Saturday, December 21, 2013

Phantastes

If the touch of an unseen hand were to wake you this morning, while the rest of the house slumbered and your only visible companion, a tortoise-shell cat, arched her back near your pillow in anticipating of being stroked, what would you do? And what if the hand grasped yours insistently, leading you knew not where, and other strange tappings ensued, and what if during your nights and days you began laughing involuntarily, if you were seized with alternating sensations of dread and bliss? What if you had been borne by some exhilarating wind-current into a self or selves that you did not know, although no visible sign betrayed your inner turmoil? 
____________________________________________________________________________

If you found yourself in such a predicament, you might discover, in the character of George Macdonald's Anodos, a sympathetic soul. Although tending to consider myself a bear of very little brain, now and then the sleeping neurons are jarred to life. On this solstice morning, while the snow borrowed its glow from the moonlight and the city lights, which borrow their glow from the secret recesses of the earth, I remembered Phantastes, a book I first read as a teen, and was even prompted to search for a copy of it, and to skitter through its pages, like a blind woman feeling her way through a forest, wondering what it was that I was seeking. Ah, Anados, why are you this singular predilection my mind is craving? George Macdonald subtitled his first prose novel (some consider it his best), A Faerie
Romance for Men and Women; I happen to qualify in at least one of those categories. Gratitude to generous souls who post illustrations for my edification (or, being in a goofy mood, I might say, eddyfication, as I drift upon the mystifying Stream of consciousness.) From the novel:

I saw the strangest figure; vague, shadowy,
almost transparent, in the central parts, and gradually deepening in substance towards the outside, until it ended in extremities capable of casting such a shadow as fell from the hand, through the awful fingers of which I now saw the moon. The hand was uplifted in the attitude of a paw about to strike its prey.
____________________________________________
Overcome with the mingling of terror and joy, I lay for some time almost insensible. The first thing I remember is the sound of a voice above me, full and low, and strangely reminding me of the sound of a gentle wind amidst the leaves of a great tree.It murmured over and over again: "I may love him, I may love him; for he is a man, and I am only a beech tree.” I found I was seated on the ground, leaning against a human form, and supported still by the arms around me, which I knew to be those of a woman............

Why are all reflections lovelier than what we call the reality?—not so grand or so strong, it may be, but always lovelier? Fair as is the gliding sloop on the shining sea, the wavering, trembling, unresting sail below is fairer still. Yea, the reflecting ocean itself, reflected in the mirror, has a wondrousness about its waters that somewhat vanishes when I turn towards itself. All mirrors are magic mirrors. The commonest room is a room in a poem when I turn to the glass.

In whatever way it may be accounted for, of one thing we may be sure, that this feeling is
no cheat; for there is no cheating in nature and the simple unsought feelings of the soul. There must be a truth involved in it, though we may but in part lay hold of the meaning. Even the memories of past pain are beautiful; and past delights, though beheld only through clefts
in the grey clouds of sorrow, are lovely as Fairy Land............
What prompted Macdonald's musings, why did he cause Anodos to blunder through the enchantments of the Faerie realm, a Pygmalion in search of a fleeting, ephemeral Galatea, "the Marble Lady"? Methinks he had been plundering the libraries of Aberdeen and London, turning page after page in search of a kindred spirit.

Macdonald often quotes Novalis in his writings. I am unable to read German, but a few glances at certain of the works of Novalis suggest a connection.


(Illustrations: John Bell ~ 1894; Phantastes: A Faerie Romance by George MacDonald)

Thursday, December 19, 2013


    

A Windflower

  by Lizette Woodworth Reese
The wind stooped down and wrote a sweet, small word,
But the snow fell, and all the writing blurred:
Now, the snow gone, we read it as we pass,—
The wind’s word in the grass.

Ingrid's tree

heartssong

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Iulia de Beausobre

While out and about the other day, I happened to walk into a small, quiet library, started by a friend and mentor who is no longer with us; my fingers wandered through the titles until I found a rare copy of a book I had not held in my hands for a long time. The name of it is Flame in the Snow, written by Iulia de Beausobre (Lady Julia Namier). The Flame referred to in this slim volume is a man known as Seraphim of Sarov. Beausobre was a Russian aristocrat, a contemporary of the Symbolist poets and acquaintance of Pasternak's. As the wife of an executed aristocrat, she survived the concentration camps (barely) and later immigrated to England.

On page 105, Beausobre describes Seraphim's deliberations upon being asked by a well-known statesman for advice, after which he made a decision to spend years in silence. Following are other small excerpts from my reading.

"We must listen," Seraphim said softly. "If we listen to the silence, we  may hear what they should know. Then, we can tell them. Their own lives are too noisy."
...
Seraphim's silence was more than a refraining from the uttering of words. All that language stands for was henceforth eliminated from his life and his mind. 
...
Men have two ways of communicating with each other: they speak, and perceive the pattern of human thought, they look into each other's faces, and gain vision of human life, neither can be acquired second hand.

In communicating through speech, words are our instrument: an instrument, potentially, of great precision. Entering deeper into the realm of silence, Seraphim completely stemmed the flow of words within him. Not only the flow of spoken words; even the flow of words that well up in the mind. He joined the host which supplicates, lauds and blesses without words.
...
The circle of his interest was narrowing, narrowing to a luminous pin point from which he could not deflect his mind's eye.
...
Fluffy, gentle, slow, the great snow flakes tumbled, danced, chased each other round about him. The hoary, flesh pink pines stretched up on all sides, proclaiming earth's joy in heaven. They, her myriad arms, stretched heavenward in a movement of silent delight.

...





While I read, the ache of a memory of an unknown homeland, an echo from childhood and yet not a childish longing, stirs within me. How I yearn to become worthy of a journey to this place. I stretch out one toe forward onto the path, and tumble backwards into a heap. I weep for the sin of not-weeping-enough, for the hardness of my heart, for the forgetting of what is most important. The full moon shines serenely, silently above my snow-encrusted roof. I scramble for the strength to stand up and seek the path again.

Iulia de Beausobre




Sunday, December 15, 2013

printing as prayer in Dunhuang



 "Printing began as a form of prayer, the equivalent of turning a prayer wheel or slipping a note into the Western Wall in Jerusalem, but on an industrial scale," according to an October 9, 2013 article in The New Yorker.



break, blow, burn




Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

--John Donne



Needful words for me, today.

I was reminded of the existence of this sonnet while reading an article on Camille Paglia, an art critic who edited an anthology of poems with accompanying essays entitled "Break, Blow, Burn", and, although she is an avowed atheist, in her  lecture on religion and the arts in America, expressed the opinion that "the route to a renaissance of the American fine arts lies through religion."

Camille Paglia, with her incisive, biting wit and ideas that she not only seems to own, but to enjoy riding long and hard, like a mechanical bull, is a figure I both admire, and am terrified of.

An earlier writer, who would most likely have argued vehemently (while perhaps secretly agreeing) with Paglia is Dorothy Sayers. Sayers is famous for the creation of the detective, Lord Peter Wimsey and his romantic side-kick, Harriet Vane. Born in 1893, Sayers was one of the first women to be awarded a degree at Oxford, and she was also a huge fan of John Donne's poems, which she often quotes in her Wimsey series. Reading the series as a teen, I remember how it was in the dialogue between the characters, often couched in literary quotes within Sayers' novels, that I discovered the sorts of friendships I would dream of having with other human beings, and not only that, but, in leaving these small golden tidbits like breadcrumbs, Sayers inspired me to discover writers that I might not otherwise read. If I recall, Sayers wrote once that Lord Peter had a lingering existence of his own in her mind, it was as if Wimsey was her ideal husband.

When I do grow up, it would be a pleasant surprise to me; nay, I would be quite ecstatic (!), if I were ever to cultivate the ability to write like either Paglia or Sayers, to be able face such a sentiment head-on:

"She had written what she felt herself called upon to write; and, though she was beginning to feel that she might perhaps do this thing better, she had no doubt that the thing itself was the right thing for her. It had overmastered her without her knowledge or notice, and that was the proof of its mastery."

--Dorothy Sayers (Gaudy Night)

But here is where I find myself currently (here, another quote from a Lord Peter Wimsey novel):

Peter: How can find words? Poets have taken them all, and left me with nothing to say or do-- 
          Harriet: Except to teach me for the first time what they meant.

--D.S. (Busman's Honeymoon)

The history of literature is antiphonal: first one voice sings out, then another chimes in, responding. That is how it always has been. Who knows which voices from the 21st century will continue to resound long after our time. Perhaps it will be those who have first immersed themselves in the long line of choristers; it may be easier for them to slip into their niches in the world's memory.

Someone is Required

"A poet is the trance for reading and transcribing."--Tim Buck

How often, while sifting through the large volume of material available for consumption on the internet, does a reader find herself lucky enough to stumble upon writing that makes her want to stop and savor it, to read and re-read it? Even less often does it happen that this reader discovers poetry infused with a subtle, unique aesthetic that stands out.

A new collection of poems by Tim Buck has made its appearance and should not be missed.


Tragic Ballet: Poems by Tim Buck

Of especial interest to me were several poems Tim had written in honor of people or places. One of these poems was written regarding a Polish poet, Adam Zagajewski. After being introduced to Zagajewski's work on Tim's blog, I found this one spoke to me in particular:

Zagajewski

I will not include the text in my blog; Zagajewski aficionados will need to click on the links above for a treat, to experience a sample of Tim Buck's poetry. He captures the delicate, whimsical  mood of Zagajewski: I can almost taste a silver fog emanating from Vistula the river, between the lines....

"...a desperate soul waits at his door of saying."

This single line in the poem on Zagajewsi stunned me, because it is able to articulate one of the reasons I sift through page after page, whether online, or in a library, ravenous for words, starved for a sense of beauty that seems to be missing in much contemporary writing: I find myself waiting at the writer's "door of saying," because (as another of the poems in Tim's collection intimates), "someone is required" to translate intangible, ethereal images and ideas into forms, to transfer them onto the blank page. In my humble opinion, Tim Buck is one of those "someones."

#BiteSizeBallet No.5

Kitty Phetla, Joburg Ballet If I were the Indian Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean, I'd sneak bits of myself up onto the back of a cl...

popular on this site