye
You still believe in one almighty: light

And can endure its many shadows just to find it
Glorifying like your sight the tired afternoon.

Your true self is the North Star, from where there’s
Only love, aswirl in constant orbit, and too entwined to touch.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Odes by Hölderlin: Go Under, Beautiful Sun

Go under, beautiful sun, they respected
     You little, and knew of you not, holy one,
          For you are silent and effortless
               When over the laboring ones you rise.

To me, though, you kindly climb and fall, O light!
      Surely my eyes will recognize your splendor!
          For I’ve learned to honor the divine
                Silence, since Diotima healed the mind.

O you of heaven, messenger, how I hear
      My love’s summoner, Diotima! From you
           I saw how this eye of golden day
                Rose in resplendence and in gratitude.

The living springs whispered, the dark earth blossoms
       That loved me began to breathe, the wind sang love,
            And smilingly over silver clouds
                 The aether bowed down in consecration.
      
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
Geh unter, schöne Sonne...

Geh unter, schöne Sonne, sie achteten
       Nur wenig dein, sie kannten dich, Heilge, nicht,
            Denn mühelos und stille bist du
                 Über den Mühsamen aufgegangen.

Mir gehst du freundlich unter und auf, o Licht!
       Und wohl erkennt mein Auge dich, Herrliches!
            Denn göttlich stille ehren lernt' ich,
                 Da Diotima den Sinn mir heilte.

O du des Himmels Botin! wie lauscht ich dir!
        Dir, Diotima! Liebe! wie sah von dir
             Zum goldnen Tage dieses Auge
                 Glänzend und dankend empor. Da rauschten

Lebendiger die Quellen, es atmeten
        Der dunkeln Erde Blüten mich liebend an,
             Und lächelnd über Silberwolken
                 Neigte sich segnend herab der Aether.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Stevens Textplication #34: Another Weeping Woman

Navigating the same alienated vein he’d been mining in the last three poems we’ve covered, Stevens applies his new theories of imagination and reality to a love/marital relationship in “Another Weeping Woman,” from 1921, and the results are, if anything, even more disturbing than in Gubbinal, The Snow Man or Tea at the Palaz of Hoon. The poem is commonly taken to refer to a grieving widow, but, as usual, I’m not so sure things are exactly as they seem. Here’s the poem:

Pour the unhappiness out
From your too bitter heart,
Which grieving will not sweeten.

Poison grows in this dark.
It is in the water of tears
Its black blooms rise.

The magnificent cause of being,
The imagination, the one reality
In this imagined world

Leaves you
With him for whom no phantasy moves,
And you are pierced by a death.

The first two stanzas of the poem eloquently but rather uncharitably psychologize the physical effect of watching someone cry. Endless, uncontrollable wailing makes us, the observer, feel like the person is possessed by a demon that will never stop flailing us with its pain. 

But this isn’t just another woman weeping, she seems to be more intimately known to the speaker. She’s characterized as that always unhappy, deeply embittered woman for whom tears would seem to be a humanizing release, but even genuine grief can’t soften (or “sweeten”) her all-encompassing discontent. She can’t “pour” or cry it out. The tears themselves become “poison.” And her bitter heart, the darkness, increases with the tears, being poetically nurtured into “black blooms.” But of what does this bitterness consist?

The final two stanzas provide a prosaic answer: it’s a man. But the phrasing is exceedingly poetic: “The imagination … leaves you … with him.” This seems quite intimate indeed, as if the identities of the figures have to be hidden and the context distanced the emotions are so close. One way of doing that is putting all the weight of explanation on a grand philosophical theorem: “The magnificent cause of being, / The imagination, the one reality / In this imagined world.” It’s as shocking as it is straightforward: Our life is a dream, but we as dreamer created it.

The dreamer wakes up, however, in the last stanza, with a man beside her that she can’t turn into a phantasy (a lighter and more willful form of imagination, where a loved one for example can be turned into a fancied hero rather than perceived into being). “Him for whom no phantasy moves” enigmatically describes someone who could be implacable, impossible to fantasize about, completely unimaginative, or dead. 

The prevailing sense, however, is that when the curtains of the imagination are lifted, there is nothing behind it that is real. We construct love affairs out of pheromones and moonbeams, never thinking that is all there is to it, a trick to facilitate a shared delusion of separate minds. OK, maybe we do, but it is not a good feeling when we do, for it is like, as Stevens so aptly puts it, being “pierced by a death.” The inconsolable weeper truly cannot be consoled, because she is in a different realm.

Thus the grief of the first stanza is, in contemporary parlance, “paid off” by the death in the last. This leads many readers to conclude that the woman is weeping over her dead husband (or son). The widow trope, however, is only a metaphor for the real action, which is the death of a relationship (or the illusion of a relationship) through the awareness that it was imagined into (and out of) existence. Why else would she be crying before the death?

Still, the context remains ambiguous after many readings, in large part because the poem intentionally obscures the relationship between the speaker and the weeping woman. Do they know each other? Is the speaker the subject of her tears? Is it a veiled reference, heaven forfend, to Stevens himself and his wife? The poem exists in a nether world between an uncomfortably close personal – but undisclosed – conflict, and a rigorously strict abstraction about how all relationships are false. I guess that’s what we all do, poets or not, generalize our petty sufferings into universal truths.

Another great American poet, Emily Dickinson, was, in my view, the undisputed master of painting over uncomfortable life events with a luminous veneer of hermeneutic transcendence. Here is a poem* of hers that covers, I think, much the same emotional ground as “Another Weeping Woman.” It has it all – scientific materialism vs. religion, religion vs. occult spiritualism, fate vs. free will, skepticism vs. faith (and that’s just in the first 21 words!) – but in true Dickinsonian fashion, these concepts are conflated and problematized at lightning speed into something eerie and otherworldly: one only has faith because one already has doubt, our perception of memory and all the personal stuff it contains limits our notion of heaven, people are interchangeable and wholly indistinct at the soul level. But underlying all the metaphysical ground that’s covered – what makes the poem so powerful – is some unspoken personal dispute that creates a backdrop of tragic distance: The way “Sister” is repeated wearily, insistently, as the arguments are reconfigured, the way “Sue” and “Emily” are one, although Susan can’t acknowledge such a fact. That, my friends, is poetry.

Morning might come
by Accident -
Sister -
Night comes
by Event -
To believe the
final line of
the Card would
foreclose Faith -
Faith is Doubt.
      Sister -
Show me
Eternity, and
I will show
you Memory -
Both in one
package lain
And lifted
back again -
Be Sue, while
I am Emily -
Be next, what
you have ever
been, Infinity -

* Thanks to the obtuse pettifoggery typical of the academy, this lovely poem is officially canonized as a letter, and can be found, in suitably alien hieroglyphic handwriting, at OMC 246.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Last Surrender

You're free of any dialogue,
That coupling thing's been safely put to bed,
No questions ring the hollows of your heart.

You've been redeemed again in water,
Returned to tempering fire,
Your memory is immortal.

You've burned through heaven once again
Eviscerating love,
A gift you gave yourself to learn

What you have done, but will you?
My gift is not to know.
The infinite I gave must equal zero.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Street Scene

At the indigenous resistance
The drummers are not putative,
They beat the drops of water stolen
And the law comes to enforce
Their submission into silence
With violence.

The feathers on their heads
Came from copters that descended
At midnight on the pens
For the specialists with gloves
Who shoved the chickens into crates.

And their warpaint isn't blood
But communion petrolatum
Still the fracking thunder comes
Like nuclear Kippur
Upon the burning man inevitable
That the organs of the well-informed
Ignore.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Stagecraft

In the mirror:
The truth-teller
And liar,
The bad black sheep seed
Trying to be good
By naming all the evil,
And the good scapegoat heart
Corrupted by belief
In its own goodness.

It's time for the posing of the problems
That can't be fixed by jumping off a cliff,
Time for posting some placard solutions
Pulled from the short-attention-span heavens
And shattered like china on the ground.

Despite all the snake-eyed lies
We still can't believe our lying-ass eyes
That the pain that begs among us is ours
Masquerading as another hand
Outstretched to our ruinous food,
And that the secrets of the few
Are still locked inside our hearts
Poisoned by the shackles once again.

We are the people who ring other's necks
And feel other's deaths as our own,
Who don't care about what's going on
(Much less whether it's right or wrong)
But who know the cost in our bones
Of believing in what we don't know.

Why not have faith in what cannot exist?
In dragons slain and starlets won,
In justice arriving on time,
In truth as an answer to the sickness inside,
In a voice we can feel as our own.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Odes by Hölderlin: I Will Go Every Day ...

I will go every day down other paths, soon
       Through the green leaves of the woods, to the spring soon,
            To the rock, where roses are in bloom,
                   To view the land from the hill, though nowhere,

Nowhere do I find you in the light, my dear,
       And into the air all the words disappear;
            Devout, I have only been with you
                 ...

Yes, I’ve been far from you, face of an angel,
       And in the fading melody of your life
            No more is overheard of me; O where
                   Did the magical heartsongs go, that calmed

Me once with the stillness of the heavenly?
       How long has it been? O how long! The youth has
             Aged, even the earth, which gave me back
                   Then smiled, has become a different place.

Always good! The soul separates and returns
       To you each day, and it cries to you the eye,
              That it is bright again, where you go,
                    Where you stay, wherever you gaze across.

---------------------------------------------------------------------
Wohl geh' ich täglich ...

Wohl geh' ich täglich andere Pfade, bald
       Ins grüne Laub im Walde, zur Quelle bald,
              Zum Felsen, wo die Rosen blühen,
                   Blicke vom Hügel ins Land, doch nirgend,

Du Holde, nirgend find ich im Lichte dich
       Und in die Lüfte schwinden die Worte mir,
              Die frommen, die bei dir ich ehmals
                 ...

Ja, ferne bist du, seliges Angesicht!
       Und deines Lebens Wohllaut verhallt, von mir
              Nicht mehr belauscht, und ach! wo seid ihr
                   Zaubergesänge, die einst das Herz mir

Besänftiget mit Ruhe der Himmlischen?
       Wie lang ists! o wie lange! der Jüngling ist
             Gealtert, selbst die Erde, die mir
                   Damals gelächelt, ist anders worden.

Leb immer wohl! es scheidet und kehrt zu dir
       Die Seele jeden Tag, und es weint um dich
              Das Auge, daß es helle wieder
                   Dort wo du säumest, hinüberblicke.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Hawaiiana

Ni'ihau steals another sunset from Kauai
As the lavender smoke of breathing clouds
Roosts in shadow for the night.

The palm fronds edged with rust
Were worthy of our imaginings,
The thick-fingered grasses
Have never stopped waving gold.

The fur-draped mountains
With moving silver crowns
Stayed fiercely protective
Like arrowheads poised in the sky

As the spirits were unveiled inside of me
On their flight to Polihale.

But there's a limit to the generosity
Of spirit.

The stars so pure and piercing
In galaxies woven in webs
Are overwhelmed by blots of cloud
Like figures of a dreamed earth,

But the stars burn through
The overhang
Like eyes,
And the centurions appear again.
The homeland channel throbs.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Loneliness on Secret Beach

Rooster rainbows in the dreadlocks of the waves,
Tumescent moss directs the dripping off the caves,
The bees are making love like surgeons to hibiscus
As couples narrow distances to share the pounding swells
In white release across the folding lace of opening shells.
They take photos of each other in their complementary chairs
Before the endless thrust of surf that vents what it bears
And just as endlessly receeds along the curves
Of long-suffering sand, its bite -- not preserved.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Silence at Maha'aleupo

They say the last white man
       Who'd fled to Nihoa
                     Is gone,
And the faces on the cave
       Were obsolesced
                   In return,
But they are still here
       And I am still here
               Looking on,

And the black rocks have their art
       And still speak in a voice
          Heard by ancient fishermen
That promised secret knowledge
       If one could wear the crown
          Of knowing form was only masking light.

The conscious color won't
       Collapse like other facts
               Into theories of mind
But is pitched at zero point,
       Knowledge not for learning
               But for action.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Kaua'i to Her Groom

She keeps herself pretty,
Every pore of her skin,
Moss on his rock like rouge,
Lipstick flowers on the limbs
That tremble with rain.

Giant leaves run their fingers up
Her tree trunks,
Every fern frond is arranged
To be admired,
Her rivers are alive
With quickened pulse.

Even the fallen green
Doesn't bear the color of grief,
But of held memories,
The dark rich lacquer:
Deep orange, rotten gold.

She lets the mist caress
Her every curve
And leaves a welcome mat of red
On all her shores
With cocks that crow
And offered palms.

The caves he left for her
Swirl with water,
The sound is hollow
But it's enough
For the green stars reaching
From his crags to heaven
To bloom as beauty's virgin.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Ni'ihau to His Bride

One telephone line stretched across the third mesa
Is the final sign, to those who'd know,
That the death of the world is near.
There's not even that here;
They communicate over distances by telepathy or mail.
Once a week the boat arrives, with food stamp rations
And propane, and a chance, Christ willing, for some shopping
In Kauai on the Robinson family dime.

Some say there's over 200, some 70, some 30
Left on this infertile island, spearing fish
In canoes they whittled, spending weeks
Gathering shells for the right shade of prickly pear pink
To braid a necklace for some mainland queen,
Finding water holes to grow breadfruit or taro,
Knowing every stone God by name, and all the grasses
By voice, in day-long prayers to the spirit of the flowers
In hopes that it might be her ...

No time, no money, no power & light, as inconceivable
To us as God delivering our food from our prayers.
It's not that we are jealous, vengeful gods (although we are),
But this can't compete with the Sunbeam hair dryer,
The guava cocktail and dashboard hula dolls
Of the needy people trying to help, be of use, be of service.

Yet to them for all our waste and ignorance 
Somehow it never makes us happy.
In pity, they fancy themselves the same,
Collecting shells before they're pulverized to dust.
Their faith was never taken in that wooden mission church
Like their rain; they gather round the cavern hole to sing
Hymns to the ancestors, the volcano people deep within the earth

Asking is it real love, or did the lava God leave her in the keeping
Of something that could not offend his jealousy?
Still, the lavender light runs softly between the two of them
Holding them together with unbreakable force of love.
Emasculated or protected, alive or dead,
Only the racing clouds know for sure.
The amniotic fire changes form, changes nature,
But is changeless just the same...

Even if there was one last person there, the spirit 
Would still hold, as was written in the holy book of rock.
The mist of endless longing for his woman
Hits the mountains here, and in its sweetness of smoke
The spiriteye sees rainbows across to the island
Always soaking in an indigo cloud, like an illusion
That like everything else important
Can suddenly disappear 
Into nothing but ocean.

Via magic, the old ways always return
Unless there's no more magic,
The sun rising in late afternoon
Can no longer be seen, and an island
Can no longer escape from its shroud
Into something we can learn from.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Stevens Textplication #33: Tea at the Palaz of Hoon

We saw in “Gubbinal” the first appearance in Stevens of the reader of the poems, a consciousness alien to that of the poet with a different imaginative agenda. In “The Snow Man” we saw how the reality of that observer was locked within an imaginative recasting impenetrable as ice. In “Tea in the Palaz of Hoon,” the last of a 1921 trilogy of poems that pre-figure Stevens’ later work, this insight is extended to the poet himself, as he looks upon all his sees as something he has, in fact, created. The profoundly social ceremonial sharing of tea done in many cultures becomes, for him, a solitary and unshareable affair, except of course in the otherworldly iambics of the poem, which reads as follows:

Not less because in purple I descended
The western day through what you called
The loneliest air, not less was I myself.

What was the ointment sprinkled on my beard?
What were the hymns that buzzed beside my ears?
What was the sea whose tide swept through me there?

Out of my mind the golden ointment rained,
And my ears made the blowing hymns they heard.
I was myself the compass of that sea:

I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.

The stunning first stanza takes personification of the sunset to a new extreme in the Anglo-American poetic tradition. Here the speaker IS the sunset, descending in a king’s robes through the western side of the sky, so intimately does he feel it. Despite the interiority, there is a social dimension, an implied judgment of the purple color (rich, noble, but also excessive), and an unnamed “you” who judges the twilight to be lonely. Nonetheless, nevertheless, “not less”, he feels singularly himself. The note is not of an ego subsuming everything else, but of a being feeling at long last justified in claiming “I exist” and being able to push away the pressure from other people to think or act a certain way about something.

At this insight, he is immediately bedecked with ancient spiritual symbols of purity and grace: ointment on his beard, hymns he can hear. Yet he is confused where this physical epiphany came from, what “tide swept through me” just now, and “what sea” he now finds himself beholding.

The third stanza seems like an answer: I brought this all on myself. But it is really him continuing to ponder the questions posed in the second stanza. And the provisional solutions don’t make any logical sense: a mind (an abstract function) cannot rain, inside or out, and ears do not create music in any conventional sense. The truth as he’s analyzing it does not match the truth as he experienced it. Yet “the compass”, the measurement, understanding, or sense of direction, clearly did come from inside himself.

There’s a colon at the end of the third stanza, like a classic philosophical theorem, implying that the final stanza will be the logical conclusion. The first two lines of the stanza do carry the thought to a general proposition that restates quite plainly what he has just experienced: maybe not the thing itself, but all his thoughts and feelings and sensings of it came from within his own consciousness, to the point where it couldn’t be said to really exist apart from his perception of it. This is a concept as ancient as pre-Socratic philosophy, and as contemporary as New Age self-help books like The Secret. Despite this lineage, the ancient spiritual principle conflicts with our programming that we are small, dependent and clueless before an indifferent and (what many insist) meaningless world. Thus, the speaker guardedly (and I might say beautifully) asserts how he “walked” in this world, and how everything “came not but from himself.” Still, there was no other explanation (really, officer).

As if to remind us of the limits of philosophy (and that poetry is not so limited), he inserts a semi-colon to this conclusion, and in the final line leaps to an extra-logical revelation: “And there I found myself more truly and more strange.” What we have here is the actual moment of enlightenment, not the fake kind provided by the mind and its attendants who think the sky is lonely, but a mystical apprehension of a deeper reality that can only come in a moment of extrasensory inspiration. It’s a state of oneness with all, where everything is him and he is everything, and he realizes in a flash not only that all he needs is inside his little noggin, but that he never understood before how very wide he was. He contains, like Walt Whitman, multitudes. As such, his journey is just beginning.

Near as I can tell, neither “palaz” nor “hoon” are actual words.* They are, however, quite clear in the context they are being used, a fantasized palace where the speaker sits in the luxury of an imagined tea ceremony, only to realize he’s made the whole thing up, and my, what a vision of reality it ended up being. Stevens revisits this mysterious hoon (clearly a synecdoche for himself, at least as persona) 14 years later, in one of his greatest poems, “Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz,” where he reflects:

“Too many waltzes have ended. And then
There’s that mountain-minded Hoon,
For whom desire was never that of the waltz,

Who found all form and order in solitude,
For whom the shapes were never the figures of men.
Now, for him, his forms have vanished.”

And there’s this, from “Bantams in Pine-Woods” in 1922:

“An inchling … fears not portly Azcan nor his hoos”

“Tea at the Palaz of Hoon” richly conveys the moment of enlightenment—like a disciple being hit on the head in a Buddhist teaching—and it does so in a conscious, human way, along the way suggesting so many tropes, memes, associations and feelings it is impossible to do them justice. The individual reader can quite readily and quite personally savor its wideness. Yet it is the narrowing of vision that Stevens accomplishes here that makes this poem significant. We see in this “aha moment” the seed for the man questioning the world mindset that is the hallmark of the great poet Stevens would become.


* The etymology of hoon as an actual word is quite interesting, albeit Stevens himself was almost certainly unaware of it, given that he didn’t live in Australia. A portmanteau of “hooligan” and “goon”, it is an official word in Australia and New Zealand connoting “anyone who engages in loutish, anti-social behaviours. In particular, it is used to refer to one who drives a car or boat in a manner which is anti-social by the standards of contemporary society, i.e. too fast, too noisily or too dangerously.” The wiki entry provides other interesting details.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Imperio do real I

The Spanish palace
Crowned with palms
Is overrun with sunburned, fat,
Margarita-in-plastic-cup-drinking
Families in sandals.
The flies are happy.
The smell of wasted food
Must pain these creamy domes
How all the bloodshed was for naught.

The palm holds in its limp fingers
The history of the empire
In stately turn and glittering fringe
As its fountain pen still sways in billowing air.
The hands can’t write those lines.
They never could.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Revisionist Astrology

I have a love/hate relationship with the truth.
We disagree sometimes, fight like cats
And I get flummoxed by its hauteur.

But it's like a better mousetrap in the end;
Whacking pest ideas with a mechanical lie:
Some God to go before all else, like Kings back in the day.

Nothing it ever says is wrong, though everything is false,
Out-of-context, screaming, massacring elves and gnomes
And what is left of an open dialogue.

But I love the cleanness of its line, its springy step,
The way it conveys civility in a world insane.
I root for the truth, but it loses the game again and again.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Disappearing Fairy Circles

Washboard ripples,
     moving lines of force
In paper-thin intersections,
     slow across glass,
Lilac foam
     as the lavender surf rolls in,
Rainbows in its wake,
     the curtains loosen and tighten,
Soundings
     that exist for us only as beauty,
As purposeless as we believe
     our lives to be ...

The last spike of peach holds on
     against the human mind.
Everything else has been denied,
     by being understood.
How could we ever be explained
     by the mechanics?
Our lusts, our thirsts, our drives?
     The wall called
Understanding has been placed
      here between us
As the mystery still
      feverishly swirls.
                                                                 
You want to know
      because you already knew
And were waiting for the moment
      to connect.
But now you are disputed.
      The slut, the whore,
How could she
      want me anymore?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Odes by Hölderlin: The Princess Augusta of Homburg

November 28, 1799

Yet kind reluctance separates from your eye
    This year, and the winter sky at evening
         Shines in Hesperian mildness on
              Your gardens, the poetic, evergreen.

And since your party I have pondered and thought,
    What to give you as thanks, yet it lingered there
         On the floral paths, waiting for you
             The flowering crown of what you'll become.

But others prize you, high spirit, the greater
    This more festive time, for the thunder resounds
         All the way down the mountains, see? And
             How clear, like the quiet stars, it goes out,

From long doubts come pure shapes; so it seems to me;
    And lonely, O Princess, the heart of the free,
         Born to a fortune wanted no more;
             Joined in laurel with the worthy hero

The beautifully matured can be genuine;
    The wise men and women as well, for it
         Has worth, the unseen; the ancient ones
             Look on from their rarefied life, solemn.

Shallow seems the dreaming singer to himself,
    Like a child idly plucking at a lyre,
         When from the noble’s joy, from the ply
             And severe of the power awakened.

But I’ve glorified your name in song; the hard
    Augusta! Dare I celebrate; my trade is
         To praise the lofty, and so goes the
             Language of God and the thanks in my heart.

O that this happy day of your birth will I
     Begin as well my age, that finally too
          I’ll become a song within your groves;
             Noble! Prosper, you are worthy of it.
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Der Prinzessin Auguste von Homburg

Den 28. Nov. 1799

Noch freundlichzögernd scheidet vom Auge dir
   Das Jahr, und in hesperischer Milde glänzt
      Der Winterhimmel über deinen
         Gärten, den dichtrischen, immergrünen.

Und da ich deines Festes gedacht' und sann,
   Was ich dir dankend reichte, da weilten noch
      Am Pfade Blumen, daß sie dir zur
         Blühenden Krone, du Edle, würden.

Doch andres beut dir, Größeres, hoher Geist!
   Die festlichere Zeit, denn es hallt hinab
      Am Berge das Gewitter, sieh! und
         Klar, wie die ruhigen Sterne, gehen

Aus langem Zweifel reine Gestalten auf;
   So dünkt es mir; und einsam, o Fürstin! ist
      Das Herz der Freigebornen wohl nicht
         Länger im eigenen Glück; denn würdig

Gesellt im Lorbeer ihm der Heroë sich,
   Der schöngereifte, echte; die Weisen auch,
      Die Unsern, sind es wert; sie blicken
         Still aus der Höhe des Lebens, die ernsten Alten.

Geringe dünkt der träumende Sänger sich,
   Und Kindern gleich am müßigen Saitenspiel,
      Wenn ihn der Edlen Glück, wenn ihn die
         Tat und der Ernst der Gewalt'gen aufweckt.

Doch herrlicht mir dein Name das Lied; dein Fest
   Augusta! durft' ich feiern; Beruf ist mirs,
      Zu rühmen Höhers, darum gab die
         Sprache der Gott und den Dank ins Herz mir.

O daß von diesem freudigen Tage mir
   Auch meine Zeit beginne, daß endlich auch
      Mir ein Gesang in deinen Hainen,
         Edle! gedeihe, der deiner wert sei.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Stevens Textplication #32: The Snow Man

“When does a building stop being a product of the reason and become a product of the imagination?” Stevens asked in his 1948 essay “Imagination as Value”. One could ask the same question about a snow man, that anthropomorphized representation of winter that somehow transcends its elementary construction principles to live on as a rather poignant symbol of our own sense of what it is to be alive. To look at one only as an engineering project misses the point, as any child will tell you. Yet focusing on such construction details (the size of the coal, the type of hat, the placement of the carrot) is the only practical thing to do, as any scientist will tell you. For how each of us respond to the particulars of the external world through the prism of our own imaginative facilities creates a unique reality that is not shareable. In other words, to acknowledge the importance of imagination, one has to also acknowledge its isolation. That is the theme of “The Snow Man,” a haunting and austere one-sentence poem from 1921 that has transfixed generations of readers for its unwillingness to translate the feeling its evokes into easy meaning. Here’s the poem:

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Notice there are two distinct figures depicted here. The watcher, which one can only assume is some imagined representation of an actual snow man, beholds everything with that cold mind of winter. He is so aligned with the elements he can actually understand what they are, without resort to the imaginative recreation we humans must engage in to comprehend things. The second figure, identified as the “listener,” is implicitly human, the one who associates the sound of winter wind with “misery”, yet who is specifically described as “nothing.” Being nothing, he can only appreciate nothing, much as the “mind of winter,” being of the cold, can only appreciate cold.

These two equivalent figures cohabitate “the same bare place,” yet exist in complete isolation from one another. We feel this as readers before we know it, largely because we are unaware of how completely the poet has stripped the real—or rather the collective illusion of the real—away from this imaginative construction.  

The first line drops us into a state that is not literally possible: “One must have a mind of winter.” Winter, as we understand it, does not actually have a mind, of course. We do, or think we do, however, when we “regard the frost and the boughs / Of the pine-trees” in the fantastical manner of being “crusted”, “shagged” [in this sense, piled coarsely] and “rough in the distant glitter // Of the January sun.” By exaggerating what we see, we feel we have a more visceral, shared sense of what winter really is. The use of the verbs “regard” and “behold” gives away that this depiction of winter is not merely seen, but created, in thought and empathy, out of what is seen.

As Stevens wrote in “Imagination as Value”, “it is in the nature of the imagination itself that we should be quick to accept it as the only clue to reality.” But it is important for Stevens to remind us that this scene is not real. We do not have the mind of winter, nor have we “been cold a long time,” so we can’t say our experience is of reality.

This sense of reality denying us is accentuated in the next stanza, when after the visuals the sounds begin, and the normal human feelings the winter wind evokes are foreclosed to us: “One must have the mind of winter … not to think of any misery in the sound of the wind.”

To quote Stevens from “Imagination as Value” again: "'It is art,' said Henry James, 'which makes life, makes interest, makes importance. . . and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.' The world about us would be desolate except for the world within us."  The next stanza hints at just how desolate such a world would be: “the sound of the land / Full of the same wind /That is blowing in the same bare place.” Stevens has suddenly stripped everything down to its barest bones, almost to nothing.

Then, and only then, does the listener emerge, as a contrast to the imagined “mind of winter” / snow man. This bare wind blows for him, without the possibility of imaginative recreation. Because it is real, it is nothing, and because it is nothing, he is nothing. So he beholds “nothing that is not there.” In other words, everything that imagination uses to create a picture of reality is all still included: the cold, the snow, the trees, the wind, etc. But what is actually beheld is “the nothing that is.” If imagination is taken out of the equation – or more precisely, before imagination is taken out of the equation – nothing is left to see. All that is of value would have been created by the imagining mind. (Here it might be productive to note that this is the point where all the major spiritual traditions on the planet would remind us that “all appearance is illusion, created by the mind.”) Or, as Stevens says in “Imagination as Value”, “the imagination is the power of the mind over the possibilities of things.”


Still, this effort to strip away all the illusions in an already stripped-away scene does not resolve to a total nullity: it’s an act of imagination to perceive there is nothing. What’s negated is the reader, who cannot know of what this nothing consists, or who perceives it. The cold, barren feeling is not lack of imagination (the poem is, after all, full of imagination), but lack of human connection. The snow man is singular, and, try as we might, we can’t get inside his head to imagine what the world looks like to him. Yet imagination is our original and primary relationship to the world. If, as Stevens points out in “Imagination as Value”, “we live in concepts of the imagination before the reason has established them … reason is simply the methodizer of the imagination,” then reality is singular. There are not six words for snow, but as many as there are snowflakes. The paradox of being an unapologetic individual in a world that elides individual autonomy is Stevens’ “great subject”, one he returns to again and again, never quite accepting that what is life and reality to him can never be so to anyone else.