Learning how to see

These are some thoughts I had during Mass, related to my being asked the other day why Modern Poetry is rather difficult to read. My response then was rather halting and not well-formed. This one is not so halting, though how well-formed it is, is fairly debatable. I wrote down the following on the back page of Rainscape’s John Donne book, which I had brought to Mass with me for spiritual reading:

“Part of the function of poetry is to teach each successive generation how to see, and see clearly. We live in an age of fragmentation, of shattered glass. Consequently, modern poetry needs to be more difficult it is shattered the way the world in which it was created, the world which breathed life into it, is shattered. But also, it must instruct us in seeing and understanding our world. It cannot do that as well by being too direct.”

So I wrote that, and, as I walked home from Mass, I thought about it, and thought about that importance of poetry in teaching men to see. I thought that modern poetry, being ours, has a very real kind of importance, but that older poetry, Shakespeare, and Donne, and Wordsworth and Blake and Sidney and certain of the Medieval English lyrics and Vergil and Pindar and Homer, play an incredibly important role in teaching us how to see. This is part of why they have lasted through the ages, because they have done this successfully for each successive Us.

This all made me think of this beautiful poem by Richard Wilbur, which I’m sure I’ve posted here before but, being unfamiliar with my own blog (it’s been nearly a year since last I posted here) I thought I might as well put up anew:

The Beautiful Changes

One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides
The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies
On water; it glides
So from the walker, it turns
Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you
Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes.

The beautiful changes as a forest is changed
By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;
As a mantis, arranged
On a green leaf, grows
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.

Your hands hold roses always in a way that says
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes
In such kind ways,
Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.

Those first lines of the last stanza seem to have a special relation to what I am talking about here. “Your hands hold roses always in a way that says / They are not only yours.” There is something in that about poetry. It is ours, but it isn’t only ours. (Um, echoes here of a Rainscape post.) It belongs to us and to the ages. Shakespeare’s verse belongs firstly to his age, but also to us and those who come after us. The same with all of the poets I mentioned, going back to Homer, the poetic father of the west. Of us.

I came back from Mass, and had a long conversation about poetry, and all of these thoughts with Rainscape (partly to apologize for having written in his John Donne book) and in the course of it he told me that his favorite professor (the one whose sparkling instruction apparently colored this post) quoted Auden the other day as saying that poetry is always two things. Poetry is first an achievement that does honor to the language in which it was written. And second, it is a message from a person. He added that if he cannot hear a person speaking in a poem he quickly loses interest.

ANYWAY, so I don’t want to waste your time any further, and chances are the only worthwhile thing I’ve done here is to post a beautiful Richard Wilbur poem, which I suggest you read slowly and deliberately and lovingly, but that is what I’ve been thinking about.

NOW I have to go read Moby Dick, and figure out what it is that Herman Melville has left behind for us.

Fionnbharr

A Thought During my Good Friday reading:

The Book of Judith is awesome.

Never Mind the Why and Wherefore

 

CAPTAIN.

Never mind the why and wherefore,
Love can level ranks, and therefore,
Though his lordship’s station’s mighty,
Though stupendous be his brain,
Though her tastes are mean and flighty
And her fortune poor and plain.

CAPTAIN and SIR JOSEPH.

Ring the merry bells on board-ship,
Rend the air with warbling wild,
For the union of {his/my} lordship
With a humble captain’s child!

CAPTAIN.

For a humble captain’s daughter–

JOSEPHINE.

For a gallant captain’s daughter–

SIR JOSEPH.

And a lord who rules the water–

JOSEPHINE (aside).

And a tar who ploughs the water!

ALL.

Let the air with joy be laden,
Rend with songs the air above,
For the union of a maiden
With the man who owns her love!

SIR JOSEPH.

Never mind the why and wherefore,
Love can level ranks, and therefore,
Though your nautical relation
In my set could scarcely pass–
Though you occupy a station
In the lower middle class–

CAPTAIN and SIR JOSEPH.

Ring the merry bells on board-ship,
Rend the air with warbling wild,
For the union of {his/my} lordship
With a humble captain’s child!

CAPTAIN.

For a humble captain’s daughter–

JOSEPHINE.

For a gallant captain’s daughter–

SIR JOSEPH.

And a lord who rules the water–

JOSEPHINE. (aside).

And a tar who ploughs the water!

ALL.

Let the air with joy be laden,
Rend with songs the air above,
For the union of a maiden
With the man who owns her love!

JOSEPHINE.

Never mind the why and wherefore,
Love can level ranks, and therefore
I admit the jurisdiction;
Ably have you played your part;
You have carried firm conviction
To my hesitating heart.

CAPTAIN and SIR JOSEPH.

Ring the merry bells on board-ship,
Rend the air with warbling wild,
For the union of {his/my} lordship
With a humble captain’s child!

CAPTAIN.

For a humble captain’s daughter–

JOSEPHINE.

For a gallant captain’s daughter–

SIR JOSEPH.

And a lord who rules the water–

JOSEPHINE (aside).

And a tar who ploughs the water!

JOSEPHINE.

Let the air with joy be laden.

CAPTAIN and SIR JOSEPH.

Ring the merry bells on board-ship,

JOSEPHINE.

For the union of a maiden,

CAPTAIN and SIR JOSEPH.

For her union with his Lordship.

ALL.

Rend with songs the air above
For the man who owns her love.
Rend with songs the air above
For the man who owns her love!

Interesting

Elizabeth Lev over at Politics Daily wrote an interesting little article equating some of the attacks against The Holy Father and the Catholic Clergy to some of the events following the French Revolution. Any attempt I make to sum it up will, I think, make it sound ridiculous, but it’s actually quite interesting. Check it out:

In Defense of the Catholic Clergy

Furthermore (with a nod to Kateri):

William Faulkner’s speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1950:

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Our Lady Seat of Wisdom: Pray for Us!

 

Please pray for me as I write my various essays and things for my grad school applications, including my (very silly) Intellectual Autobiography for UD. These are some things that I’ve been looking at whilst thinking about this particular essay: 

“There are more things in heaven and on earth, Horatio/ Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” 

“AND now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened:–Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets… And do you see, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent…Like ourselves; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?…To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.  

And now look again, and see what will naturally follow it’ the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?…And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he’s forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities…He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day? Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is. 

This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.” (Heavily edited for Space of course.) The Beautiful Changes

One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides
The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies
On water; it glides
So from the walker, it turns
Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of
     you
Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes.

The beautiful changes as a forest is changed
By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;
As a mantis, arranged
On a green leaf, grows
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.

Your hands hold roses always in a way that
     says
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes
In such kind ways,
Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things’ selves for a second finding,
     to lose
For a moment all that it touches back to
     wonder.

and, of course, Directive (which I can’t find anywhere on the Internet so as to copy and paste it here.)

‘To seem the stranger lies my lot’

To seem the stranger lies my lot, my life
Among strangers. Father and mother dear,
Brothers and sisters are in Christ not near
And he my peace my parting, sword and strife.
  England, whose honour O all my heart woos, wife         
To my creating thought, would neither hear
Me, were I pleading, plead nor do I: I wear-
y of idle a being but by where wars are rife.
 
  I am in Ireland now; now I am at a thírd
Remove. Not but in all removes I can         
Kind love both give and get. Only what word
Wisest my heart breeds dark heaven’s baffling ban
Bars or hell’s spell thwarts. This to hoard unheard,
Heard unheeded, leaves me a lonely began.
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