THE SENSITIVE POET LOOKS BACK

m-love

Looking back makes me sick and gives me vertigo;

Remembering is not what I like to do.

I see the dying and it doesn’t help at all that the dying is slow

Or that the blur of everything contributes to the fading of you.

So I’ve given up being sentimental and collecting photographs;

I’m clearing my mind of clutter and sorrow;

Now all I need is today: a few errands, a few laughs,

Yesterday is gone; I’m getting ready for tomorrow.

What finishes a line is its finish, its end;

As a poet I’ve trained myself to tie things up;

Only when the poem is really done will I hit ‘send.’

A poem is perfect when I perfectly fill the cup.

This means I don’t care about you anymore.

Pouring out the cup is very simple to do.

Be careful when you fall in love with a “sensitive” poet.

You will never forget him as fast as he forgets you.

 

 

THE GOOD ECONOMY

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The bomb: it creates jobs

The economy is what keeps us stupid and enslaved.

A “good” economy sells lots of stuff to lots of people.

A “good” economy employs lots of people.

So a “good” economy means

1. Work

and 2. Stuff

Work and stuff.

These two things are precisely what makes most of us miserable.

You see the problem, here?

Fear not; this is not a Marxist critique—this is not another whiny complaint about “capitalism,” whatever that it is—we refer simply to “the economy,” buying and selling, working and producing: it impacts all of us and determines our fate to a very large extent, and we all know what it is; no college degree claptrap needed here.

The more stuff that is made and sold, the more work that is done, the better the economy is, and what does this mean? That more people are actively miserable—waking up early to go to horrible jobs, which in turn employs more people, causing even more misery, as misery contributes to misery.

The “good” economy, which naturally traffics in the plentiful, makes all kinds of stuff available to us: packaged, copyrighted, detailed, complex, addicting, minute, crass, advertised, wasteful, useless, to some degree or other, which breeds more jobs, making more stuff, to expand and deal with all the stuff and choices which are endlessly expanding for the sake of the “good” economy.

The “good” economy has its own reason for existing.  The very thing which makes us miserable, the “good” economy, is the measure of human happiness. Everything else is private and intangible, but the economy impacts everything nonetheless.

It is all that matters to us as human beings (who do not live on a desert island), for the alternative, the “bad” economy, equals unemployment, starvation, ignorance, third-world dictatorship, torture, disease, and death.

There is no escape from this.

The choice is either Stuff or Death.

The choice is either Dumbest Job In The World or Freezing Torture Prison.

Even the “dignified” professions are corrupt in order to make the economy “good.”

Medicine pursues patients for unnecessary “cures.”

Universities recruit illiterates to “educate.”

The Law extorts.

Banking manipulates.

Government wastes.

Restaurants diminish.

Construction bullies.

Politics divides.

Engineers sue.

Scientists politicize.

The military razes.

Art socializes.

Morals decay.

Journalism obeys.

The “good” economy, in order to expand, must get rid of the old, because whatever is old interferes with the “good” economy.

“Progressives” who attack capitalism (the good economy) are well-meaning dupes who add to the folly even more than others, since their “out-with-the-old” solutions only make things worse; many look to progressives to solve the problem—which they only exacerbate. The “simple life” which progressives push is merely a sub-industry which would not exist without the larger one.

Because the old gets in the way, the “good” economy needs not only to corrupt, but destroy.

What was the greatest boost to “the economy” in history?

World War Two.

Is the dilemma now clear?

You are not crazy.

Human society is crazy.

It’s the economy, stupid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BEN MAZER: TWO NEW POEMS

 

To Look At Them

To look at them, who moved so easily
between the garden or the railway station,
who sat for hours where the boats came in,
with little movements fused in unity,
as if each were a breeze jostling the other,
drinking their coffee, talking of next to nothing,
could one perceive what brought these two together,
firm in their bond through any kind of weather?
Now that their endless conversation’s done,
the morning cigarettes, and seaside sun,
the fairs, the city days, the nights alone,
who is there to pardon or condone
the reasons such a two should be as one,
or make a world out of the observations
they shared through all their many incarnations,
or break the existence of their summer dinners,
or other such bright realities disperse?
A cat might notice: lace curtained unities
of street and tree, long pregnant nights in winter,
of rainy days through all their perorations;
but what is there left to give the faintest hint
or evidence that these two did exist?
Now they are done, by whom shall they be missed?

 

_____________________________________________

In Spring A Strange Pervasive Smell Persists

In spring a strange pervasive smell persists,
life sprouts and quickly overtakes the earth,
recalling the roots of language to our midst,
fear organizes fevered jabberings
to meet the strange utility of sex.
Men walk outside of houses, mottled hues
of bright light flashing through windshaken leaves.
An infant’s nose is pressed against the glass
to see dissolving motion as they pass,
like marks of crayon in a coloring book.
An oriole sits like a monument
upon a fountain, pecking at new life.
The kings an English grandmother recounts
possess no names or faces, flashing sounds
that till the earth, where glass keeps the wind out.
Who are the dead who lately walked the earth,
leaving their images on what remains,
peopling the leisure of more recent talk?
And still a strange pervasive smell persists,
countering the wind, and alienating rock.
Night comes. A castle sheds long celtic hair,
intoxicating the evaporate air,
and ideal spirits which are never there.
A hat rack stands unused inside a hall,
but peeped at on a constitutional,
visible through the grand, obstructive glass
of imperious houses, silent as we pass.
The author’s house on the long country drive,
residual before we were alive,
fixes the morning with a pleasant stare.
But how do we know that we are really there,
and not some wheelbarrow rotting in the sun,
where gardeners like Socrates will come?
The jungle lashes woman to his man,
where poison orchids spread their inhuman plan.
Yet evening brings its after dinner sleep
in private clubs where members mustn’t speak,
sprawling in armchairs with a newspaper,
dreaming of Cleopatra and Ben Hur,
strange portraits apparitions will concur,
waking to contorted puzzlements,
a low cacophony the learned stir.
Town meetings end, parting each councilor,
and still a strange pervasive smell persists,
hounding your footsteps, on the long walk home.
What force is rising up in all these things,
these pallid rejuvenations of the spring’s?
Fear is all, uprising through the roots
of consciousness and language, to diffuse
broken perspectives irreconcilably,
substances nourishing the truly free.
In Boston the tall houses brightly lit
sleep impenetrable and separate.
Who hears the imprecations of these things?
A celtic maiden at her window sings,
calling to lovers who do not exist.

GETTING WHAT YOU WANT

Getting what you want
Always depends on someone else;
Even if you are the sun,
You need the glass to be seen;
A wall will keep you out—though you make the whole world green.

The road is built by the government,
But the government is built by a man;
You have to do what you need to do; you have to do what you can.
The label they give you does not matter,
Though you may think it does—
It was for their convenience, and they have moved on;
Conveniently, the reason for everything is gone.
They didn’t just give you a stomach,
They gave you a stomach to fill—
So nothing is what it is, unless it has a will
Imprisoned, or free,
And nothing is what it needs to be
Unless it needs what doesn’t need it
As when love falls into a life but is forced to quit
By triviality getting in the way of it,
And it may need you

For a year, or maybe if you’re lucky, two—
Or unlucky, if what needs you is ill—
Then it is you against its will,
The sunlight hoping to get inside
Where you sleep fitfully; where you hide.

HOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED—MERRY CHRISTMAS

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The art of pop music may be simple, but its sociology is endlessly complex.

The Beatles first movie, A Hard Day’s Night, released 50 years ago last summer, featured the no. 1 song, “A Hard Day’s Night,” from the album of the same name; it was an immensely successful Beatles signature song which charted for the entire second half of 1964, and into 1965.

The lyrics of “A Hard Day’s Night” express what is now a rather outdated sentiment: the hard-working man comforted by the domesticated wife.

It’s been a hard day’s night and I’ve been working like a dog. It’s been a hard day’s night and I should be sleeping like a log. But when I get home to you I find the things that you do will make me feel alright. You know I work all day to get you money to buy you things. And it’s worth it just to hear you say you’re going to give me everything. So why on earth shall I moan cos when I get you alone you know I feel okay. When I’m home, everything seems to be right. When I’m home feeling you holding me tight.

These words sum up the key trope of society.

Fifty years ago, in the post-war boom, a husband working “all day,” could support his stay-at-home wife, who in turn, was happy to please her husband by “holding” him “tight.”

Here—in a pop song—is the single most pertinent social and economic fact of our era: the man can no longer support his wife; she must work, too, and further, she often chooses to work—an added feature in the collapse of the life “A Hard Day’s Night” depicts.

Not only do the lyrics of “A Hard Day’s Night” reflect

1. the crucial economic fact of our time,

but the changes implied in the song are at the center of every significant social issue, as well:

2. feminism, as just mentioned; also

3. the plight of Blacks, with the absence (and incarceration) of black fathers, and,

4. the rise of radical Islam, driven by hatred of the “freedoms” in the West, precisely those mostly feminist ones which have undone the world of “A Hard Day’s Night.”

We do not wish to seem guilty of our own “fundamentalism” by making the lyrics of “A Hard Day’s Night” the template of everything that matters, but isn’t it remarkable how words such as “when I’m home, everything seems to be right” and “I work all day to get you money to buy you things,” an innocent, euphoric, pop song from 1964, sits, in its simple expression—that very innocence now questioned—at the center of everything?

 

 

 

SCARRIET’S HOT 100— AS WE RING OUT A WILD 2014!

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Olé, Olena!  No. 4 on the Scarriet Hot 100

1. Claudia Rankine –Seems everyone wanted her to win the National Book Award

2. Louise Gluck –Won the National Book Award. Coming into focus as morbid lyricist

3. Dan Chiasson –Coveted reviewing perch in the glossy pages of the New Yorker

4. Olena K. Davis –Praised by #3 for “Do you know how many men would paykilldie/for me to suck their cock? fuck

5. Terrance Hayes –2014 Best American Poetry Editor for David Lehman’s annual series (since 1988)

6. Patricia Lockwood –Her book, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals made NY Times most notable 2014 book list

7. Rita Dove What was all that fuss about her anthology, again?

8. Henri Cole —Poetry editor part of mass resignation at New Republic

9. Valerie Macon –appointed laureate of North Carolina, resigned due to firestorm because she lacked credentials

10. Helen Vendler –Contributing editor in TNR’s mass exodus

11. Glyn Maxwell –British poet and editor of The Poetry Of Derek Walcott 1948-2013

12. James Booth –author of Philip Larkin: Life, Art, and Love

13. Afaa Michael Weaver  –this spring won the Kingsley Tufts Award: $100,000 dollars

14. Frederick Seidel –Stirred outrage with a strange poem about Ferguson.

15. Clive James –Got into some controversy about racism and sex reviewing Booth’s book on Philip Larkin in the Times

16. William Logan –The honest reviewer is the best critic.

17. Ron Silliman –Elegy & Video-Cut-and-Paste Blog

18. John Ashbery –Perennial BAP poet

19. Cathy Park Hong –Wrote “Fuck the Avant-garde” before Brown/Garner protests: Hong says poetry avant-garde is racist.

20. Philip Nikolayev –Poet, translator, Fulcrum editor, currently touring India as beloved U.S. poetry guest

21. Marilyn Chin –Poet, translator, new book from Norton, currently touring Asia as beloved U.S. poetry guest

22. Daniel Borzutzky –Guest blogger on Poetry Foundation’s Blog Harriet: “We live in an occupied racist police state”

23. Ben Mazer –Brings out Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom—as po-biz churns with racial indignation

24. Nathaniel Mackey –Headlined poetry reading at Miami Book Fair International.

25. Marjorie Perloff  —Now we get it: the avant-garde is conservative

26. Amy Berkowitz –Wrote on VIDA Web page how everyone has been raped and how we can be safe.

27. Yelena Gluzman –Ugly Duckling editor publishes vol. 3 of annual document of performance practice, Emergency Index

28. Carol Ann Duffy –British poet laureate gave riveting reading in Mass Poetry festival (Salem, MA) this spring

29. P.J. Harvey –Rocker to publish book of poems in 2015—Good luck.  Rock is easier.

30. Christian Nagler –poet in Adjunct Action: “SF Art Institute: faculty are 80% adjunct and have no say in the functioning of the institution”

31. Major Jackson –Wins $25,000 NEA grant.

32. Divya Victor –Her book, Things To Do With Your Mouth, wins CA Conrad’s Sexiest Poetry Award.

33. Kenny Goldsmith  —wears a two-million-ton crown

34. Donald Hall –new book, Essays After Eighty

35. Mary Oliver –new book, Blue Horses: Poems

36. Charles Wright –2015’s U.S. Poet Laureate

37. Stephen Burt –Harvard critic looking for funny stuff other than Flarf and Conceptualism.

38. Vijay Seshadri –2014 Pulitzer in Poetry

39. Ron Smith –The new poet laureate of the great state of Virginia!  North Carolina still waits…

40. Sherman Alexie –the first poet in BAP 2014. It used to be Ammons.

41. Erin Belieu  –Hilarious poem spoofing Seamus Heaney in her new book, Slant Six

42. Robert Pinsky  –has influence, authority and a lisp

43. Billy Collins –Becoming critically irrelevant?

44. Adam Kirsch –Senior Editor and poetry critic, also saying goodbye to TNR

45. Cornelius Eady  –co-founded Cave Canem.

46. Anne Carson –One of those poets one is supposed to like because they’re a little deeper than you…

47. Lucie Brock-Broido  –Emily Dickinson refuses to be channeled

48. Tony Hoagland  –still smarting from that tennis poem

49. Bob Hicok –He’s the new Phil Levine, maybe?

50. Yusef Komunyakaa –Won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1993

51. Eileen Myles –Just published a novel about her younger days

52. Sharon Olds  –still glowing from her 2013 Pulitzer win, the book showcasing her exploded marriage

53. D.A. Powell –Studied with Vendler at Harvard

54. Cate Marvin –In BAP 2014 and on fire with p.c indignation.

55. Dean Young  –wants to be the best poet ever—in a late 70s Iowa Workshop sort of way

56. Chris HughesTNR owner: “Despite what has been suggested, the vast majority of our staff remain…excited to build a sustainable and strong New Republic that can endure.”

57. Alan Cordle –changed poetry forever with his Foetry.com

58. George Bilgere  –patiently enduring the Collins comparisons

59. William Kulik –the ‘let it all hang out’ prose poem

60. Amy King –Northern Lesbo Elitist

61. Leah Finnegan –Wrote in Gawker of TNR: “White Men Wrong White Man Placed in Charge of White-Man Magazine.”

62. Jorie Graham –Get ready!  Her Collected is coming!

63. David Kirby –“The Kirb” teaches in Florida; a less controversial Hoagland?

64. Don Share –edits the little magazine that prints lousy poetry and has a perfunctory, cut-and-paste blog

65. Paul Lewis –BC prof leading Poe Revisionism movement

66. Robert Montes –His I Don’t Know Do You made NPR’s 2014 book list

67. Cameron Conaway –“beautifully realized and scientifically sound lyrics” which “calls attention to a disease that kills over 627,000 people a year” is how NPR describes Malaria, Poems 

68. Charles Bernstein –He won. Official Verse Culture is dead. (Now only those as smart as Bernstein read poetry)

69. Richard Howard –Did you know his prose poems have been set to music?

70. Harold Bloom  –He has much to say.

71. Camille Paglia  –Still trying to fuse politics and art; almost did it with Sexual Personae

72. Vanessa Place –This conceptualist recently participated in a panel.

73. Michael Bazzett  —You Must Remember This: Poems “a promising first book” says the New Criterion

74. Matthea HarveyIf the Tabloids Are True What Are You? recommended by Poets.Org

75. Peter Gizzi –His Selected Poems published in 2014

76. Mark Bibbins –Poets.Org likes his latest book of poems

77. Les Murray –New Selected Poems is out from FSG

78. Michael Robbins –writes for the Chicago Tribune

79. Stephen Dunn –The Billy Collins school—Lines of Defense is his latest book

80. Robin BeckerTiger Heron—latest book from this poet of the Mary Oliver school

81. Cathy Linh CheSplit is her debut collection; trauma in Vietnam and America

82. John Gallaher –Saw a need to publish Michael Benedikt’s Selected Poems

83. Jennifer Moxley  –Panelist at the Miami Book Fair International

84. Bob Dylan –Is he really going to win the Nobel Prize?

85. Ann Lauterbach  –Discusses her favorite photographs in the winter Paris Review

86. Fanny Howe –Read with Rankine at Miami Book Fair

87. Hannah Gamble –In December Poetry

88. Marianne BoruchCadaver, Speak is called a Poets.Org Standout Book

89. Anthony Madrid  –His new book is called I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say

90. Robyn SchiffRevolver is not only a Beatles album.

91. Ted GreenwaldA Mammal of Style with Kit Robinson

92. Rachel ZuckerThe Pedestrians is out

93. Dorothea LaskyRome is her fourth book

94. Allan PetersonPrecarious is the new book: “the weed field had been/readying its many damp handkerchiefs/all along.”

95. Adrienne Raphel –“lavender first and by far”

96. Gillian ConoleyPeace is chosen as a Poets.Org Standout Book

97. Barbara Hamby  –“The Kirb” needs to know. She’s not on the list because of him.

98. Katia Kopovich –She coedits Fulcrum with husband Nikolayev.

99. Doc Luben –“14 lines from love letters or suicide notes” a slam poem viewed a lot on YouTube

100. Tracy K. Smith  2012 Pulitzer in Poetry for Life On Mars

BEYOND ALL THIS

Beyond all this
Perfect lovers kiss,
where no revenge exists,
nor reason for revenge,
nor those flaws,
which harden into laws,
As we look around, never knowing
whether the one we love
—do we love them?—
is coming or going.

Beyond all this…!
Had we such imagination,
All would be bliss!
Had I but seen!
How could I look and look and miss
That perfect kiss
Beyond all this?

 

RELIGION IS MORE SCIENTIFIC THAN SCIENCE

There is no free will.

The past cannot be altered. The past is where we live; what we call “the present” slips (even at this moment) into the past too quickly for “the present” (where free will might be possible) to really exist; the future does not yet exist, so no free will is possible there, either.

Human consciousness sits in a cinema–watching history unfold as from a single spool— the single spool (the movie) the unique and singular ‘what is.’  As various as the world seems to be, it is but one thing happening one way, and we have no free will to change it. The “movie” represents nature, physical existence, all we cannot change, but can only watch; the planets, the stars, nature, the animals: the physical universe existing in time, all these things are “in” the movie, as well as our physical selves.

We cannot leap into an actual film we happen to be watching—for as real as it seems to us, it is only a record; it belongs to the past and we have no way to change what is happening in the film. Life works the same way; just as we cannot join the cast of a movie we are watching, in the same way we are helpless to change life: free will is an illusion, and this has been demonstrated conclusively by the simple fact that we live in the past.

If we accept there is no free will, the remarkable claim of this essay’s title will be easily understood.

The only difference between a Christian and a secularist at this point, is that the Christian believes that whoever made the film is good—that whatever or whoever is responsible for the spool of existence unfolding before our souls—who sit helplessly in the theater—cares.

Human knowledge is too limited to know anything of the filmmaker—and this is a scientific fact; all we can do is speculate that the spool-maker is indifferent to our fate—or not.

The former view—the universe is indifferent—is generally thought to be scientific, the latter, religious; but actually both comprise guessing about what is completely unknown; from our helpless position in the theater, watching the record of pure physical existence unfold as what-has-already-happened, we have no way of determining the nature of the spool-maker: for we ‘live’ in the absolute past of the spool; the spool-maker’s nature is beyond our reach—and science causes us to recognize this. So a benevolent film projector is as good a guess as any. This scientific guess is at the heart of Christianity. The Christ story and all the scriptures fall apart without this initial premise: The Creator is good.

The Christ story is most significant for belonging to the past; it cannot be altered, and here it lies in the same realm as life, which also belongs to the past. The Christ story is like a film within a film; like life, it is beyond free will; it exists in the past, like our childhood.

The Christ story does not have to be “real;” the Christ story is simply the figurative expression of a past which is also beyond our free will but which has one perceptual difference from the spool of physical existence—it is governed by the premise that the spool is made by something or someone who loves us. Since we have no way of knowing the nature of the spool-maker, the scientific guess can only be expressed in a figurative manner—by a story belonging to the absolute past: nothing about religious stories escape the absolute past. Christ is past tense, just as life is.

Understanding the radical nature of the pastness of the past—and how this aspect of our existence prevents any thing approaching free will to exist—allows us to see how scientific religion actually is, since without any free will, science is far less important than supposed.

Without free will, science as we commonly understand it cannot exist, since science implies changing our environment for the better. Science exists as science in the present, but religion exists in the present as superstition; but if the present does not exist, the past favors religion and causes science as a willed phenomenon to disappear, since the all-existing past cannot contain any human will, it being only a record, a film experienced by our souls sitting passively in a theater, falsely believing the unspooling of ‘reality ‘ to be something in our control.

Our position as a theater audience with no free will is a scientific hypothesis, and therefore a speculation that the spool maker is good and that we have no free will—the religious view—is actually highly scientific, if but a highly scientific guess, since a guess is all science is allowed (scientifically) to have, when it comes to the origins and absolute nature of the universe.

Now it may be argued that even if we accept fate as our fate, and that even if we admit that life ‘just happens’ and there is, in fact, no free will, this does not mean that science cannot positively effect change—look at the advances in medicine, just to take one example. Ignorance withers away under the lynx-eye of science, and since science has improved man’s lot in specific ways, we must assume science participates in free will.

But now, in the simplest manner possible, we must say what science is: the first “scientist” simply noticed something by accident, and this is all science really is, especially inductive, trial-and-error, Baconian science, which overthrew the Dark Ages model of Aristotle’s deductive, ‘lawful,’ fixed-star science.

A prehistoric caveman notices a rock precariously balanced on the top of a cliff and speculates it will fall on him; had he not accidentally seen this, he would have been crushed by the rock—is this free will? No, it is simply the physical universe fatefully unfolding.

Science is nothing more than an accidental seeing.

Later, one man happens to see a mosquito bite another man, and like the caveman and the precariously perched rock, a future event is predicted, medicine advances, science triumphs; yet science, as we can see, is just fate allowing us to notice certain things purely by accident—think of how all scientific discoveries in history are by rule, accidents, from the apple falling on Newton’s head to the various botched experiments in labs which lead to new understanding; these are not figurative tales; accident is really how science proceeds; and now the truth of science, of what science really is, flashes upon our souls; there is nothing scientific about science at all—it is happy accident, and nothing more.

Science has nothing to do with free will.

The Space Race wasn’t science; it was war—Russia and the U. S. racing to develop missiles and rockets; the moon merely higher ground, a tactical position in a rivalry.

Did the moon rocks brought back (many, many years ago, now) by the Apollo astronauts contain the key to understanding the universe? No. Science is no closer to understanding the universe. It is a truism that the more we learn, the less we know; the more science learns about the true nature of the universe, the less science knows about the true nature of the universe.

Science is an accidental seeing which, if the scientist is very lucky, leads to some practical, perhaps even temporary, result. This is not to say that science is not vital and beneficial: but philosophically, science is far more mundane than the lay person realizes; the best of science belongs to trial-and-error, and the greatest scientific advances are due to persistence, thinking, sweat—but mostly accident.

So here we are, without free will, sitting in the “cinema” and watching “life” (the film) go by.  We have no control of what is happening in the movie (the world, life , the universe) though occasionally we have the illusion that free will exists. Science, which owes its successes to accident, to mere after-the-fact observation, is no help for the soul which sits helplessly in the cinema and longs to control its fate.

We watch ourselves, helplessly. We do the wrong thing, even though we tell ourselves over and over again not to do it. Our life—how strange!—belongs to someone else.

Every crisis in life is a crisis of free will—we are shocked to discover that what we specifically told ourselves not to do we have gone and done, and we have done so, tragically, because deep in our hearts we long for free will, and this is the only way it can be experienced: we did what we shouldn’t have done— we did it, even though we were not supposed to do it; the act itself may or may not itself be of great importance, but what matters is that our act seems, in our soul, even if unconsciously, to partake of free will.

Love is of primary importance here, because when we are really in love, and not just gas-bagging about it, or just playing at it, we are utterly helpless and acutely aware of how we cannot do anything about the movie we are watching: we cannot make the person we are madly in love with, love us, and when they say it is over, for any number of reasons stated or unstated, we can only watch helplessly “the film” which breaks our hearts: the love now belongs to the past—and this fact makes us aware of life’s awful problem: ‘life happens’ and there’s nothing we can do about it, even as it causes us intense pain.  The pain is mostly due to the fact that we cannot do anything about it; we are brought to understand that we—who we really are, our souls—merely sit helplessly in a cinema watching all that is bodily and physical and material march forward, irregardless of what we might think or feel. Love gone wrong brings us face to face with our lack of free will, a fact we never want to face, because if we understand it too well, our motivation to live will disappear, and we will numbly ‘go through the motions,’ moving through life as a mere shell, hiding as best we can our nightmare emptiness from everyone.

The life of the scientist—results hinging on ‘accident,’ is no help to us, because this is the very thing that is breaking our heart, now that love has been lost: reducing our sacred love to an ‘accident’ is a concept which breaks our already broken heart.

And yet, this is one way to heal: the love we loved was an accident and maybe an accident will happen again. And further, our lover who left us has no free will, either; they did not really reject us, for they belong to mere accident, too. And so, from the idea that the best life can be is an accident; by this rather haphazard notion, we are comforted.

The accidental nature of science is its triumph, its happiness, its ebullience, its optimistic seeking-power, its joy.  Perceiving accident as the soul of science would seem to demean it; but in fact this is not the case. We do not intend to demean science. Not at all.

Religion, however, is more imaginative, less accidental, and closer to what we think of as true scientific thinking.

Religion scorns the accidental nature of scientific inquiry, and here we see the chief difference between science and religion. They are oil and water. They do not mix.

Yet free will belongs to neither.

The choice is between the accidental and the changeless.

The changeless is the sacred fact religion seeks; the accidental, the necessary realm of practical science.

Whatever belongs to the past is changeless, and this is why sacred religion always belongs to a changeless past: the Christ story would not be sacred if we changed it all the time; it is the fixed past of Christianity, or any religion, which is the key to its sacred nature.

Love will help illustrate the difference:

Truly and madly in love, we want that love forever.  We seek, religiously, the changeless.

Out of love and broken-hearted, we seek something else: hope in the accidental.

Desperately in and out of love, seeking to understand everything, we are religious.

Patient and calmly happy, ignorant of love’s slings, we are scientific.

A HOLIDAY POEM

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A certain amount of leisure
Defines a real man,
Not doing something—even though he can.

Despair is on the face of every middle aged woman I see,
Or a kind of triumphant anger
Staring from her baggy eyes defiantly;

She works hard, and her beer belly man works hard
Doing stuff for the house and yard,
But don’t get that shit near me.

Despair lives in the weary face of every middle aged person I see.
A forty-something woman told me her cell was shutting down
For the holidays; she needed time for herself; looking in her face,
I saw the worry and the years eating her beauty
So that even her smile looked like a frown—
It was horrible. And this is not an isolated case.

The only thing I could think was: keep this shit away from me.
I want no part of mortality, its triviality and its oblivion,
And its little bouts of superficial happiness,
And its ignorance and its whining and its complaint.

There will never be an interesting thought in your head.
I want nothing to do with this.
I will kiss my slender reflection in the bathroom mirror.
Then I will write a poem.
Then I will faint.
Then picture me, if you can, asleep in my beautiful bed.

I TALK TO HER IN DREAMS

 

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I talk to her in dreams.
She dislikes me in real life, it seems.
So I talk to her in dreams.

She looks real to me—and just as lovely—in dreams
And in those dreams she talks to me—
About what? A painter has nothing to see
Until they begin to paint—
And I am no lover until I faint—

So I can’t remember what she is saying:
It isn’t something definite, like what a radio happens to be playing;
She’s a victim of expertise; I don’t know what she really feels;
In life I never understood what she was saying;

Her struggle of mind meant little to me,
Since I was entirely enamored of her beauty—

(This is sadly how it is—
The man dies of beauty, the woman dies of kids)

So what was she saying in that dream last night?
It doesn’t matter. You know it doesn’t matter,
Even if you are one of those who think, and write;
It will never matter what she said to me in that delirious dream last night,
Only that she said something, and I was there
In the dream, and she was beautiful and fair,
Cruel time—which cannot touch my dreams!—had not taken that away,
And she was speaking to me: me, who never cared what she had to say.

Even a beautiful mouth has a tendency to speak
English, when it should be speaking Greek;
Ancient Greek, without modern expertise:
She will know life has one end: to please.

But in English she will talk of some fancy modern American film where every actor is untrue,
Saying who are you talking about I am not really making this particular point to you.

 

 

 

 

 

OUR LOVE RESEMBLES LAZARUS

Our love resembles Lazarus.
Despite what fate has done to us,
Our love comes back from the dead!
You can say yes if when you said, ‘no,’
You only said ‘no’ in your head.

Our love resembles Lazarus.
Love was dead
Without breath or bread.
Now it lives again in us.

Our love resembles Lazarus.
We say, “I hate you! We’re through!”
But I love when we do,
Because that’s when we kiss even more.
Lazarus picks himself off the floor
And love becomes famous, and goes on tour,
And sells more kisses than ever before.

 

 

WHAT DO WE EAT?

What do we eat when we eat someone’s kisses?
What do we drink when we drink someone’s soul?
Why does love always leave us in pieces?
Why can’t two halves ever equal a whole?

The man wants to come home to what is his.
The woman wants some other thing.
The man wants to sing to you, to you.
The woman just wants to sing.

There is nothing a lover hates more than a friend.
One wants passion to start. One wants passion to end.
Desire defines itself in its many ends
Which must be re-started.

We find safety in useful friends;
Excitement leaves us broken-hearted.

When I kissed her, I had to kiss her again;
Kissing makes us confront the end
Of pleasure, again and again;
Too tired from desire,
We end up loving the understanding friend.

The greatest lover is the greatest mirror.
If you love yourself, you and your lover will be one,
But if you hate yourself, you will see yourself—and run.

The abortion came at six o’clock.
What had been life became a rock.
Life had gotten in the way
Of the ex-mother’s pleasant thoughts
She longed to have, if she could have just one pleasant day.

Being a woman is hard on her.
She hates it when you look at her
And quickly look away.

But what she really hates is what you want.
To look at her all day.

THE WORK OF HUNTERS IS ANOTHER THING

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.

“To please the yelping dogs” ends a thought, begins an iambic pentameter line, but doesn’t finish that line, as the poet’s argument resumes in the middle: “the gaps, I mean.”

In Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall;” the poet describes the gaps in the wall which occur, strangely, because of freezing (“frozen ground-swell”) —what is ‘frozen’ moves.

The lines, as a whole, in Frost’s poem, move languidly, argumentatively, conversationally, (“The gaps, I mean”)—in case you didn’t get it, this is what I mean; the poem, flying in the face of the canon, dares to be informal, informality as slack as a poem may get: obscurity is too slack.

“I mean” is the opposite of obscurity, the poet not ashamed to add words to make himself understood better. But in pentameter!

Charm, even of the most insouciant kind, like everything else, requires context, and the canon nicely provides it. That’s what the Tradition is for: to make things more interesting as we play handball against it, not to glumly tower above us.

Pure difficulty, pure obscurity, is never charming.

I pray, before I go to bed each night, that contemporary poets understand this.

And so here is the great crossroads of Modern Poetry in this great Frost poem of the early 20th century; two types of slackness, two roads:

The informal, which bends a few rules.

And the obscure, which breaks them all.

One leads to pleasant informality, to modern charm; the other to stupid oblivion, to slack shit.

“To please the yelping dogs” is a phrase that stays in our memory and we think for a simple and mysterious reason: to us it represents that sensual, animal life which pleases those who don’t care for poetry. “Yelping dogs” perfectly describes a life without refinement, without soul, without philosophy, without poetry. Frost uses the phrase in his poem to indicate what he does not mean.

Most people are satisfied with the “yelping dog” life, and that is all they need. Everyone needs some “yelping dog” life, but those who enjoy nothing else should not stray anywhere near poetry; they will hate its simplicity, and they will spoil it. For “yelping dog” may apply to poetry, as it may apply to everything else: an eager, noisy, social, chaotic, spirited, life can, and will, invade everything, even the so-called fine arts; it can overrun them; few are able to resist the “yelping dog” life, which is why genius and truly great art is rare. How, for instance, did the wonderful poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay get trampled? Why is “yelping” poetry, rather than beautiful poetry, critically embraced today?

Dana Gioia, reviewing Garrison Keillor’s anthology Good Poems, wrote: “Keillor’s tone is obviously designed to rile anyone who holds the conventionally high critical opinion of Moore and Plath (and the conventionally low one of Millay).”

Think on it! The “conventionally high critical opinion of Moore and Plath and the conventionally low one of Millay.”

This critical ranking is true, and it happened in a few years—Millay tumbled from her perch in the 1930s.

Except for “Daddy,”—the rhyme-song of wife-anguish which emerged from Plath as she suicidally removed herself from the world of John Crowe Ransom’s Kenyon Review, the magazine of proper Modernism (be as dull and obscure as you possibly can)—the poems of Plath and Moore do not amount to very much, while Millay’s poems rock the house down (What Lips My Lips Have Kissed and Where and Why; Dirge Without Music; And You As Well Must Die, Beloved Dust; I Being Born A Woman and Distressed; If I Should Learn In Some Quite Casual Way); Moore and Plath present difficulty for its own sake.

Reading Marianne Moore’s poetry (“all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction however…”) is like peering without understanding at the complexity of a car’s engine; reading Millay’s verse is like driving that car.

So how did this happen? How did Moore and Plath gain ascendance over Millay? It had to take a lot of “yelping dog” distraction. Moore belonged to the well-connected Dial clique of Pound, Williams, Cummings, and Eliot; Plath panted after their ascendency; Millay was rudely pushed aside by that same clique, Hugh “The Pound Era” Kenner, and a few others, providing the critical hammer blows to Millay’s reputation. The point is, it only took one well-connected clique to take Millay down, because the majority of her countrymen only cared for the “yelping dog” life. The poetry garden really has but a few gardeners (critics who set the tone).

Millay is like a supersonic jet plane—it has the potential to take a lot of people on wonderful rides, but not if it is grounded. The battle for poetry will always take place among the few, because the “yelping dogs” are so distracting, and make sure that it is only the few that care enough and focus enough on poetry to truly decide poetry’s fate. Most are simply not refined enough to fight this fight. But the fight must be fought, since poetry is a door to that which truly refines the soul.

How is the soul refined? By love, of course.

And what does poetry have to do with love?

Nothing.

Which is precisely why it takes a remarkable soul to effect the marriage; most do not see the marriage as necessary; they are like those who take for granted that light and heat permeate glass—never thinking what this common phenomenon means.

The holy marriage of poetry and love, with Beauty the priest who joins them, is a radiant truth that civilizes humanity, but tumbles into obscurity and critical censure with barely a sigh, for love is socially embarrassing, and poetry, embarrassing as well, especially in the world of the yelping dog.

Only a superhuman effort can make such a marriage accepted; the poet has to court the world, not merely describe it, and this effort makes or breaks the would-be poet. Millay wrote of love, Moore, bric-a-brac. In the fashion of the hour, bric-a-brac, while the dogs yelp, is enough for the professors’ seduction, and in the Program era, ushered in by Ransom and Moore’s Dial clique, the bric-a-brac poetry professor became all-important.

One can still see contemporary poetry critics making half-hearted, half-conscious, desultory gestures in love’s direction: for instance, see Dan Chiasson’s recent review in the New Yorker of the latest book of poems by Alaska poet Olena Kalytiak Davis, which thrills to the 51 year old poet’s “sexual power” and “romance,” going so far as to say, “authentic pining in poetry, though hard to come by, is probably necessary for any poet who wishes to become a classic.”

Here is Chiasson kind of getting it, but don’t hold your breath for a Millay revival happening any time soon.  (A few poets today following Millay confuse the vulgarity for the art.)

So many are seduced by the Marianne Moore bric-a-brac school, not because they love bric-a-brac, necessarily, but because they think ‘crunchy poetry’ will leave behind the embarrassments of heart-breaking love, and allow poetry to talk about more things, to cover more ground and more moods, pushing into areas usually confined to the political essay or the long novel. Frost, gabbing casually forever.

But the bric-a-brac wish is in vain.

Like the legendary Faust, the poet tempted by verbose worldly riches—by poetry that attempts what prose is better fitted to do—leaves behind Millay and dies beneath the heavy objects of a modern bric-a-brac poetry only the very few are canny enough to know was a terrible danger, a foolish gambit, from the start.

Even as they know of the terrible danger of love—and the pining poetry, fainting for all mankind, which dies in its arms.

YOU CAN’T HANDLE RACISM, YOU CAN’T HANDLE LOVE

She will go back to her husband
If you say the wrong thing.
If you say the wrong thing (will you? will you?)
You’ll get a slap in the face.
Don’t talk about her husband (pride is all),
Don’t talk about race.

Poetry says the wrong thing
In just the right way.
A good poet can talk racism all day.
A good poet can make the universe all about her and him.

The whole world is racism.
The whole world is wrong.
Will she be going back
If he sings that song?

THE ONLY UNCERTAIN THING IS THE HEART OF THE ONE WE LOVE

The only thing we really want
Is to feel what one we love is feeling
Tenderly and earnestly,
And with more conviction
Than we feel; it can be real. It can be fiction.
But let the other feel with more conviction.

My daughter told me why
An animated movie can make her cry
While a real tragedy in the news
Leaves her unmoved.
“Because in the movie I get the whole story,” she said;
“But a real shooting which leaves someone dead
Is always a partial story,” and suddenly
I understood the glory of artistic unity
And how the reality of its illusion is cruel:
It pushes all partial pleas into a hole.

Only the complete completely informs the soul.
Complete! Complete! The complete whole!
The other must feel with more conviction—
Since it is impossible for loving to equal being loved.
Nothing moves us more than when we are loved:
Being selected is better than selecting.
We would rather be chosen than choose—
Being picked makes us miraculous and not some piece of idle news.

When tragedy strikes me, I will turn away
From the public view. Until then, see me cry at the play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“GIRL, YOU GOT TO LOVE YOUR MAN”—WHEN HE’S ALMOST DEAD

Happy Birthday, Lizard King. Jim Morrison turns 71 this week.

We’ve come to realize that there’s nothing a woman hates more than an arrogant know-it-all. Guys can banter back and forth about ‘expert’ opinion, no matter what the subject, and even bond with each other while doing so.

Women, however, immediately grow suspicious of “experts” in the flesh. Women tend to be defensive about their intellectual clout to start with, and when ‘expert opinion’ is thrust upon them by their friends, they grow impatient very quickly.

To make up for this, however, women tend to grovel before “experts” validated by other “experts;” women, no matter how brash and cynical they are to their friends, cannot resist authority speaking from the pulpit of social acceptance: Mainstream Entertainment, Media, Publishing, Politics, and Institutions toy effortlessly with their souls and minds.

If they’ve seen it in a mainstream, well-reviewed movie with a major star, or two, or have read it in a mainstream book, or seen it in any sort of widely desseminated context, a woman is certain it is true, and whoever attempts to contradict it in person is simply an asshole.

There will always be these two levels of human life: the personal one, in which non-experts make decisions and choices about everything under the sun: how to perform every imaginable task, how much credence to give absolutely everything, the proper way to speak, to hate, to love, to laugh, to judge, and do dishes, and then the public one, in which every area is owned and contained by experts and professionals: no decisions here; this is where existence plays out in its inevitable manner.

Both realms, it is understood, are complicated and ephemeral and ever-changing, but for many, especially the constantly irritated woman, these realms are enormously different.

One, the private realm without expert-police, where you and I live our daily lives, is where the know-it-all wriggles free of all higher authority, sometimes in triumph, sometimes in humiliation, censorship, rebuke, and shame, as the humble and obedient watch either indifferently, or in pain, or in shame, or in horror.

The other, the public realm, is where the mainstream expert-police prosper, passing judgment smoothly and from on high. This is where the obedient sagely nod their heads, buying into the higher expert-wisdom—even if it makes as much sense as a homeless person rant on the back of a bus.

Some feel that all opinion, all knowledge, all wisdom, should come to us from the public expert-realm, and that mere private citizens, people in our orbit, our family and friends, may cite expert-sources, but they may not produce, intuit, or proffer any original ideas of their own; nor may friends cite experts too thoroughly—in such a way that makes them appear to be a “know-it-all.”

The key word here is “appear,” for all opinion lives in the world of appearances, and ‘being smart,’ when it comes to words—and opinions formed by words—is purely a matter of appearance—and this is true whether the opinion is offered by a non-expert friend speaking to us privately, or a “true” expert in the field speaking to millions.

The annoyance with a ‘know-it-all’ friend stems not from doubting the opinion itself, but from the work necessary to determine whether the opinion is true, or not. The far-away expert cannot help us during the private conversation and we are no help to ourselves—and this is why we grow annoyed; our own inability to discern the true worth of the opinion (without an expert’s help) is the true source of our annoyance.

Private annoyance with our friends’ private opinions occurs all the time, and is considered normal, and is even thought to be a good thing: that know-it-all got what they deserved!

But the annoyance felt is actually a terrible thing.

It hurts people, hurts the nation, harms social relations, interferes with happiness, promotes incivility, hurts democracy, and tramples free thought and intelligent conversation.

All of us are aware of this fact: Experts in the same field hold opposite views of the same thing.

A private (non-expert) opinion, precisely because it is private and immediate and non-expert, precisely because it lives in the realm of practical, tangible, personal experience, and precisely because it is forced to discern between two or more conflicting expert opinions, should be regarded as important and sacred, for such an opinion, no matter how clumsily conveyed, is finally more valuable, and more deserving of respect, than one expert’s frozen, recorded, subsidized, and removed opinion, no matter how mainstream and publicly embraced that expert’s opinion appears to be.

The feminist woman—because naturally and justifiably alive to fears of being thought inferior to men, and being taken advantage of by men—unfortunately takes a strong role in perpetuating this evil, never missing a chance to challenge and crush every private opinion a man has; and so baffling, attenuated, ethereal, removed, and impractical expert-ism, the kind which divides and silences and provides extreme power to insanity and hate, reigns over our republic with the help of throngs of otherwise good and intelligent women.

Jim Morrison, at 27 years of age, was such an alcoholic and drug-infused mess, that, despite his phenomenal success as a rock star, couldn’t perform at concerts, had no social standing, had no home, no family, no friends; the only girl he loved, Pam Courson, was shacked up with someone else (a Frenchman in Paris—where Jim hurried off to, to die) wrote in his last song lyrics, “Girl, you got to love your man. Take him by the hand. Make him understand.”

In his final agony of fashionable decadence, decay and helplessness, Morrison (d. 1971) expressed the social ill that afflicts so many today in the wake of the feminist, 1960s pied-piper, revolution: The woman is expected to make the man understand, to take him by the hand, and love him.

But women don’t love helpless men, men without self-respect, men without any ideas or will of their own; or if they do, they regret it.

The process, going on for generations now, becomes a vicious, self-fulfilling prophecy: those who think for themselves in private are punished by expert-ism (which feeds an increasingly ugly, crass public arena) which, despite the glory of its expert-ism, is just as false and misguided as that harsh rebuke in private by those who should support, not punish and harm, the attempt by private citizens to express their own thoughts earnestly, and freely.

We need to really listen to each other—and doubt the experts—as we pay attention to all opinion.

 

WHAT DOES THE HISTORY OF POETRY LOOK LIKE?

 

Thomas Eliot set the old poetry world in order, by george, he did!

T.S. Eliot was correct to remind us that the Tradition—Works in Time that We Read Now—evolves constantly as a whole by every present addition, is a unique living creature, and is not simply a chronological collection, to be ‘got at’ in a haphazard (even if the ‘getting’ is rigorously chronological) manner; Eliot’s formula only works if we see the Tradition as a whole—not that we can really see it ‘all at once,’ because, of course, it is too big for that—which we grasp in its essence (characterized by its best examples going back to its hazy but finite beginning) as that which simultaneously enriches our present efforts as poets and is enriched by our present efforts. As Eliot points out—but it goes without saying—this is a major task: first, to read and be acquainted with the Tradition, and then to be good enough to effectively add to it. And nothing less than this is required if we take ourselves seriously as poets.

Two temptations face those who would somehow fight free of the Tradition.

It is tempting to say, here’s me, the poet, and here’s the world, and that’s enough; and the Tradition—which is over here, well, we can take it and toss it in the sea. Eliot, after all, was a conservative wretch, and making the Tradition, with all its weighty past, essential, was just his way of preventing change. We can toss the Tradition in the sea, but it will just emerge again; the Tradition is the Sea; the Tradition includes the very desire to erase itself, all for the sake of change; the temptation to destroy Tradition lives and breathes in the Tradition itself; as Eliot so pointedly observed, the past is what we are; Eliot’s is not a piece of advice—it is the primary literary fact. We are not standing on the shoulders of giants; we are the shoulders, and thus, the giants.

Another temptation is to treat more recent works in the Tradition as more essential, because they are closer to us in time. This is to fall into the chronological error: more recent works are assumed—within Eliot’s very definition—to be participating in Eliot’s formula: adding and altering the past with their novelty; but new works don’t succeed on their own; they only succeed in altering the Tradition—chronology does not exist in some worldly sense; we might read a 16th century work and the Whole Tradition grows a new limb for us; to bite off what is nearest to us in time is merely the world’s chronology, not the Tradition’s, nor ours. We are learning the Tradition, not where it “fits” in the world; to fit the Tradition “into” the world, even as we regard it with scholarly and historical respect, is to drift dangerously into the error of the First Temptation, above. The Tradition is not what we know; it is how we know, and we learn it to know both it and ourselves simultaneously—once we try and observe it objectively from afar, we are lost in that profound error of the egotistical scholar and the manic, irresponsible poet, publishing in a newspaper: the news, not poetry.

The progress of the Tradition and Us in Time is not a smooth or simple one. If this were so, it would be a lot harder to grasp. It is only possible to grasp the Tradition at all, precisely because it includes those authors who are of such primary importance that they obliterate, eclipse, swallow, subsume, assimilate, join, conquer, raze, and eat thousands of lesser scribblers, including the most advanced minds of our time: Shakespeare, for instance; once your professor has finished showing you what he or she knows of Shakespeare, your professor is eaten by Shakespeare, and Shakespeare now belongs to you, and Shakespeare of the Tradition now belongs, in a living, and ever changing sense, to you. The Tradition belongs to Shakespeare, not the other way around.

The Program Era is naturally a bit wary of the Tradition, for the Creative Writing Industry is driven by a more immediate and practical concern—training the student, for a price, to be a writer—and it naturally seeks a shortcut past the giant, devouring Tradition—which the Creative Writing student—the old “English Major,”—has neither the time, nor the inclination, to read.

There is also the matter of present politics—politics as it exists and is practiced in the present (“Current Events”)—not literally ‘present politics,’ the practice of reading, as much as possible, present works, regarding their recent existence as more important because more recent—which we already covered in the Second temptation, above, but those recent politics that puff themselves up with great importance, which of course has the advantage of appealing to contemporaneous minds embroiled in all sorts of specific moral issues of the day; but the danger is: in as much as these issues come to the foreground, poetry fades into the background, where it apparently still exists for those whose moral indignation is fed by an outside source without poetic qualities. The dynamic is a slippery and subtle one, but is sufficiently lawful to kill poetry completely. A moral skin, a moral appearance, hides the emptiness.

Poetry does not live in the abstract; it lives in poetry: “Ode On A Grecian Urn.”

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
       Of deities or mortals, or of both,
               In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
       What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
               What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
         Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
         For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
         For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
                For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
         That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
                A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
         To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
         And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
         Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
                Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
         Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
                Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.
O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
         Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
         “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Poetry is not abstract. Even “the abstract” is not abstract. The abstract, by definition, is the boiled down essence of the forms, motions, shapes, speeds, accelerations, masses and vectors of the universe.

Useful abstraction aids the true understanding, which like Eliot’s Tradition, does not advance by accumulation of facts—which can make us dumber, loading us down with the mere puzzling plurality of the useless (the dull, wooly idiocy of the modernist gizmo school)—but rather by the shedding of facts, and so by careful elimination, the necessary necessarily enlightens the necessary.

The larger world, perceived by the mature person, has a use attached to every fact, and uses further attached to uses, in various and hierarchical ways. The best is not shied away from; transcendent inventions and breakthroughs are eagerly seized upon; poems are not treated as the learned expression of a scientist, nor as a scientific attempt at abstraction (the great error of Modernism) but rather as a great counter-expression to science and learning: otherwise the poem would drive the Tradition and not be driven by it; the poem and Tradition would not be distinct, and they must be, for either to properly exist; we study the Tradition, but not the poem—whose property is beauty, which can never be ‘got at’ by study. To miss this distinction is to miss everything.

We look at Keats’ Ode through the lens of the Tradition, and this is how we understand its greatness.

The person who does not find exquisite pleasure in reading Keats’ Ode certainly lacks those qualities that we look for not only in a poet, but in a human being; but this is not the same thing as reading the Ode through the lens of the Tradition, which we perform only in the aftermath of its beauty devouring us. The poets who attempt to reverse this process, by writing a Tradition-worthy poem before they experience the pleasure necessary to write a pleasurable poem, are barred from the glory which we find in Keats’ Ode.

The phrase “what maidens loth?” in the context of Keats’ Ode—the urn stands for the world in Keats’ poem, laid out before us, in mystery, in beautiful miniature (find another poem which replicates all existence as well)—contains a great deal: maidens pursued, maidens who resist this pursuit, the question, “what maidens?” as the misty yet clear world of the urn is gazed at, manifests greatness by saying a lot with a little.

The objective excellence belongs to the poem of the Tradition, but not to the poem—even though we feel what is objectively excellent as we experience the poem’s beauty.

Keats, feeling pure sentimental love (which the Moderns in their sophistication revile and ridicule and curse) dares to confront a great black hole of existence: maidens and the essence of maidenhood—which flashes at us quickly in the amoral, rolling-eye ecstasy of Keats’ ur-landscape, which offers sacrifice, rape, and love, and the stopping of a kiss (desire) which therefore preserves the lover’s beauty—the stoppage, ironically, driving the urn’s immortal journey through time; enabling the urn (and the poem!) to outlive us and our apparently more active life:—it is we who are stopped, while the poem/urn is that which, in an ironic reversal, moves, just as the delirious, metrical wonder that is Keats’ poem pitches forward with its music, and, in loving it, we move backward to read it again, our admiration turning the poem into an object of admiration that nonetheless constantly moves, imitating the ever-still, ever-moving universe, both beautiful/tragic in its stillness and beautiful/tragic in its moving. Did Keats consider all this before he wrote his poem? Obviously not; but surely the poet in him quickly fixed on the urn-idea for a poem; genius grasping and teasing out the many in an essential thing.

The simpleton, who sits passively in front of a film while it unpacks its frozen pictures to describe its story, finds it impossible to conceive how a poem merely sitting on a page could produce more insight and pleasure than a movie (with popcorn). Poor simpleton! The simpleton belongs to the world, not to the world and God. If we cannot appreciate a Keats poem and the Tradition, we are just like that simpleton, who may indeed feel as much pleasure as us, and in that sense, be as worthy. We cannot judge a simpleton or a poem; we bring about judgment (as we are doing here) only as we think with the self-consciousness of the Tradition.

 

I BEGAN MY NOVEL

I began my novel.
I had nothing, really, to tell;
My life is not one for the ages;

My story, I decided, would cover ten years.
But after I wrote ten pages
I broke down in tears.
Oh! what good is the past?
The reflections from all these years,
If I am in the present,
Drowning in present tears?

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