When war broke out, the undergraduate Robert Graves pictured what service he might render as garrison duty—literally holding down the fort while the p...moreWhen war broke out, the undergraduate Robert Graves pictured what service he might render as garrison duty—literally holding down the fort while the professional Regular Army charged to glory on the continent. The 100,000-strong force of British Regulars ferried across the channel in August 1914 to protect Belgium and assist the French was all used up by early November. It is said, “the high command and the staff officers survived: the old army was beyond recall.” “This isn’t war!” cried an appalled Lord Kitchener when he learned of the casualties consumed in the first collisions of those ignorant and hopeful armies, coming on with storybook airs and futuristic firepower.
To me the early clashes of autumn 1914 make one of the fascinating episodes of the Great War. A voice from within the whirlwind:
This is a terrible war and I don’t suspect there is an idle British soldier in France. I wonder where it will end; one hears so much. There has been more fighting and loss of life crowded into seven weeks than there was in the whole of South Africa. It is awful what the Brigade of Guards have lost and being like one big regiment one knows everyone and feels it all the more
The last two days have been ghastly. The Germans broke through the line. We have lost ten officers in the last two days and yesterday the battalion was less than 200 men, though I expect some stragglers will turn up. All the officers in my company were lost except myself. We have had no rest at all. Everyone is very shaken.
The soldier writing his mother thus in September, 1914, was twenty-one year-old 2nd Lt. Neville Leslie Woodroffe, 1st Battalion Irish Guards (the regiment in which Rudyard Kipling lost two sons, and whose official history he wrote). At First Ypres on 6 November, Woodroffe and the remnants of his company were all shot down counterattacking a trench from which they’d been ousted. I think he’s a more beautiful Georgian war martyr than the Bloomsbury Apollo Rupert Brooke.
(That eye! Haunting! And it’s hard to imagine this ephebic studio apotheosis bearded and begrimed and blasting at Germans with a rifle.)
England at war! Fussell’s pictures are fascinating. “Life seemed to stand uneasily still, and in no direction was there any prospect” (Churchill)—the Regular Army obliterated—Deadlock—the government silent, but there are rumors in the pubs and families in mourning everywhere you look—“But of course they don’t—and can’t know” (Lloyd George)—a draft of millions for 1916’s war-ending Big Push—the slaughter of infantry changes nothing, decides nothing—60,000 men down on the first day—and Haig buts away at the German lines for another five months, until 400,000 are gone—the Front so near—the guns audible to Kent and Sussex—an officer granted leave breakfasts in the trenches and dines at his club in London—“Both Fortnum & Mason and Harrod’s specialized in gift assortments for the front, Fortnum’s fruit cake being especially popular for lasting well”—a society’s powers of euphemism and denial strained to the limit—Keep Calm & Carry On—“Don’t think you know better than Haig”—scapegoat the Pacifist for saying what we all fear—Open Secrets: so many have died and nothing is working: a generation of Britons flounders in slime and shit, drowns in a vast excremental slough—scattered in the millions of muddy men are the poets—Sassoon, Owen, Blunden enter the “Armageddonite” landscape, plowed by infernal engines, carrying with them three hundred years of “sophisticated literary pastoralism,” England’s inheritance of dulcet rural airs and homoerotic elegy.
The stylistic traditionalism of most of England’s Great War writing, Fussell writes, has prevented us from seeing its connections to modernism. Fussell made me feel bad for having uncritically accepted the Stein-Lawrence view, at least as summarized by Ann Douglas, that American writers were best suited to writing the Great War—because of America’s relative detachment from English literary convention (specious flummery, anyway), because of its recent experience of mechanized attrition (the Civil War), because of the nervous tension and demonic primitivism of classic American literature (Moby Dick, Poe's nightmares), and because of the precedents of spare and unsentimental war writing in American prose (Ambrose Bierce, Grant’s and Sherman’s memoirs). That’s all well and good, Fussell says, if you don’t care about irony. Fussell is interested in English war writing because Sassoon, Owen and Blunden modify ironically the pre-modern tropes and imagery with which they must describe a modern experience. Sardonic but deeply conscious engagement with tradition—the oneness of innovation and remembering, new meanings from old meanings—is what interests Fussell. Literature is writing that remembers and refers; and Fussell doesn’t buy the argument—rather, the attitude, the pose—that Literature is made mute by horrors. I dunno. I find Wilfred Owen too richly Keatsian, and Hemingway spare to the point of half-wittedness.
Fussell ranges beyond WWI memoirs and poems to show how the Great War produced a “mythic narrative” of twentieth century technological conflict that later writers absorbed and augmented—none more brilliantly than Pynchon. Fussell refers to Gravity’s Rainbow throughout, and in his conclusion says it represents “almost the first time the ritual of military remembering is freed from all puritan lexical constraint and allowed to take place with a full appropriate obscenity.” I’ve heard Gravity’s Rainbow invoked as a digest of wildly different insights, so it must be one of those mega-anatomies touching Everything. I’ll add it to the list of “to-reads” spawned by this, by every book.
A stand-apart Russian edition I didn’t read. But Tsvetaeva’s hallucinatory-recollective essay—or, the forty pages of ploddingly end-noted, sometimes c...moreA stand-apart Russian edition I didn’t read. But Tsvetaeva’s hallucinatory-recollective essay—or, the forty pages of ploddingly end-noted, sometimes clunky translatorese I’ll probably always know it in—deserves its own consideration.
The first thing I learned about Pushkin is that they killed him. Pushkin was my first poet and my first poet was killed.
That which is eternal, under the rain and under the snow—oh, how I can see those shoulders loaded down with snow, the African shoulders loaded down and overwhelmed with Russian snows!—it stands, shoulders into the sunset sky or into the snowstorm, whether I am coming or going, running away or running up to it, it stands with the eternal hat in the hand, it is called “The Pushkin Monument.”
The Pushkin Monument was the goal and limit of a walk: from the Pushkin Monument—to the Pushkin Monument. The Pushkin Monument was also the goal of a race: who can run faster up to the Pushkin Monument. Except that Asya’s nurse in her simplicity sometimes shortened it: “And we’ll sit a bit—by Pushkin”; which unfailingly provoked my pedantic correction: “Not Pushkin by Pushkin—by the Pushkin Monument.”
The forbidden cabinet. The forbidden fruit. That fruit is—a volume, a huge blue-lilac volume with a gold inscription slantwise: Collected Works of A.S. Pushkin. I read the fat Pushkin in the cabinet with my nose in the book and on the shelf, almost in darkness and almost right up against it and even a little bit suffocated by his weight that came right into the throat, and almost blinded by the nearness of the tiny letters. I read Pushkin right into the chest and right into the brain.
After the secret blue-lilac Pushkin, another Pushkin appeared in my possession, this time not stolen, but given, not secret, but open, not flatly-blue, but thinly-blue—the disarmed, pacified Pushkin of the edition of municipal schools with a Negro boy propping up one cheekbone with a fist.
In that Pushkin I loved only the Negro boy. Incidentally, I consider this juvenile Negro portrait to this day the best of the portraits of Pushkin, a portrait of his distant African soul and the still sleeping poetic soul. A portrait in two distances: far back and far ahead; a portrait of his blood and of his imminent genius.
In “My Pushkin,” Tsvetaeva is never older than ten. The site of tradition’s reception is the child of the girl of the woman who would become a great poet:
The compiler of the anthology obviously had his doubts about the accessibility to a young age group of the concepts of longing, forebodings, cares, oppressive thoughts, and the repetition of hours. I would not have understood, but I would have filled it out. And stored it up. Looking back, I see now that Pushkin’s poems…were for me at pre-seven and at seven a series of enigmatic pictures, enigmatic only because of mother’s questions, for in poems, as in feelings, only a question engenders noncomprehension by withdrawing phenomena from the status of basic data. When mother didn’t ask questions I understood very well, that is, I didn’t even think of understanding, but simply—saw.
There are passages—passages built too intimately-allusively around poems I haven’t read, passages in which the translator tried to render Russian paronomasia—that remain enigmatic; but I “filled it out,” and can feel the grandeur of Tsvetaeva's avowal of poetry, of the spell, of The Word—words that before they deliver a message already have a meaning...words of the animal’s, the child’s dream language.
Caius Marcius Coriolanus on the public he would rule:
He that will give good words to thee will flatter Beneath abhorring. What would you have, you cu...moreCaius Marcius Coriolanus on the public he would rule:
He that will give good words to thee will flatter Beneath abhorring. What would you have, you curs, That like nor peace nor war? the one affrights you, The other makes you proud. He that trusts to you, Where he should find you lions, finds you hares; Where foxes, geese: you are no surer, no, Than is the coal of fire upon the ice, Or hailstone in the sun. …
The fires i’ th’ lowest hell fold in the people!
His opponents the demagogic tribunes, though usually scheming privately, can also work up a good harangue:
Did you perceive He did solicit you in free contempt When he did need your loves, and do you think That his contempt shall not be bruising to you, When he hath power to crush? Why, had your bodies No heart among you?
I sought out Coriolanus because I was in the mood for choler and tirade, for troubles, faction, strife and doom. But as the pages passed I began to regret the scarcity of Shakespeare’s comic prose—his low jokes, his bawdy bonhomie and good-humored stink; “those spicy sentences,” Emerson called them. Coriolanus is harsh and dry, the principals loud and pissed-off (in the 1930s, the play sparked brawls at the Comédie-Française; and for years it was banned in West Germany). The extreme, brazen and thus kindred styles of Coriolanus (ill-educated virtus†) and of his enemies (specious, leveling modestia) dominate both the starveling wit (soon mob fury) of individual plebes
Care for us! True, indeed! They ne'er cared for us yet: suffer us to famish, and their store-houses crammed with grain; make edicts for usury, to support usurers; repeal daily any wholesome act established against the rich, and provide more piercing statutes daily, to chain up and restrain the poor. If the wars eat us not up, they will; and there's all the love they bear us.
and the prose repartee (soon partisan cursing) of Menenius, a louche raconteur still essentially guided by republican virtue (the best kind of social critic, really):
I am known to be a humorous patrician, and one that loves a cup of hot wine with not a drop of allaying Tiber in't...one that converses more with the buttock of the night than with the forehead of the morning: what I think I utter, and spend my malice in my breath. Meeting two such wealsmen as you are--I cannot call you Lycurguses--if the drink you give me touch my palate adversely, I make a crooked face at it...and though I must be content to bear with those that say you are reverend grave men, yet they lie deadly that tell you you have good faces.
This portioning of voices, I imagine, reflects an observation: the sufferers and the witty spectators are alike whelmed, dwarfed or duped by the passionate intensity of contending powers. Shakespeare’s last tragedy is another of his insuperable meditations on the humanities of statecraft. The other day in a bookstore I was thumbing through a copy of Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy, and found his reflections on the historical Coriolanus thin stuff next to Old Will.
† Away, my disposition, and possess me Some harlot's spirit! my throat of war be turn'd, Which quired with my drum, into a pipe Small as an eunuch, or the virgin voice That babies lulls asleep! the smiles of knaves Tent in my cheeks, and schoolboys' tears take up The glasses of my sight! a beggar's tongue Make motion through my lips, and my arm'd knees, Who bow'd but in my stirrup, bend like his That hath received an alms! I will not do't, Lest I surcease to honour mine own truth And by my body's action teach my mind A most inherent baseness.
And his mom, Volumnia, wins the Dam of Sparta award for this line: Thy valiantness was mine, thou suck'st it from me...
Amazing what you can turn up in a quick rummage through an outdoor dollar bin, elbow to elbow with the mumbling and the malodorous. This is a festschr...moreAmazing what you can turn up in a quick rummage through an outdoor dollar bin, elbow to elbow with the mumbling and the malodorous. This is a festschrift compiled in celebration of Eliot’s sixtieth birthday and recent winning of the 1948 Nobel Prize. Except for a few academic articles that I merely skimmed (because really, who cares?), the tone of so many of the tributes is intimate, collegial. (There’s even some donnish humor: one of the glossy insets reproduces “the original Holograph Manuscript and the only extant copy of the Author’s first and only Essay in Historical Biography”—-school report on George Washington, crayon-scrawled by Eliot when he was six years old.) The Eliot they talk about is a guy they know, only just on the verge of becoming a canonic statue. He sets off Fourth of July firecrackers in Faber & Faber board meetings, and really likes cheese. Clive Bell ably preserves and conveys the mixture of awe, condescension and incomprehension Bloomsbury had for Eliot: his primness of speech and pedantic haberdashery raised titters in a circle whose tone was set by Lytton Strachey’s cultivated raunchiness and outlandish dress. Bell even airily mentions all the rare first editions of Eliot’s early work that he has, somewhere, but really, he wonders, can it be worth the trouble to try and unearth old Tom’s books? Wyndham Lewis’s account of meeting Eliot at Pound’s flat and Marianne Moore’s whimsical whatever are the best things in the book. Conrad Aiken fills in the Harvard years. Eugenio Montale, George Seferis and Mario Praz asses Eliot’s continental influence in oblique, knotty self-examinations. Louis MacNeice and others testify to the mania for Eliot among the literary sets of Oxford and Cambridge in the 1920s. The tributary poems are a mixed bag. There are the embarrassingly imitative efforts of quite a few whose names seem rightly lost to oblivion. Auden’s is good. Edith Sitwell’s is fulsomely bad. And Stephen Spender once again reminds us of what Auden would sound like if he weren’t funny:
his great night-limbed lovers In operative moments of enlacing Were experiments for sensuous manoeuvres From which he formed those tears and blushes gracing To-day's libraries.(less)
One reaches the end of this idiosyncratic travelogue to find Mayakovsky straightfacedly declaring that the aim of the foregoing sketches “is to induce...moreOne reaches the end of this idiosyncratic travelogue to find Mayakovsky straightfacedly declaring that the aim of the foregoing sketches “is to induce study of America’s weaknesses and strengths, in anticipation of the prolonged struggle ahead.” Huh? My Discovery of America (1925) has its Communistic boilerplate (some of it very funny), and on a jaunt out to Coney Island Mayakovsky plays the glum Comrade—
On my way out, I decided that it was not the thing to leave Luna Park without even trying a single amusement. They were all the same to me, and I began a melancholy slinging of rings at the twirling figures of dolls.
—but the idea that this book—a sensibility on tour, full of the poet’s peculiar lyric wit and comic braggadocio—could function as some sort of strategic fact-finding report is just ridiculous. Mayakovsky’s attempts to serve the state with art, to league the artistic and political avant-gardes, tended to backfire. He completely alienated Lenin with his verse epic 150,000,000 (1921), which attacked Anglo-American meddling in the Russian Civil War. Lenin was repulsed by the poem’s bizarre climax, in which a superman peasant named Ivan, who has 150,000,000 heads (the population of the USSR about 1920) wades across the Atlantic to grapple, Godzilla vs. Ghidorah-like, with an equally colossal Woodrow Wilson, whose top hat (the cartoon iconography of capitalism!) is the size of the Eiffel Tower.
Mayakovsky embarks at Le Havre. Various Spanish ports, then Cuba. While the ship is coaling at Havana, he wanders the docks, and during a sudden downpour shelters in a warehouse stocked ceiling-high with British whiskey awaiting secret shipment to the dry States (he also mentions that during Prohibition international liners were forbidden to serve alcohol while in US territorial waters). Landing at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he’s shocked to learn that the majestic literary Indians of James Fenimore Cooper and Thomas Mayne Reid are downtrodden coolies. Diego and Frida show him samples of pre-Columbian art. He marvels at Mexico City’s chaotic traffic, recreational gunplay, incessant revolution and yearly, monthly presidents. He crosses the border at Laredo, Texas. Stops in St. Louis and Philadelphia don’t fully prepare him for the “technological fantasyland” of New York City, the Metropolis-cityscape of electrified skyscrapers, elevated trains, and façades whose “evenly chiseled windows are like a stenciled advertizing poster.”
I like this jerky, variegated Vertov-like reel of New York works and days:
Up until one o’clock, typewriters chatter, jacketless people sweat, columns of figures lengthen on paper.
At one o’clock comes a break: an hour for the office workers, and fifteen minutes for the laborers.
Everyone’s lunch is dependent on the weekly wage. The fifteen-dollar people buy a dry snack in a paper bag for a nickel and munch away with the full zest of youth.
The thirty-five-a-week lot go to a huge mechanized eating point. Having shoved in their five cents, they press a knob, and an exactly measured quantity of coffee splashes out into a cup. And for another two or three nickels they can open one of the little glass doors to the sandwiches on the huge shelves piled with comestibles.
The sixty-dollar types eat gray pancakes with golden syrup and eggs in the countless Childses-Rockefeller cafés—as white as any bathroom.
The hundred-dollar-and-plus people go to restaurants of all the nationalities—Chinese, Russian, Assyrian, French, Hindu—anywhere except the tasteless American ones which guarantee you gastritis with Armour tinned meat that’s been lying around almost since the War of Independence.
After New York he trains back into the heartland. In Chicago he tours slaughterhouses amid “squealing, mooing and bleating” “the like of which will not be heard again until the end of the world, when people and livestock get squashed between merging rock faces.” Like Nabokov two decades later, he’s horrified by the gaudily hand painted neckties—“of a color like a cross between a canary, a fire and the Black Sea.” In Detroit he considers the absurdities of driving and parking; the inadequacy of newsreels to represent the Ford assembly line; the workers financing bourgeois amenities with credit; the provisional, “bivouac structure” of American architecture, in which each building “looks contrived, hastily converted from whatever it might have been, and due for demolition upon the rapid completion of its moment of indispensability.” On the voyage back, a group of footloose young Americans consumes the ship’s entire store of champagne.
With Eliot, I only occasionally feel the pungency his declared influences (English Metaphysicals and French Symbolists) seem to promise. This, though,...moreWith Eliot, I only occasionally feel the pungency his declared influences (English Metaphysicals and French Symbolists) seem to promise. This, though, might be the thing. Creepy-crawlies and the skull beneath the skin.
Looking back, I might have just read the carefully sequenced, climactic Ariel, but this selection, Diane Middlebrook's, was pretty consistently thrilling all the same. What a poet! Two of Plath's strengths immediately compelled my admiration: her genius for well-wrought hallucination--
How the elements solidify! The moonlight, that chalk cliff In whose rift we lie
Back to back. I here an owl cry From its cold indigo. Intolerable vowels enter my heart.
The child in the white crib revolves and sighs, Opens its mouth now, demanding. His little face is carved in pained, red wood.
My god the iron lung
That loves me, pumps My two Dust bags in and out...
--and her attention to the cavorting beasties, her comprehensive sight:
Inched from their pygmy burrows And from the trench-dug mud, all Camouflaged in mottled mail Of browns and greens. Each wore one Claw swollen to a shield large As itself--no fiddler's arm Grown Gargantuan by trade,
But grown grimly, and grimly Borne, for a use beyond my Guessing of it.
They moved Obliquely with a dry-wet Sound, with a glittery wisp And trickle. Could they feel mud Pleasurable under claws
As I could between bare toes?
("Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor")
Pebble smells, turnipy chambers. Small nostrils are breathing.
("Poem for a Birthday")
Yep, I'll be reading more of her in the future. And I'm curious what her prose is like. I mean, just look at this:
He won't be got rid of: Mumblepaws, teary and sorry, Fido Littlesoul, the bowel's familiar. A dustbin's enough for him. The dark's his bone. Call him any name, he'll come to it.
This collection of Valery's critical prose reads like the culmination of a century of French poetics. It's like a seance at which you get to hear the...moreThis collection of Valery's critical prose reads like the culmination of a century of French poetics. It's like a seance at which you get to hear the ghosts of Poe, Baudelaire and Mallarme hector you about how exquisitely exacting it is to be a poet. Valery contains all their voices: he is, by turns, bitchily insolent, wistfully romantic, childishly absorbed in sublime play.(less)
The 150 pages remaining just seem insurmountable. But I really enjoyed The Book of Disquiet, and felt guilty at the prospect if shelving it unfinished...moreThe 150 pages remaining just seem insurmountable. But I really enjoyed The Book of Disquiet, and felt guilty at the prospect if shelving it unfinished, until I remembered that it is a Collected Poems of sorts, a massive, posthumous compendium of much of a life’s work—and I never read those through. Baudelaire and Lorca are the only poets I’ve read cover to cover. I don’t love Wallace Stevens, I love Harmonium. And I’m years away from knowing if I really do like James Merrill’s verse. But Pessoa—deep pleasure in what I did cover. I especially marked the expressions of nostalgia for Classicism ("...to dream like Verlaine in the body of Horace..."), the instances of bumper-sticker nihilism (“What are ideals but an admission that life is worthless?”), and all the lines that made me laugh out loud:
I, who dare write only passages, fragments, excerpts of the non-existent.
Civilization consists of giving something a name that doesn’t belong to it and then dreaming over the result.
To know nothing about yourself is to live. To know yourself badly is to think.
I keep my own feelings out of everything, in order to be able to feel.
I remember my childhood with tears, but they’re rhythmic tears, in which prose is already being formed.
The only tolerable form of communication is the written word, since it isn’t a stone on a bridge between souls but a ray of light between stars.
We apply to name “Romantics” both to the great men who failed and to the little men who showed themselves for what they are.
Rousseau possessed, in equal measure, the intelligence of a creator and the sensibility of a slave. His social sensibility infected his theories, which his intelligence merely set forth with clarity. His intelligence served only to bemoan the tragedy of coexisting with such a sensibility.
The love of absurdity and paradox is the animal happiness of the sad.
My ideal would be to live everything through novels and to use real life for resting up.
Whenever someone tells me he dreamed, I wonder if he realizes that he has never done anything but dream.
That last is but one iteration of Pessoa’s great obsession with life-as-dreaming, existence as a spectral, subjective, “fundamentally mental” or oneiric state. A common enough theme. Almost banal. But nothing before The Book of Disquiet has reminded me so unsettlingly of how I live, to what extent my “actions” and moments of supposed presence are just the marginalia of this or that daydream (the notebook pages of my early twenties are bordered with strangely purposeful-looking doodles: grad school notes). Nietzsche and Cioran have never cut so close to the bone. The difference must be that Pessoa dramatizes, if only diaristically, a life’s tedium and routine—and provides a narrator who, though an almost disembodied surrogate voice, or “heteronym,” makes a character we can watch moving in his own fog of fixed ideas, associative reflection and randomly provoked daydreams, through which, here and there, we catch glimpses of mysterious but probably irrelevant externalities. The reader is in the driver’s seat of Bernardo Soares, looking out on things through the windows Soares has fogged with breathing. George Steiner is unintentionally hilarious in the back-cover blurb that calls The Book of Disquiet the work which “gives to Lisbon the haunting spell of Joyce’s Dublin or Kafka’s Prague.” Ha, Ha! Ulysses is, yes, a marvelous meld of documentary “Naturalism” and “Symbolist” lyrical subjectivity; and Angelo Maria Ripellino is very convincing as he identifies, in features of Kafka’s dream world, blurred transmutations of macabre historical Prague; but “Pessoa’s Lisbon”? What’s that? Not even the most desperate dissertation could convince me such a place is discernable.
My second time around with this one. Peculiar because it makes no attempt to make a character out of Baudelaire--Pichois assumes that readers are alre...moreMy second time around with this one. Peculiar because it makes no attempt to make a character out of Baudelaire--Pichois assumes that readers are already obsessed with Baudelaire, or at least sufficiently versed in the ouevre and in the biographical lore that the life needs no picturesque, novelistic or narrative recreation. A book written by a Frenchman for Frenchmen (France, remarked Borges, is "the literary nation par excellence"). Joanna Harrison and Enid Starkie, both writing for English audiences, are more traditionally biographical, which is fine, their books on Baudelaire are great, but Pichois really gets down to business, telling us things we may not already know. He's especially good at reading contemporary archival records for signs of Baudelaire as a citizen or as a student, for the points at which the poet's private errand through time and space glancingly touch furiously documentary French educational and governmental authorities. This archival focus means that Pichois reads very dryly, but his organizing subtext is poignantly subtle in that omitting way--as if to say, don't look for him here, these are just his accidental traces, his marks in the common rolls; to find him, turn to the poems.(less)
'Poetry is what's lost in translation,' yadda yadda, but Mayakovsky's English effigy is compelling nonetheless. A high-school teacher assigned 'A Clou...more'Poetry is what's lost in translation,' yadda yadda, but Mayakovsky's English effigy is compelling nonetheless. A high-school teacher assigned 'A Cloud in Trousers'--out of Koch's Word on the Wind anthology--and I was officially obsessed. This book was a dogearred angsty missal. I still love his wacky, unexpected, collage-like imagery, his strangely tender semaphore speech (that's my attempt to get around 'intimate yell,' Schulyer's unbeatable description). Mayakovsky's gruff, Rodchenko-posed image even adorned my locker door, just below Camus (that one in profile, cigarette daggling from his lips, overcoat collar Bogartishly turned-up) and Baudelaire (haunted and haggard, in one of Carjat's portraits). This book, plus Les Fleurs du Mal, The Rebel, Poem of the Deep Song and Absalom, Absalom! made my world. (less)
Walcott gets on my nerves at times--the influence of early Lowell can be overpowering, clotting and thickening the rhetoric--but he's a real poet, wit...moreWalcott gets on my nerves at times--the influence of early Lowell can be overpowering, clotting and thickening the rhetoric--but he's a real poet, with his own special English and "something to say" (why do people read book after axe-grinding, earnestly political book about "race" and "multicultural identity"? Find what an artist has to say about those things; don't bother with academics or pundits). I've had my copy since high school, and not a month goes by that I don't turn to something in here; several lines have become verbal talismans.
"exiles must make their own maps"
"in this dry place without ruins/there is only an echo of what you have read."
"...your burnt house/shrills with unguessed, lovely inheritors."
I lugged this beast across Cuba 11 years ago. I'm curious to go back the Hennepin Country Library and see if that copy still has all the sand and stai...moreI lugged this beast across Cuba 11 years ago. I'm curious to go back the Hennepin Country Library and see if that copy still has all the sand and stains it accumulated (though if it wasn't checked in the year after I retuned it, it was probably de-accessioned).
'Guadalquivir, high tower and wind in the orange groves.'
It was very strange to be traveling in a foreign country, overwhelmed with impressions, and to be in the midst of bookish raptures at the same time. You open your book, and look down from a new world in another new world. Cuba was called 'the Andalusia of the New World,' and reading Lorca in the Cuban countryside was fitting, and disorienting. (less)
Formally very beautiful, delivers all the pleasures (celerity, compression, wit) I associate with "A Novel in Verse." But I found the story (assuming...moreFormally very beautiful, delivers all the pleasures (celerity, compression, wit) I associate with "A Novel in Verse." But I found the story (assuming it can be considered apart from form) wan and Geryon vaguely annoying. Looking forward to Plainwater. (less)
Hecht writes so well about music! A Bach concerto grosso is "a tumult of muscled currents." Mozart enacts "an architecture of white and gold rosettes....moreHecht writes so well about music! A Bach concerto grosso is "a tumult of muscled currents." Mozart enacts "an architecture of white and gold rosettes." My favorite poem in here is A Love For Four Voices, dedicated as a "homage to Franz Joseph Haydn." It feels like the libretto for the chamber opera that Haydn might have made out of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Completely delightful. (less)
So many voluminous verse cosmologies, so little time. I've read the first section, 'The Book of Ephraim'; but have no such foothold in The Cantos, or...moreSo many voluminous verse cosmologies, so little time. I've read the first section, 'The Book of Ephraim'; but have no such foothold in The Cantos, or in The Divine Comedy. (less)