Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I've recently been writing about a certain "mode" of poetry that was first conceived and practiced by the British Romantic poets; what some have called the "epiphanic mode." I've joined them in calling it that. Which a fun thing to do-- join a tradition, a convention. I'm with these guys over here, doing this thing, yeah.

The argument goes that this "epiphanic mode" arose as a reaction against philosophical problems posed by enlightenment thinkers. Such as this one: There's really no way for you to express rationally all those things you thought you knew about, because your narrow little mind screws up any perceptions it has of the world. Love, Kant.

The Romantic poets seem to have had two reactions: 1. Romantic Irony, and 2. Romantic Epiphany.

The Ironists weren't a bunch of bad-ass college freshman who just discovered that religion is stupid, and take smug pleasure in pointing out the ridiculousness of Dogma. However, these college kids are the bastard children of the original Romantic Ironists, who believed something to this effect: Human life is an organic language game, and the best minds keep themselves apprised of this fact. "Irony" is to appear other than you are, and Romantic Ironists recognize that we are always other than what we describe ourselves as; their essence is their creative capacity, and not the descriptions it creates. Therefore, they were the fathers of those whose primary way of being is anti-everything-else. Stupid, inert everything-else.

Romantic Epiphany is what I'm more interested in. It says something like this: if we are capacity, capacity is something. Either way, here I am-- I am presence. The writers of the Epiphanic Mode wrote poems that tried to get people to think to of themselves beyond the representations that they have in mind, to think of their more primary way of being: presence. I'd argue that the epiphanic mode is structured in order to perform this enlightenment. It serves to answer Kant, because it tells him: Silly goose, you're still stuck in Cartesian Dualism.

Anyway, I'm sick of irony. I say: Irony is no longer in. The cool kids have moved on; they've moved on to sincerity, which is far more difficult. If not impossible. To talk about, that is. Without resorting to irony. Or non-sequitur. Refrigerator.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Splendid Fairywren

This little fellow is a Splendid Fairywren, from Western Australia.
Here is his song.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Part V of East Coker, from The Four Quartets

Despite knowing that this little snippet has been pasted on a thousand-million blogs all the world over:

East Coker, Part V,
from the Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot


So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years-
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres-
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholy new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate,
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition -
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Scene in a Hospital

He was dying, and they all knew he was dying.
They’d brought flowers. “Well, I’m glad,”
he managed, and lifted his hand. With love,
they touched it gingerly— then his feet
harder through the blanket, and once, his ankle,
firm palm on the bone. So that when they left,
he leaned himself forward, and saw through bluish dark
that form on the bed. There was the dying thing.
He reached a finger to his stomach, poking,
then pulled up his shirt, and plied at the skin,
and in that touching, his hand became an object,
a strange form, which he lifted, and kissed.
He pressed his nose with it, pressed hard,
though not hard enough to hurt— even days from death
he couldn’t break the thing he’d loved. “My face,”
he said to the dark room. Then, in a deeper voice,
the voice of movies, “Faaacce,” laughing into the dark.
My face,” he said, then toward his chest, “my death.”
No one disagreed, and he squinted his eyes at the dark,
pretending not to see anything, to not be anywhere.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Twenty Ten

I was told last night, post celebration, that this is how one says it, now: Twenty. And "twenty ten," I agreed, sounds so good. Our corporate power to name the new year.

News from an older year: On November 28th 1582, 18 year-old William Shakespeare and 26 year-old Anne Hathaway paid a 40-pound bond for their marriage license.

That same year, just a month and a half earlier, ten days had gone missing from the Calendar. Pope Gregory and his entourage had decided that 10 days would be dropped from 1582, in order to correct a 13th century drift away from the vernal equinox, which had served as anchor. They decided to drop those naughty days from October, since that was when the Julian calendar ended-- that is, the calendar Julius Caesar had instituted in 45 BC. Apparently, Caesar's calendar, designed around solar cycles, had been screwed up by politicians and popes, and by mathematical lag, and no longer allowed for important feasts to fall at the right seasonal times.

Who kept calendars back then? I'm imagining a 16th century wall calendar, in England, the October page. Queen Elizabeth's face? Maybe Henry 8th's? A fuzzy kitten? Either way, the truncated month would have read Thursday October 4th, and the next day would have read, weirdly, Friday October 15th.

I can imagine a lovelorn Shakespeare, pondering the weirdness of waking up that Friday, ten days having evaporated over night. The jokes he might have made to Anne.

I wonder if he, or any of the other great English poets of the time, wrote any poems about the dropped days. Maybe not, as it wasn't exactly the sort of thing one wrote about in that day.

But St. Teresa of Avila, mystic and writer of the counter-reformation, died on that October 4th, and was buried the next day, on the 15th.

And as I consider now, in my thirtieth year, how I should live these moments of mine, there is a little poem of St. Teresa's that is bothering me:

God alone is enough.

Let nothing upset you,
let nothing startle you.
All things pass;
God does not change.
Patience wins
all it seeks.
Whoever has God
lacks nothing:
God alone is enough

If only this mantra gave me satisfaction-- it is so much like the many mantras of my heart from the last ten years. Yet I don't know what it means-- or I think I do, but the way I make it mean for me is difficult.

We have the world. How does one possess God? Either through words, or through having, as a way of being. One is representation, and I suppose the other must be spiritual-- since God is spirit.

But the seal of the holy spirit is demonstrated one way: by the fruits of the spirit. We know, the bible tells us, that the Holy Spirit is being with us because we get really good. Really righteous.

Righteousness I've never possessed. A Spirit, therefore, who has remained a word.

Not that I think St. Teresa wrong. I don't. But I don't know how to translate into my heart's language what she is saying.

And somehow this seems a profound admission, for a hesitant man like myself, on the first day of the new year.

I wonder what Will thought of St. Teresa, and her death. Will, who would marry the older Anne in just over a month, who wouldn't publish his first play for 8 years, who would later say through the mouth of Macbeth, famously:

"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing."

Which I find myself believing less than St. Teresa's mystical words, no matter how ambiguous they are. Oh, I think life is a "brief candle," and I would this morning agree that life doesn't signify anything-- that it, existence, is the meaning for our lives. But the pessimism, the sound and fury, the idiot: no, I can't agree.

But then, I am in a privileged nation, in a coffee shop, typing on a lap-top computer which I own, in good-health, from a good family, and full of caffeine. I feel good.

A poor-player, strutting on my little coffee-shop stage, bewildered by time, 20 centuries after Caesar, and 400 years since Shakespeare found his first wife willing. "What a piece of work is a man!," he says. A piece of working. Of being.

No piece, really, but all in being. No peace in seeing yourself as a "piece," because when you think of yourself as a symbol, you are forgetting about what you are: a being. And that is where meaning is: right now. Right now.

Does St. Teresa have a right now, right now? Macbeth at least didn't think so. I'll be thinking about it, as she lives through words, in the way of God's spirit, in my mind today.