Intoxication in Romanticism is joyful or insightful, not depressing as in this Degas painting 

Moving to Romantic Poetry Madness South action, Keats and his Nightingale, no. 1 seed, match up against Philip Nikolayev, 16th seed, and his poem, “Litmus Test.”

Nikolayev’s poem ends with an homage to a potential mate: “You had changed my chemical composition forever,” after she rescues the poet with attention and hot soup after the poet has a scary LSD debauch before a Saturday morning lecture, which he barely makes: “I took faithful notes diagonally across my notebook (which was unliftable).”  The “Litmus Test” narrator desperately has to pee in his folly at the party through most of the poem, and has typically stoned thoughts: “I realized that we are chemical through and through, so determinate and so chemical…” before crashing in his student pad: “I stepped across some literature to my solitary bed…”

Nikolayev evokes a marvelous Pushkin universe of love, philosophy, young manhood, and intoxication—and Nikolayev’s poem grabs us with the classic college party invitation—-the one that always promises more than it delivers: “my buddy insisted sangria, perfect chance to chat up Jessica and Jake, so we went at midnight.”

John “To cease upon the midnight with no pain” Keats seems to be talking about a party, too: “My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk…” and the desire to get wasted: “That I might drink, and leave the world unseen… but Keats, like the “Litmus Test” narrator, rejects wine and LSD (“I will fly to thee, not charioted by Bacchus and his pards”).  Keats isn’t after hot soup and a nice girlfriend; Keats desires to fly with poetry—which is the performance and which is the intoxication, and here is the genius of Keats’ famous poem.

“Litmus Test” is about something; “Ode to a Nightingale” is the something.

Plath, the no. 2 seed, puts her “Lady Lazarus” against the oldest poem in the tournament, Poseidippus’ “Dorchia,” from 300 B.C.

Here is the Poseidippus in this beautiful translation by Edward Arlington Robinson:


So now the very bones of you are gone
Where they were dust and ashes long ago;
And there was the last ribbon you tied on
To bind your hair, and that is dust also;
And somewhere there is dust that was of old
A soft and scented garment that you wore—
The same that once till dawn did closely fold
You in with fair Charaxus, fair no more.

But Sappho, and the white leaves of her song,
Will make your name a word for all to learn,
And all to love thereafter, even while
It’s but a name; and this will be as long
As there are distant ships that will return
Again to your Naucratis and the Nile.

The “dust” of “Dorchia” is replaced in the Plath with “ash,” as memorium in the ancient poem is transformed in its 20th century equivalent.  Plath’s horror throws down against the placid Greek!  What a contest!

Marla Muse: Tom, I am forever amazed at how every poem in these Scarriet tournaments has a similar theme to its opponent—how does Scarriet do it?  First, we have Keats’ and Nikolayev’s theme of intoxication; then Poseidippus and Plath with their “dust” and “ash,” and now look at this one: Petrarch v. Bishop.

It’s a miracle; that’s all I can say.  It’s because Scarriet is the greatest poetry site and the Muses look upon us kindly.

Yes, Marla, the Petrarch advises to leave off hunting the deer, “since in a net I seek to hold the wind,” while the Bishop says, “I caught a tremendous fish…and I let the fish go.”

WHOSE LIST TO HUNT–Petrarch (trans. Wyatt)

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, alas, I may no more
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore.
I am of them that farthest cometh behind;
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the Deer: but as she fleeth afore,
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain:
And, graven with diamonds, in letters plain
There is written her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am;
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

The Petrarch and the Bishop are saying the same thing, but there is something sweetly mysterious and deathly serious about the Petrarch poem which moves us to a greater degree.

And for the final South battle today, Baudelaire (with translation help from Richard Wilbur) wars with Wordsworth:


My child, my sister, dream
How sweet all things would seem
Were we in that kind land to live together,
And there love slow and long,
There love and die among
Those scenes that image you, that sumptuous weather.
Drowned suns that glimmer there
Through cloud-disheveled air
Move me with such a mystery as appears
Within those other skies
Of your treacherous eyes
When I behold them shining through their tears.

There, there is nothing else but grace and measure,
Richness, quietness, and pleasure.

Furniture that wears
The lustre of the years
Softly would glow within our glowing chamber,
Flowers of rarest bloom
Proffering their perfume
Mixed with the vague fragrances of amber;
Gold ceilings would there be,
Mirrors deep as the sea,
The walls all in an Eastern splendor hung–
Nothing but should address
The soul’s loneliness,
Speaking her sweet and secret native tongue.

There, there is nothing else but grace and measure,
Richness, quietness, and pleasure.

See, sheltered from the swells
There in the still canals
Those drowsy ships that dream of sailing forth;
It is to satisfy
Your least desire, they ply
Hither through all the waters of the earth.
The sun at close of day
Clothes the fields of hay,
Then the canals, at last the town entire
In hyacinth and gold:
Slowly the land is rolled
Sleepward under a sea of gentle fire.

There, there is nothing else but grace and measure,
Richness, quietness, and pleasure.

Both Baudelaire and Wordsworth address a “child” in a cosmic, comforting landscape, the Frenchman painting more ambitiously fantastical scenery, the Englishman tempering his paean with slightly more realism—though both poems express exquisite transcendent power.


IT is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
   The holy time is quiet as a Nun
   Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the sea:
   Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
   And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder–everlastingly.
Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
   If thou appear untouch’d by solemn thought,
   Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year;
   And worshipp’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
   God being with thee when we know it not.

The winners are:

Wordsworth 59  Baudelaire 51

Petrarch 68 Bishop 60

Plath 80 Poseidippus 78

Keats 90 Nikolayev 84

Philip Nikolayev made it a very close game against the no. 1 Seed, John Keats!

The North Bracket is now down to 8 poets:

Goethe (d. Justice)
Frost (d. Campion)
Catullus (d. Rimbaud)
Larkin (d. Traherne)
Suckling (d. Ashbery)
Burns (d. Auden)
Herrick (d. Roethke)
Blake (d. Stevens)


  1. April 9, 2013 at 10:22 am

    Litmus Test

    Didn’t want to go to the damn party in the first place,
    needed to “catch a lecture” the next morning
    on Renaissance Florence, one of those stupid 9-a.m.-on-Saturday
    events, but my buddy insisted sangria, perfect chance to chat
    up Jessica and Jake, so we went
    at midnight. Sangria my ass. I mean it tasted extra nice,
    bootilicious, but they’d run out of ice
    and Jessica and Jake had already left. Half an hour later
    three spluttering purple volcanoes
    of indeterminate size, but perfectly harmless and hospitable,
    spun winking out of the texture of the tabletop,
    pouring forth an interminable wordlist full of words
    into pulsating Buddha-faced saucers. My armchair
    floated in the breeze over the seaweed-infested carpet
    dead to rights. I was chary of wading through its Dead Sea
    waters, though I needed to pee. My buddy goes man,
    I think we just drank some acid, should’ve
    poured the stuff that’s on the table but I wanted it cold
    from the fridge cuz they’ve no ice
    so anyway we can always and later too you know
    all that, now best stay where you are, best to just to hang in look
    I know you have to pee “like ouch” but listen
    I’ve been thinking this week all week every day
    for three years now, it’s driving me nuts I’ve always
    wanted to talk you up about how you know sometimes
    that feeling that we call sublime or subliminal whichever
    you can also feel it right that wholesome feeling
    a bird tipping from branch to branch to branch in luminous light
    a bee crawling from bract to bract a strange kind of lyric feeling
    the inexpressible what we felt in childhood
    is really what we’re all about like they’re cluing you in on it now
    gluing suing slewing you in on it. Spack,
    a strange music turned itself on and wouldn’t quit,
    that bizarre non-quitter music. Anyway when they sang
    happy birthday dear Humphrey
    at 2 a.m. I needed to pee especially badly
    and trudged off through the interminable apartment
    though my buddy hadn’t yet finalized his discourse.
    I’d never been in a non-finite apartment before,
    after 27 rooms I stopped counting
    because I almost wet my pants before finding the bathroom
    plus had to wait another ten minutes
    while someone was getting sick in there.
    And finally when I felt I was going back to normal
    and washing my hands, I saw in the mirror,
    which was in the key of E flat minor,
    myself as a winged demon with golden horns on top
    and colored rotating spirals for my pupils, my stare
    expressive of the universal doom.
    Then there was a descent down the three-mile jade
    staircase and gigantic escalades of diamond snow.
    My buddy and I sat to our heart’s content on steaming grilles
    in the pavement by the Store 24 warming ourselves
    (though in fact it was hot) with other nocturnal characters,
    who thankfully seemed to know no English, and in the end
    I realized that we are chemical through and through,
    so determinate and so chemical, while sliding in crystal insects up
    the conic mountain of spacetime, with its mass but no weight,
    pure composition. Soon by the creaking of refreshed pedestrians
    I opened up to the idea that there was one hour left until the lecture.
    Is supermarket coffee inherently such a palette of taste,
    or was it the radically contingent chemistry of my palate
    that temporarily made it so? My buddy had left to sleep it off
    (wish I had his worries), but I tried to recompose alone
    the ordinary coherency of life. All I heard were the dubious
    reverberations of a mid-90s train passing underground.
    Savonarola’s sermon, to which I had eventually made it
    across the Alps, focused on the ideals of asceticism, poverty
    and visionary piety. His project of a bohemian republic
    appealed to me deeply as I took faithful notes
    diagonally across my notebook (which was unliftable).
    Fellow aspirants peeked at me inquisitorially,
    but I waved them off, staring at the preacher’s
    skinny jowl, enormous nose, dark cowl in profile. Then
    I had nothing left or planned for the rest of Saturday
    except to get home to my two-bit moth-devoured
    studio with its many topological holes
    and zip up my brain. I stepped across some literature
    to my solitary bed, dedicated exclusively to the twin purposes
    of study and sleep, and elongated myself as best I could.
    Sleep was out of the question, issues of the irreducible
    multiplicity pressing harshly upon my overburdened lobes.
    I yearned to be one, complete, so I arched and reached
    for the telephone. Yes, dropped some acid last night
    first time ever, haven’t slept. Please come save me,
    I hate acid. You hadn’t slept much since New York either,
    but you arrived instantly, as if wading through atrocious snow
    came as naturally to you as levitation to a saint.
    I laughed suddenly, for the first time in a month,
    shocked to discover your red hair had its usual color.
    You had American Spirit cigarettes (I was out),
    and in minutes we stood at the foot of Lee Bo’s Cantonese Kitchen,
    whose second floor seemed unreachable on foot.
    I sighed with relief in the pentatonic elevator.
    In the bathroom things went well this time,
    no dragons in the mirror. You fed me with a spoon,
    then with chopsticks. The hot and sour soup
    was indeed hot and sour, it counteracted my internal chill,
    and the salt jumbo shrimp were verily salty and jumbo.
    The green tea you poured into me sip by tiny sip
    made me realize for the first time
    how perfect we were for each other. I wept like a whale.
    You had changed my chemical composition forever.


  2. June 7, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    from HOMAGE TO NADAR (for Susan Sontag)

    Charles Garnier

    If no one had heard of you, it was hardly your fault, more likely a foretaste of the stubborn obscurity still to come—graduating with a Grand Prix, you buggered away your hopes in Greece, begging permission from the puzzled Turks to measure intervals between the pillars of Zeus Panhellenios, coy yourself about the purpose but doggedly coloring the friezes faded past recognition while Aegina lay ripe for the taking under your hands: the boys, the nymph and her polychrome marbles were no preparation for fame, nor a dozen water-colors “well received” at the 1860 Salon… Who was more astonished than yourself, next year, when your Opéra was chosen from all their monumentalities? But if we have accepted everything we have missed something—war. Until that came too, and your monster had to abide thirteen years and a German occupation before it stood revealed—exposed—to history and your doom: preposterous success and silence to the end, which included your plans for the Casino at Monte Carlo and sculptures commissioned from Doré and Sarah Bernhardt! Chance and Art, superior sports between your wars and ours, diversions made you immortal, loved and forgotten. Your coat bulges below the Order of… what? And your hair is beyond disorder: did they wear steel-wool wigs in the Paris of Napoléon III? You regard what Nadar called the objective straight on, young still, and with the intrepid stare of a very brave ram, cornered but not cowed.


    Sarah Bernhardt

    Often enough you were naked under the cloak in those days; gentlemen drank and waited, murmuring deprecations till the cloak dropped and your arms which would dishevel the world—those white serpents, Hugo called them—were exposed, thin as your legs, thin and white, but rusted here, then here, the rest white and hard… Not yet: you have not yet had success on the stage, and if you were a mother two years back, Maurice never knew his father—did you? A nun, you wanted to be a nun, and became a sculptor, one craning female torso sent each year to the Salon, ardent clay ladies in postures of possession. Mortal will is already your mode, undressed, uncombed, probably unwashed—you are the child he wrote in French for, Oscar who understood your crying need and overheard, just thirty years too late, the voice of Salome, pure gold bangles on a tin wire pulled to breaking, and of course the wire did break. You seem to be regarding, on cue but still offstage, in the studio, the resonant hells your talent sanctified for decades of unbelievers. And taught your century its lesson, dying in La Gloire, your last relâche attended by a house of fifty thousand: dazed Paris, unforgiving, relented for your farewell tour of duty which was to doubt if either the Heavenly City or that wan shade of it our dreams have perpetuated can function, flourish or even form unless it include its opposite, unless in heaven there is hell. Divine Sarah.


    Victor Hugo
    The deathbed portrait

    You made darkness your own secret and declared “no one keeps secrets better than children.” Yours kept theirs best of all, dying or delirious before you—no: you were always mad, but always alive until this pious keepsake showed you had no secrets left to keep, lying dead as Charles and François, mad as Adèle, merely one more carcass in your century’s series of clean old men who look like God. Yet cover yourself with light as with a garment—even your beard, still growing under eyes grown still, becomes a burning bush. Yourself! Who troubles now to identify such remains, consequences of a theory condemned, like every theory, to masterpieces or else to oblivion—who finds you out today? Swinburne was your last zealot, Gide regretted, and we—we doubt everything but the frenzied aquarelles which prove real silence is the end of language, not just the stopping of it. No darkness here, no secret save the impression of being a personage who became extinct without ever having been a volcano… Your face is Faust’s but with the light of hell gone out of it, replaced by magnesium and an embargo from heaven, Daumier said, because you insisted so on calling God cher maître. Ancient of Days and innocent of days, take this day our daily darkness for who you were, the chiaroscuro lesson taken but never given: there is only one pleasure—that of being alive. All the others are a misery.


    Honoré Daumier

    The absurd has its reasons which the reason absorbs: now the outlines throb when you draw, and the decade of sight left you will leave you diligently vulnerable to the long littleness of life, who revealed so little else—for you humanity was definable broadly by its weaknesses or narrowly as your crayon could encroach upon the printed province of that other Honoré who found the fraud in your tiny lead sculptures: “This man has a touch of Michelangelo in him trying to get out!” You gaze into the future which is darkness gathering at the far end of Nadar’s studio, as if you understood that from now on you must force the edges of things to fulfill their centers—to you it is apparent that the first portrait was a skull. No wonder you can paint nothing, these days, but Sancho and his Don, flesh and the mad bones coursing across a bright plain which is hell with hope in it, the real hell. Shadows are wanted; you work by too much light to believe the visible—we need to keep in the shade of Something that is greater than what we see and that we don’t want to face all the time. You will provide manner with fact and let matter, thus obscured, dispose of itself. What you have kept will earn its keep, not theory but thirst, one vision sustaining you twenty blind years: it is a truth that all men are tragic, even a sublime truth; it is a truth equally sublime that all men are comic. And you never lied.


    Jacques Offenbach

    Your great days are gone, great days are always gone and only the clothes remain to prove how rich you were and if German once or even Jewish, still French by Imperial decree and the Emperor’s own tailor. Yards of sable cannot smother apprehensions—bankruptcy hovers like the next good tune, and you strain your ears for that inspired stammer which precedes all melody… Henceforth there will be no major breakthroughs but some marvelous backsliding: the vogue has grown too vast for suave allusions to Verdi and Meyerbeer—your magenta period—hence a skeleton in pince-nez and puce knit gloves prepares one more time to rape the double-bass, a cantor’s son from Cologne now “the little Mozart of the Champs-Elysées” according to Rossini, who should know. Your face is a cold rooster’s, old cock fresh out of sunrises, and you take off your pince-nez as carefully as if it were a dragon-fly, breathing brimstone on the lenses. To the pure all things are rotten, and you have made music so profligate it is no wonder more Germans would come to Paris and suppress it with cannonballs. Whereupon the foam died down. Not even the New World can indemnify Orpheus from your underworld; miracles of wit and monsters of moral obtuseness sufflaminate your hopes for Hoffmann (never heard) by one last succès d’animosité … Genius balked only because you could not bear to be alone with talent: the will says free and the world says lost.


    Gioachino Rossini

    How much you could have told me, Maestro, about wigs (who needs to know it all), wearing here a sleek horsehair effrontery over frizzled white sideburns, brazening the vast fraud past vanity or art, even wearing, sometimes, two, one on top of the other—for warmth, you claimed, extinguishing cheeky stares by a “speaking likeness,” this hard look that says I know I’m making a fool of myself, but what else have I left? Valetudinarianism lasting twenty years has its lesson to teach: a man must begin to love in order to avoid falling ill, as Freud subsequently reported. Gift or giveaway, success and its sequel, silence, equally immense, round off every corner of your countenance, and behind those lizard lids the words genius and failure represent nothing really existing, only a stage of understanding ourselves. Not that you breathed such words, for breathing came hard—they are what you would have said had you been bribed (by Wagner, say) to defend yourself. Instead you merely changed wigs and smiled, satisfied to speak by means of some brief exhalation, much as a Mohammedan might spit, and by writing more tiny pieces with your left hand (though for both); as if to inquire, by that very restraint of ecstasy which makes all leisure possible—no instigator now, merely an institution—“Where is the life that is not a new defeat? Yet where is the life that was not always meant for a kind of victory?”


    Richard Wagner
    A disputed portrait by Nadar Jeune

    No props—for once we have you unstaged, ideal genius at forty without wadded-silk dressing-gown, wine-velvet beret, a villa filled with idols. You stare off-camera at—what? Here at least there is more than meets the ear cocked, this moment, for Frau Wesendonck’s praises and for Cosima’s prayers—so much more ardent, at sixteen, than Minna’s: a few infidelities will bring far less sorrow than the long-drawn-out disloyalty of desire. What we see is what we dream you must have been, boldly readying yourself for what Baudelaire called the greatest honor a poet can have: to do no more and no less than what he intended. Until your will had been done, the difference between sanity and hysteria, illusion and reality, had always been a matter of time: what was real, what was sane, had always lasted longer—only truth was continuous. You would alter that, transform our fears and even our fatigue, you would force time to change shape and by cold legerdemain, from Ortrud to Klingsor, make event, mere happening, into duration, having discovered the center of our every appetite is in its metamorphoses. Wait, though—dates conflict, the size of the plate is wrong, and you hated Nadar; for a man just over five feet, could these long shanks be yours? Experts shrug, and we are left with the old dissatisfactions: complete understanding of a dream includes the knowledge that it is one, and such knowledge wakes us up. This is not you.


    Charles Baudelaire

    You were the hero inherent in Eros—“builder of cities” all right but saboteur as well—wherefore you despised such indispensable prey as readers who failed, despite your example, to pluck themselves a garden from the garbage of the past. If we look hard at things they seem to look back; out of a writhing greatcoat you stare at us with that splendid impatience which is the deepest French virtue, “taken” by your lifelong friend between hyperboles—at one extreme, lilac gloves and black curls to your collar, at the other, Jeanne’s insulted beauty and bald paralysis—but here implacable, holding fast to a passion for exactitude. Today you published ten poems you wanted to call Lesbiennes until advised by Hyppolite Babou to name them Fleurs du Mal… Why not? You are so busy with your current Poe translations and puzzled by favors to be curried from George Sand, “poor dear dreadful little lady, always having a crow to pick with Jean-Jacques!” You look at things, though, look until you don’t know if they are you or you they: it is the moment when what was ruin becomes a model, Paris a synonym for both. Arbiter of ennui, you rummage on: Mexican idols, a gilded Buddha, rag dolls might as well be our true God, offensive concretion of the temporal process. We cannot erect the New Jerusalem until we destroy Babylon; what do we use in the building, you asked, but the same damned stones?


    Edmond and Jules de Goncourt

    Fiction was no help, though folly more than fact was what you found diverting and made more than that for us—made it something halfway between dirty and divagation, incidentally making yourselves, into the bargain, masters of a vipers’ nest coiled underneath every page, masquerading as footnotes. Fancy discovering you both so handsome here, yet for once indistinct—the blur is surely not Nadar’s but some morose confusion of your own—say the confession of “two lives never parted in labor or in pleasure,” knee to knee, white hands guarding cavernous crotches. Of course one of you went first (syphilis at forty: so you must have been parted once in pleasure), while the other just went on with the Journal, year by year… Writing together, your task has been shedding one kind of glory to take up another, yet it was child’s play to you, and you took a child’s delight in it, pouring vinegar on troubled waters with a sort of awed contempt while, during the dark discipline of Paris days, all your bibelots rattled in the Rue Saint-Georges each time Baron Haussmann’s wreckers struck again. Meanwhile you needed nothing but each other; well, you had each other—no one reads you now, and no wonder: a man writes to say, I am not the only one, and you were two. Then Jules died, and you, no longer “raising your eyelids as if taking off your clothes,” in Gautier’s words, you, Edmond, sat down again to write… Come dust now, come shadows, for the world is dead.


    Gustave Doré

    This is your last thin moment. Work fed you well, wealth followed and fondled—no wonder the Goncourts mocked your pink face, “the full moon in a magic lantern.” England, at least, could be persuaded to switch the lantern on: Biblical landscapes the Salon regularly refused, huge leathern daubs, sold out in the London shop you bought to show them in. And all the rest, save Maman, was a cheat—smart young men who aped your mufflers and marveled at the magic would not withstand your ardors. As if something was out of scale… How the size of things disappoints (your Ancient Mariner, even your Wandering Jew were tiny tempests in the vast black teapots you brewed them in), not because they are so small but because the mind itself is so huge. The engravings persisted at a heat so white it would melt the very heart in your mouth. Soon you had illustrated two hundred books, and no one came to dinner; Maman was dead; the ink dried in its well; your Strasbourg was German now… And at fifty, having prevailed on the world to see its classics your way, you blew up, eclipsed by your own garish luck. You swallowed too much, even the one boy who stayed (for brandy, you pleaded): le gigolo malgré lui… When nothing was left to eat you had to die: as long as some reality remains outside us, we are still alive come hell or high water, both of which came with remarkable frequency until fire was just fussy and the flood frivolous. Then the page went blank.


    Théophile Gautier

    My God, you’re my age and look at you: a wreck! Lank across the “ruined brow” and rippling to the ripely crusted collar, rusty locks to which no nose but yours has the key—your cheeks furrow away from it as though from a prow till the rancid wake of your beard rusts out in the shallows. You have been had feature by feature, all fine once, all foul now, till only your eyes, sandbagged against what overflow? stare from the leavings of wine, women and hashish. What are you wearing? White leather, it looks like, a gown from Turkey, throttled with a scarf, below the scurf, from Liberty… When the divine beds become mortal battlefields, this flesh is the result: you had no need of heaven or of hell either, but lived instead on chaos, reminding us improper was first used of humans in your 1850s… I guess I love you even so, for beyond the national satisfactions of the mouth, beyond in fact the daily business of revelation, you symbolize the paradox assaulting us when we learn that history is merely experience. Your hands are not seen—they shake too much to show—but it is a prejudice to suppose instability must be sad or trivial; only those who can still love their faults make good confessions, and yours are as good as the Devil, who is always the other thing than God, God gone to the Devil. No, not love, it is envy I feel, contemplating you, your fate consumed by sacred couplings in a burning world—consummated.


    George Sand

    You were comrades, compères, Nadar had even named a balloon after you, so when, that afternoon in his studio—though you were sixty, beyond seduction or at least beyond seducing, irreproachably chaptered at Nohant in a rustle of no more than imaginary copulation—when he asked you to sit for him as Racine you went along with the gag, if it was one, wrapped yourself in red velvet and a Louis-something wig left around for fancy-dress parties, and lo! disclose yourself a classic in precisely the moral drag you managed to forgo for a lifetime of thriving on what others call intuition, though it is in fact no more than a subtle human power of noticing, or attention, or simply trust in experience. Neither the grande dame your dreadful novels flouted nor the grande amoureuse you flattered yourself your lovers were not up to, you still belong with the subversive poet you take off or put on here, for you have discovered that to make choices is nothing, to take them less—to create choices is everything. The ones you created were a trap Racinian enough for your disguise: releasing inhibitions is quite as compulsive, repetitive and hysterical an operation (and opus) as repressing them. Perhaps a genius though never a gentleman, you pose with a flamboyant frumpishness past the dull coquetries of sex, serenely heretical, efficient, real.


    A portrait by Nadar Jeune

    (For Rosalind Kraus)

    You will be obscured by a cloud of postures and a roster of great names, but here, in your high thirties, you can hardly be more distinct, distinguished by hair, hope and the heroic resolution to present life with an image unretouched—had it not been the fallacy of centuries to correct ? Edited, glossed, conflated, expurgated—what was left to believe in? All men are mad when they are alone, almost all women : that was your text and your testimony, the acknowledgement of a balloonist whose pride it was to announce that countless things have been seen and remain to be seen, and for whom humility was equivalent to seeing things as they are, opacity being a great discoverer. Why else is it your portraits loom likelier for us now than all preening identifications since? Because you made your Act between consenting adults a Sacred Game wherein the dead god is recognized, the change being from darkness to light and revelation—the god reborn. You were our demiurge: from a world where chaos and cosmos are superimposed, from a world where anything can happen but nothing happens twice, you spoke your fiat lux or fiat nox to bring forth the creation of nature against nature within nature. Now you have sixty years in which to retrieve the visionary from the visual, then fade into the once and future classics, leaving us to enlarge on what cannot be divided, individuals.

    Richard Howard


  3. Anonymous said,

    December 5, 2013 at 3:16 am

    Alas, the end.

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