THE ADORATION OF ANYTHING YOU THINK YOU OWN IS FIRE


…………….For a larger view of this detail click here. For the whole painting click here.

The Adoration of anything you think you own is idolatrous.

The Adoration of anything you think you own, even Poetry, even Baseball, is idolatrous because, like the Critic on his knees in this painting, the fire’s in your own head. You worship at the shrine but you’re looking not into it but out at us. You’re looking back at your audience to be sure they’ll know how astute and well-informed you are, and, of course, how properly dressed. In turn, your ‘readers’ have a choice — to play ball or cry FIRE!

With regard to baseball, the strange beauty and fascination of it have never been explored more deeply than in the following poem. So what is it? And why has the discussion of poetry on Scarriet becoming so ugly and savage?

Christopher Woodman

.

………………………..The Crowd at the Ball Game

………………………..The crowd at the ball game
………………………..is moved uniformly

………………………..by a spirit of uselessness
………………………..which delights them —

………………………..all the exciting detail
………………………..of the chase

………………………..and the escape, the error
………………………..the flash of genius —

………………………..all to no end save beauty
………………………..the eternal -

………………………..So in detail they, the crowd,
………………………..are beautiful

………………………..for this
………………………..to be warned against

………………………..saluted and defied —
………………………..It is alive, venomous

………………………..it smiles grimly
………………………..its words cut —

………………………..The flashy female with her
………………………..mother, gets it —

………………………..The Jew gets it straight – it
………………………..is deadly, terrifying —

………………………..It is the Inquisition, the
………………………..Revolution

………………………..It is beauty itself
………………………..that lives

………………………..day by day in them
………………………..idly —

………………………..This is
………………………..the power of their faces

………………………..It is summer, it is the solstice
………………………..the crowd is

………………………..cheering, the crowd is laughing
………………………..in detail

………………………..permanently, seriously
………………………..without thought
………………………………………………………William Carlos Williams (Dial, 1923)

[This poem has been posted twice  on this site, here and here. The response has been desultory, though the themes have been crying out for discussion.]

19 Comments

  1. April 11, 2010 at 2:18 am

    This poem represents mob mentality, and the speaker seems to have an
    omniscient point of view like that of a blimp driver floating over the game
    seeing the crowd as one living, breathing, thinking creature rather than
    many.

    Mat in Canada said in Comment 6 of 11, January 11th, 2006 at 12:58 AM – on this linked-page at American Poems.com

    “This poem is quite referential to the works of Emily Dickinson. Use of
    hyphens is the first key. In addition, short microcosms consume each
    stanza. Finally, metaphor is apparent; such as: “a spirit of uselessness
    which delights them-“. This compares the crowd to “uselessness” –

    said Jennifer from United States, on the same thread, in comment 5 of 11, on November 10th, 2005.

    Looking round online, I found only one scholarly reference to this poem, in a 1986 essay by Patrick Moore: William Carlos Williams and the Modernist Attack on Logical Syntax that’s on jstor.

    It seems to be saying the eternal chestnut that crowds are live entities made up of individual human droplets who are moved by a ‘spirit of uselessness/ which delights them’, meaning US, perhaps?

    The crowd is a metaphor for humanity in love with the useless?

    However, I just cognized a grammatical error.

    The crowd at the ball game
    is moved uniformly
    by a spirit of uselessness
    which delights them

    The crowd is THEM, not ‘it’ – the correct term.

    He zooms out of the general ‘the crowd’ and into the personal – every individual person in the crowd, who he is saying, very beautifully, are mugs.

  2. April 11, 2010 at 2:32 am

    The ugly and savage debate, maybe it’s because if you leave three people in a room for long enough, they will all start arguing, no matter who they are. At least, very often this is the case, perhaps.

    But if you want to contribute articles to Global Poetry News Chris, I’ve sent you an invite to become a team member.

    This blog was set up in the shadow of Scarriet and for the first few months it was a tongue pulling exercise of satirically taking the piss out of the forces of Englishness who’d shunted out Graves me and you, because we were too much to handle for a guy in Trav’s boat.

    That got boring and no one was reading, so Graves set up the March Madness exercise and then Harriet closed their comments down for this month, co-inciding with Travis discovering I could not be prevented from commenting there because my isp isn’t fixed.

    I then came here and started speaking my mind and the stats shot right up.

    Graves doesn’t want to allow me access to them, and you yourself when you started voicing your true feelings, had some editorial privileges removed, probably as a message to let you know who the boss is.

    Cordle is finishing his masterpiece he, one assumes, hopes will be a big seller and wind up everyone in the poetry world, with this blog being a stage where his fave puppet Graves can keep the public informed of how rotten the state of American Poetry is with all its incestuous prize-giving and what not. Graves has uncovered a conspiracy that goes back to the earliest Transandentalist who made a pact that they and their offspring would one day control all of American poetry.

    But the idiots, the crowd in love with beautiful uselessness, those who idolize people like Tom Brady, a mere figure rendered to them electronically via TV, do not seem to be concerned about the travesty and injustice of this very very serious and important conspiracy of Letters that goes right to the heart of contemporary AmPo.

    Have a nice day.

  3. thomasbrady said,

    April 11, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Thanks, Global, for touching on the pertinent points.

    One is surely mystified by how such a piece of dreck as this ‘baseball crowd’ poem—a meandering piece of silly, ungrammatical, schoolboy, twaddle, puporting to unlock the deep, profound mysteries of a crowd at a ballgame—could be attached to such an illustrious name as the William Carlos Williams, and published in such a distinguished magazine, The Dial. But if one is schooled in the pertinent points, which you have touched on, Global, the darkness comes to light.

    We see the great Mr. Williams published this twaddle in the Dial in 1923. Note the year. Williams is 40, and known then, for exactly nothing. Williams’ honor and fame will have to wait for “Understanding Poetry,” the school textbook and its several editions 1938–1976, the first time any of the modernists are read by more than a handful of people at once.

    The Dial has a great reputation, but let us look a little closer. Scarriet had more visits to its site yesterday than Dial readers ever. The Dial was never more than a vanity publication; it was merely a vehicle for the wealthy few.

    1840: The first managing editor of the short-lived Dial, George Ripley, founded the short-lived Brook Farm. Its first editor was Margaret Fuller, friend of New York Tribune tycoon Horace Greeley, mad as a hatter and publisher of Griswold’s obituary libel against Poe. The first version of the Dial was nothing more than a little Harvard Divinity School rag, an unread vehicle for literary Unitarians which made no impression and lasted for only a few issues.

    It was revived into a slightly more respectable magazine in 1880 by a gentleman from the midwest, but the modernists eventually got their hands on it when a wool fortune son from Worcester and the only heir to the Western Union fortune purchased the old Dial at the end of 1919. Scofield Thayer, the wool guy, knew T.S. Eliot from Milton Academy. Pound, Eliot, and their influential and powerful lawyer John Quinn, the one who really ‘took care of things’ and the publisher Horace Liveright worked out a deal to give The Waste Land the $2,000 Dial Prize (before the poem was completed) pre-buy a number of copies, etc in 1922. Pound’s friend Williams getting space in the Dial for his twaddle in 1923 is no shocker, then; nor is Williams, Pound, Cummings, and Moore winning the $2,000 Dial prize in subsequent years before the vanity publication folded in 1929.

    In summary then, The Dial was nothing more than a vanity publication for the bored rich, who were ‘radical’ because it was the least boring thing they could think of doing, and since they had no talent, at least being ‘radical’ got them a little attention when they put their twaddle into print. Subsequently, the deluded and the gullible, with a corresponding lack of talent, perforce looking for ‘radical’ ways to smite those who do have talent, latch onto the manifesto-ism of ‘radicals’ like WC Williams; and thus, our current little shitstorm here.

  4. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 11, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Global Poetry News wrote, quoting Mat in Canada:

    This poem represents mob mentality, and the speaker seems to have an omniscient point of view like that of a blimp driver floating over the game seeing the crowd as one living, breathing, thinking creature rather than many.

    I can’t say I agree with Mat, that this poem represents “mob mentality,” which sounds coarse, dangerous, irredeemable. Certainly it examines human ritual activity on a grand scale, but on a level that isn’t bestial at all — more angelic. One can think of many profound and moving human group activities that are almost celestial in effect: a bullfight in Madrid, Corunna or Mexico, a Christmas Midnight Mass in Sicily or Boston, Easter week in Spain or Crete, what happens at Lourdes or Santiago de Campostella, or one of the great Hindu fakir festivals by the Ganges — or the Songkran Festival right now in Thailand which from the outside looks like the world’s most irresponsible water fight but is in reality about washing the Buddha in pure water rich with jasmine and gardenia. Or a World Series, for that matter, or even just an opening game between the Yankees and the Red Sox.

    ~

    Thomas Brady has implied that this poem emphasizes the stupidity of baseball fans, but everybody knows that even Stephen Jay Gould, the great Paleontolgist at Harvard, and A. Bartlett Giamatti, Renaissance scholar and President of Yale, were ardent baseball fans — and I doubt very much either of them would have been bothered by this poem, what is more been insulted by it.

    Or William Carlos Williams, as smart as a whip yet humble, and a man who loved baseball.

    No, this poem is about something else. It’s about a beauty that human beings participate in “uniformly,” like angels, about a “uselessness” which lifts us above practical, private, more conscious concerns. Far from stupidity, it’s an activity that brings human beings together and makes them larger and less lonely, a glimpse of what it would be like to be superhumanly informed and intelligent.

    But it’s dangerous too, baseball is, at least at this level — the flashy daughter of the mother knows this, conspicuous in her sexual gifts, not for sale, as does the Jew with the diaspora behind him, jealously guarding the gift of the ghetto. Any human being that stands out and alone is at risk at this level of divine conformity.

    “Revolution” and “Inquisition” are both ominously neutral when it comes to compassion for the individual.

    But transcendent all the same.

    ~

    “The Crowd at the Ball Game” doesn’t look down on the fans — it looks at the strange beauty that human beings generate together in ritual groups, “permanently, seriously/ without thought.”

    A great poem. A great mystery.

    ~

    And does it work for anybody, this rap? Or is it just New Critical tricks?

    Be honest.

    Christopher

  5. thomasbrady said,

    April 11, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Look how a poet can really make you see a crowd in just a few lines:

    “a crowd of souls was coming toward us, moving slow, so slowly they did not seem to move”

    –Dante, Canto III Purgatory

    What I most remember from baseball games is the intricate conversations with friends, when a boy, my companion rapping his plastic baseball hat on the seat for good luck with his hero at the plate, trying to hit homer no. 500, when older, fantasy baseball talk laced with jokes, always the amazement of the size of the field, the wide expanse of green, the admiration of those voices hawking hotdogs and soda…not ‘soda!’ but sodaa here!’ The old fellow in his seat using a stubby pencil to mark the box score…the father explaining some rule to his son…the fan watching the game on a little TV… Williams reduces the baseball crowd to platitude…the Jew, the Inquisition…good grief…

  6. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 12, 2010 at 12:09 am

    “Twaddle?”

    “Good grief?”

    This is a very small person here. And he quotes Dante.

    Shakespeare will be up to bat next.

    He’ll hit a homer.

    That’s twaddle, and behind it rages the fire in the head you see in the Bosch. Praying at the shrine of poetry, the critic looks back at you and snaps his fingers.

  7. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 12, 2010 at 12:38 am

    Thomas Brady writes:

    Look how a poet can really make you see a crowd in just a few lines:

    “a crowd of souls was coming toward us, moving slow, so slowly they did not seem to move”

    –Dante, Canto III Purgatory

    William Carlos Williams is not describing the crowd, Tom. Look at the passive construction right from the start — the poem has a wholly different dynamic and purpose.

    Like saying about Cezanne, look how much better Michelangelo can paint a figure than you can, or Leonardo a Madonna.

    Why bother to stage all these games and contests? Why does poetry always have to come down to a competition for you, who’s “great,” who’s “crappy,” who “wins?”

    No wonder you so hate Franz Wright — you’re incapable of being in uncertainties, and despise anyone who’s vulnerable.

    Unless they do it in song, ballad, or rhyme, because you can manage sentimental. You feel safe when you can define the feeling, and enjoy it with popcorn.

  8. thomasbrady said,

    April 12, 2010 at 12:57 am

    Christopher,

    What do you mean I hate Franz Wright? I don’t hate Franz Wright. Where do you get that? ‘A Happy Thought’ made it to the top 16 out of 1,500 Best American Poetry poems.

    He was nothing but rude in all his visits to Scarriet and I rebuked his rudeness.

    I don’t hate him.

    If you don’t care who ‘wins,’ why are you trying to win an argument with me about WC Williams? Why can’t you let me think he’s twaddle, if that’s my opinion? You pretend to be above ‘winning’ while at the same time you are obviously intent that my opinion of Williams as twaddle must ‘lose.’

    You’re above all this ‘great’ stuff, but let someone not worship William Carlos Williams and suddenly it’s ‘play ball! Let’s go! Wanna wrestle?’

    Victory is not just about sports, by the way.

    When Dante makes it to paradise, he wins.

    Thomas

  9. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 12, 2010 at 1:07 am

    Thomas Brady writes:

    If you don’t care who ‘wins,’ why are you trying to win an argument with me about WC Williams? Why can’t you let me think he’s twaddle, if that’s my opinion? You pretend to be above ‘winning’ while at the same time you are obviously intent that my opinion of Williams as twaddle must ‘lose.’

    Circular, back to square one.

  10. April 12, 2010 at 6:32 am

    The correct bardic term for Graves’s satirical squib above, is found in the late 14C Book of Ballymote, in the treatise entitled Cis lir fodla aire: in English: How many types of Satire are there?

    The question is answered: Ní hansa. A trí .i. aisnés ocus ail ocus aircetal – ‘Not difficult, three i.e. declaration, insult, incantation.’

    Of these three, the one Graves is practicing with his statement:

    “One is surely mystified by how such a piece of dreck as this ‘baseball crowd’ poem—a meandering piece of silly, ungrammatical, schoolboy, twaddle…”

    … is the first, and easiest, of the three. Aisnés, which is glossed in English: ‘A declaration in prose, and – reproach without rhyme.’

    This definition is the opening part of the illustrated example, given for each of the three types of Satire, with aisnéis being described thus:

    Aisnéis immorro, indisiu tria h-áinsimh cen cuidb[i]us, amal adubhairth in cáinti i tich alaile degdhuine, nirbo lór lais a cuit. ‘In scerdfidhear salann duit ar do chuitidh?’ ar in timtiridh. ‘Nító’ ar sei-suim, ‘ar nímtá ní ara scertar, acht maine scertar ar mo theangaidh a rec[c] nucu n-écean. Is coirt cheana.’

    Translated into English:

    ‘Declaration, now, is narration in reproach, without rhyme – as the libeller said in the house of a certain gentleman where he thought his rations meager.

    ‘Shall salt be sprinkled for you on your portion? asked the attendant. ‘No’ said he, ‘for I have nothing to sprinkle it on. Unless it be sprinkled right on my tongue, there’s no need. It’s bark anyhow’

    The second type: Ail, is glossed (in translation) ‘the insult of a nickname which clings to anyone, or verbal injury whether rhymed or not.’

    The illustration given by either Solam Ó Droma, Robertus Mac Sithigh and Magnus Ó Duibhgennain, who wrote the Book of Ballymote, is that of some 7C poets who stopped in Lismore abbey, county Waterford, and showed what they thought of the ‘skimpy and miserable meal’ they’d been given, by calling the church (that became Lismore Abbey, one of the great centres of Middle Age scholarship and learning, founded by Saint Mo Chutu mac Fínaill, prior to sainthood, in 635) – Ceall Chorrfesi – Church of the Wretched Repast.

    The third category of Satire aircetal aíre – is the most interesting, because it has ten-subdivisions:

    1 – Mac Bronn, or ‘son of the womb’, ‘son of sorrow’. This satire is told to only one person and effectively, gossip.

    2. Dallbach: (‘blindness’) An Inuendo.

    In this satire the victim remains anonymous, while the deeds done or not done are explained in detail. This category is further sub-divided into three subtypes:

    A: firmly established.
    Done when there is sufficient evidence for the poet to be able to prove the contention.

    B: lightly established. Somewhat questionable evidence exists.
    C: Heresay or rumor.

    3 – Focal i frithshuidiu: ‘word in opposition.’ Glossed as “A quatrain of praise and therein is found a word on the verge of satire”

    That which looks like praise but is actually derrogatory. The second part of Graves’s statement after schoolboy twaddle –

    “…puporting to unlock the deep, profound mysteries of a crowd at a ballgame—could be attached to such an illustrious name as the William Carlos Williams, and published in such a distinguished magazine, The Dial.”

    44. tar n-aire: ‘outrage of satire’. A reproach made through negative comparisons about the subject.”

    ie: Thomas Brady the quarterback is like a dogger without a dick.

    5. tar molta: ‘outrage of praise’. Praise so overblown as to be ridiculous or ironic. The praising of qualities that the subject actually lacks.

    ie – Thomas Brady the unfit athlete-poet with sound and firm poetic policies off the field of play.

    6. tamall aire: ‘touch of praise’. Similar to tar n-aire but not as flamboyant.

    7. tamal molta: Satire which praises the subject faintly.

    This could be a praise poem that praises the subject about the shine of his shoes.

    8. Lanair. full satire. The name, family and residence of the victim are detailed in a very public way.

    Ie, Incorporating Graves’s personal details into a satire, in verse, of this level.

    9. ainmedh: full blown sarcasm.

    10. glam dicind: a religio magical ritual using public satire and incantation agains the victim of a satire. Used to depose despots, tyrants and monarchs.

    Here

    After consultation between thirty clergy, thirty warriors and thirty poets, to agree on enacting this most serious of, then, legally binding poetic practice, a team of 7 poets gathered at sunrise on the top of a boundary hill with a thorn bush, the wind from the north, a thorn and a sling stone in each poet’s hand. Each of the seven, representing the seven grades, says a rann in the metre proper to him into his fist.

    The verse of the lowest grade poet falls on the king’s hound, and so on up the scale until the ollam’s verse falls on the king himself, whereupon the earth swallows the king and his retinue. But if the glam dícend is unjustly
    undertaken, then it is the poets who get swallowed by the earth.”

    Swords

  11. thomasbrady said,

    April 12, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Swords,

    This disquisition is all very nice, but the facts of the case are simple:

    The Modernists, not Moderns, or people who are ‘modern,’ no, the Modernists, the early 20th century clique known as such, were simply the revenge of the Transcendentalists—rising from the grave to shout down the guy who buried them the first time. Poe pegged ‘em: “their ands, buts and thes are more important than other men’s pollysyllables…” “They are people who see a little deeper into things than everyone else.” Their wheel barrow is more important than your wheel barrow.

    Brady

    • Christopher Woodman said,

      April 13, 2010 at 4:07 am

      Yes, and Alan Greenspan is Jewish and older, Obama is a Muslim, the tea party is The Tea Party, and Queen Elizabeth is related to the Kaiser, the Czar and Donald Trump.

      Oh, and the Founding Fathers were slave-owners and owned guns too, and the Catholic Priests who abused all those boys were Free Masons.

      But hey, had the Church blown the whistle they would have won!

      (Wait a minute. What conspiracy theory is that?)

  12. wfkammann said,

    April 12, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    The crowd at the ball game
    is moved uniformly

    (ha, ha the teams wear uniforms and we root for our team)

    by a spirit of uselessness
    which delights them-

    (The crowd is irrelevant to the outcome of the game but are delighted none the less. The spirit of uselessness: a little like the Tao, no?)

    all the exciting detail
    of the chase

    (like watching a lion stalk a gazelle)

    and the escape, the error
    the flash of genius-

    (The “details” of the game are the excitement. We score the errors.)

    all to no end save beauty
    the eternal-

    (so, here’s beauty which together with detail forms the structure of the poem)
    (the detail of the game produces an eternal beauty. The beauty produced by the detail of the game is its “eternal” purpose? or result?)

    So in detail they, the crowd,
    are beautiful

    (now we shift focus from the game to the crowd and call it (them) beautiful “in detail.” The organism of the game is replaced by the organism of the crowd)

    for this
    to be warned against

    saluted and defied-
    It is alive, venomous

    (The crowd is manipulated by patriotism; and defied but at your own risk)

    it smiles grimly
    its words cut-

    The flashy female with her
    mother, gets it-

    The Jew gets it straight-it
    is deadly, terrifying-

    It is the Inquisition, the
    Revolution

    (The crowd in Spain manipulated by the church; the crowd in Russia by the Bolsheviks)

    It is beauty itself
    that lives

    day by day in them
    idly-

    (The detail of beauty “in them” is the horror of the Inquisition and the Revolution. The crowd which passively watches the ball game has its own beauty which is terrible. The idle and passive can become a maelstrom when manipulated by an idea of beauty, selfishness, patriotism, “better than”)

    This is
    the power of their faces

    It is summer, it is the solstice
    the crowd is

    (It is the longest day. Nothing will exceed this)

    cheering, the crowd is laughing
    in detail

    (The crowd knows when to laugh; and if not, laughs along anyway. How “beautiful” it is to follow a game which tells you when to cheer, when to boo and when to laugh”

    permanently, seriously
    without thought

    (The crowd outlasts the game, the crowd is earnest; the crowd does not have to think)

    I remember demonstrations in NYC in 1970. Closing the University and marching down Broadway with candles. Blocking the West Side Highway. The leader: a black kid from Harlem in an army fatigue jacket, gave the word and the crowd moved out to block rush hour traffic in the name of peace and equal rights. No small group of individuals can develop the mind of a crowd. There is something awesome about the motion of a crowd; like a glacier or a mud slide. Christopher must be seeing this first hand in Thailand.

    The beauty of a crowd concentrated on “the game.” Mobilized by a cause. “String him up!” The poem is well made and certainly better than the diatribe above. Of course, if you think the Poe is the epitome of American letters you will always have to be defensive. I’m sure Tom/Bob will make short work of this comment. The mechanics of a blog allow the removal of “troublemakers” and the burying of discussion under mounds of rubbish. Winning is not everything; it’s the only thing. The child having a screaming tantrum in the corner has won for the moment since everyone else is too disgusted to care. Just make sure he can’t hurt himself and check back later.

  13. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 13, 2010 at 4:42 am

    Thanks, Bill — a whole lot of fresh new thoughts and perceptions, and I’m rethinking the poem yet again.

    Another observation to add to your many:

    All William Carlos Williams’ poems are thoughtfully constructed, indeed, one of the chief delights about having them around is they’re so unassuming yet so infinitely suggestive. Like a flower arrangement done by somebody who has loved flowers all his or her life and really looked at the flower arrangements of others. Who by trial and error has learned not just the language of flowers but the language of space, time, age, and weather.

    So the introductory four lines are perfectly poised and balanced, and the quietly reflective rhythms are both poetic and unpoetic at the same time, creating a stasis, a spell, a “rapture” (what a word that has become!) that catches up and offers the rest of the poem in its simple vase:

    The crowd at the ball game
    is moved uniformly

    by a spirit of uselessness
    which delights them —

    The key words stand out and take control, as do the buds or the nodules in a minimalist flower arrangement — “uniformly”/”uselessness”/”delights them.”

    “Uniformly” is just as Bill says it is, connected to the uniforms of the players, pinstripes or red socks, but in this spell-bound moment in the ball park we all become suspended together in the magic of the ritual, and we don’t any longer know subject from object. And that delights us, the reader or the spectator, it doesn’t matter, delights us just as ‘it’ delights them out there — the players in the dugout, on the diamond, in the armchair, on the beach. We are all suspended in unison (another suggestion from “uniformly”) and because we are all for a moment in heaven nothing has any “use” either. We’ve gone way beyond usefulness, don’t care about our health concerns or careers anymore, or even our aging — for a moment we’re together, undifferentiated, transcendent.

    wfkammann said,

    (The spirit of uselessness: a little like the Tao, no?)

    YES!

    [But would it were easy, or always safe. Because in a human context such an experience is always ambiguous, and can go either way to say the least! That's why it takes poetry to deal with it.]

    ~

    Now you come in, you hundreds and hundreds of Scarriet visitors. Why are you attracted to us here in such numbers just as this old guy, I mean me, is fed up and ready to go home?

    Tell us, or just give us a signal.

    Christopher

  14. Christopher Woodman said,

    April 14, 2010 at 1:25 am

    all the exciting detail
    of the chase

    and the escape, the error
    the flash of genius —

    all to no end save beauty
    the eternal -

    If the first section is the vase for this minimalist arrangement that will speak to us momently through the whole day of its creation, the next section is the stems that will support the whole edifice. Right from the start the two key words are posited, “detail” and “beauty,” and the rest of the poem will concentrate on changing those two little words for us forever.

    The beauty is in the details, which is tragic, for the details are useful and technical while the beauty is timeless, useless and unlocated. So as we focus on the details, the texture of the skin, the slight down on the cheek, the arch of the eyebrow and the squint, we are ravished. And each one of us is a detail too, which is tragic as well, but in a crowd we rise to the occasion, we’re giants, and beautiful.

    The details are in “the chase and the escape” as we watch the gazelle furiously pursued by the cheetah, horrible, heart stopping fright, but on Animal Planet it becomes beautiful. Or “the chase and the escape” between first and second, the compelling, split second encounter that stops the heart in the 9th, “the error/the flash of genius,” our whole life and that of our nation determined at the plate.

    Wonderful. Condensed yet expansive. Backyard and universal at the same time. Detail and beauty suspended breathless and useless in time.

    So in detail they, the crowd,
    are beautiful

    for this
    to be warned against

    saluted and defied —

    For this,” the poem goes on, for sport, for the cosmos! But be careful, because at this level of intensity where beauty is palpable, where the universal is unshackled, you, the person, the detail, are also at risk. This sort of this is “to be warned against,” indeed to be “defied.” But in poetry it can be “saluted,” or by baseball fans or Scousers (supporters of the greatest football team on earth). It can be worshipped.

    Like the ancient Mesoamerican gods and goddesses, the Halls of Montezuma at the Colisseum or Fenway Park.

    It is alive, venomous

    it smiles grimly
    its words cut —

    The flashy female with her
    mother, gets it —

    The Jew gets it straight – it
    is deadly, terrifying —

    It is the Inquisition, the
    Revolution

    Yes, the details, the way her blouse is taut just there over her nipples, the way the Jew’s ringlets are noticeable, and both will be “cut” because they stand out, be punished for their own details, whether it’s by an Inquisition, a Pogrom, a Revolution, or the entry of the Red Army into Berlin. Or the Republican Convention. Or Barack Obama’s Inauguration.

    It is beauty itself
    that lives

    day by day in them
    idly —

    This is
    the power of their faces

    It is summer, it is the solstice
    the crowd is

    cheering, the crowd is laughing
    in detail

    permanently, seriously
    without thought

    Interestingly enough, this poem has been given remarkably little critical attention, and when it has it’s often dismissed as an attack on group activities and baseball in particular. Which, of course, it isn’t at all — it’s a glorification of the power of participation during which the details, the chewing, the stamping, the checking out your balls, are radiant and transcendent and capable of leading to the most wonderful or most horrible experience.

    A very great poem by a most admirable human being, and what’s most special about American poetry.

    ~

    And can it be abused, Tom? Can it be imitated to the detriment of our poetry’s health and development?

    You bet it can, and you better believe we should take notice. But what human accomplishment can’t?

    ~

    Do you want everyone to write “The Raven,” is that it?

    Yes, I know you do, but you have to ask yourself why that hasn’t happened, and if you answer that there were literary-historical assassins who eliminated Poe from the equation you haven’t even started to read the poem.

    Christopher

  15. thomasbrady said,

    April 14, 2010 at 2:48 am

    Christopher,

    You are supplying all these details, all this excitement, which is fine, but a random sequence of words could generate as many kinds of associations. The Raven is a great poem precisely because it doesn’t allow this kind of associative explosion–in fact, it anticipates it, cuts it off, kills it. The narrator in the Raven “links fancy unto fancy,” as you do in your reading of The Crowd at the Ballgame. You uttered a great deal of stuff which I’m sure never crossed Williams’ mind. The New Critics would accuse you of the ‘intentional fallacy.’ The ‘crowd’ at the ballgame is lifted out of its context by the poet in order to make glib social commentary: the ‘crowd’ at the inquisition, the revolution, etc etc etc. The stock images pour forth, ‘Jew,’ ‘flashy female with her mother,’ and vague terms like ‘beautiful,’ and ‘venomous’ and ‘alive’ are used without any detail or context, but boy do they kick up association after association as we make remarks about the significance of crowds and the danger of crowds and the pleasure of details of a crowd and Fenway Park and death and sacrifice and indifference and one could just on and on and on. But this associative stream in itself is not remarkable, nor is the doctrinaire assertion that a crowd at a ballgame is the same as crowds at other events. All these reflections of crowds which are rattling about all the time in our minds will get stirred up when a few terms are coughed up. Words strung up like lights on a christmas tree will inevitably make an impression of some kind. The smells and sights and noises at the ballgame are many. The Raven is, by comparison, a far more significant thing, because it anticipates the flow of association itself, arrests it, creates a place for it, examines it, gives it a rhythm, makes us aware how rhythm creates mood which in turn creates thought…The Raven creates idea from sound, it does not merely talk about an idea, it reveals the idea-making machinery itself as we reflect on how mood and emotion and thought and idea impact each other, how harmony is possible between the separate components of sound and sense, of body and brain. To be creative–we must slow down, isolate, examine, focus…it is not an orgy of association, for, as we know, stream of consciousness is a default setting…this reminds us of this which reminds us of this which reminds us of this which reminds us of this…it can go on comically, and does, and will…or it can go backwards, followed by the detective…but that’s another literary genre, a little different from the poem… The Raven bristles with specificity in sound, image, painting, mood, idea, story, while the ball game poem is so loose as to really have no shape at all…

    Thomas

  16. wfkammann said,

    April 14, 2010 at 3:26 am

    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
    Thrilled me

    Wagner would only wear silk underwear because he was sooo sensitive

    Yes it forces you in one direction. It is outdated; like Wagner. Maybe the delirium tremens are still modern, but not The Raven.

    In fact it reminds me a lot of this little gem.

    By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
    By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
    Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
    Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
    Dark behind it rose the forest,
    Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
    Rose the firs with cones upon them;
    Bright before it beat the water,
    Beat the clear and sunny water,
    Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.

    Gloomy pine-trees; shining Big-Sea Water,
    quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
    Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
    This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!” –
    Merely this, and nothing more.

    ooooooo scary auditory hallucinations: a big part of the DTs

    Lyrics by H.S. Thompson

    ‘Twas a calm, still night,
    And the moon’s pale light
    Shone soft o’er hill and vale;
    When friends mute with grief
    Stood around the deathbed
    Of my poor lost Lilly Dale.

    Chorus:
    Oh! Lilly, sweet Lilly,
    Dear Lilly Dale,
    Now the wild rose blossoms
    O’er her little green grave
    ‘Neath the trees in the flow’ry vale.
    Oh! Lilly, sweet Lilly,
    Dear Lilly Dale,
    Now the wild rose blossoms
    O’er her little green grave
    ‘Neath the trees in the flow’ry vale.

    Her cheeks that once glowed
    With the rose tint of health,
    By the hand of disease
    Had turned pale,
    And the death damp
    Was on the pure white brow
    Of my poor lost Lilly Dale.

    Chorus

    I go, she said
    To the land of rest,
    And ere my strength shall fail,
    I must tell you where,
    Near my own loved home,
    You must lay Lilly Dale.

    Chorus

    ‘Neath the chestnut tree,
    Where the wild flow’rs grow,
    And the stream ripples forth
    Thro’ the vale,
    Where the birds shall warble
    Their songs in spring,
    There lay poor Lilly Dale.

    Chorus

    From On the Banks of Plum Creek

    Lily Dale was and is the Spirtualist Center of the US. Casadaga Lake drains into the Mississippi although water falling a bit further west enters Lake Erie and the Atlantic. There is a reverse Continental Divide in Chautauqua County very near Lily Dale. Spiritualism has its own DTs or as Floyd Shannon used to say, “They’re all a bunch of whores there.” And then, of course there are the Utopian Communities like Harmony or the folks who make the Amana washers who started here. Emerson was a prig!

  17. thomasbrady said,

    April 14, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Once I found myself within a crowd,
    Lopsided but uniformly loud.
    I looked from face to face to trace
    Specific enmity but none could see
    Issuing more from here than from some other.
    There was a child and her wary mother
    Aloft and pressed against a rail,
    People upwards into infinity and sky,
    On either side of me sweeping wide around
    A human emotion of sound,
    A funnel of yell
    Resembling neither heaven nor hell,
    The crowd was passive,
    The crowd was not I,
    Most of the bird-faces looking down into a field
    At a dozen players
    On a low level ground
    Who made no sound.

  18. Wfkammann said,

    April 14, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    Emerson is still a prig, Tom, and the reason you hear no sound is that your hands are over your ears and you’re screaming “MY WAY, MY WAY!!”


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