Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Flowers: One at a time, please

Being in a contrary mood this morning, I thought I would post something contrary.   


One flower at a time, please
however small the face.

Two flowers are one flower
too many, a distraction.

Three flowers in a vase begin
to be a little noisy. 

Like cocktail conversation,
everybody talking.

A crowd of flowers is a crowd
of flatterers (forgive me).

One flower at a time.  I want
to hear what it is saying.

-- Robert Francis --
from Art and Nature
Kate Farrell, Editor

Any comments? 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Robert Louis Stevenson: Too simple to be profound?

It often happens that while reading a story or a novel or an essay, which is moderately interesting, the author will say something that stops me immediately.  I go back, read it again, meditate a bit, and move on. Yet, even as I move on, that statement or comment will remain in the background.  And it will remain with me for several days or even longer.  Such is the following brief comment or analogy by Robert Louis Stevenson in one of his essays:

Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the child .  .  .

Robert Louis Stevenson
"A Gossip on Romance"
from The Lantern-Bearers and Other Essays

There are innumerable essays, theses, books on the nature of fiction and its popularity or the reason for its existence.  I think a collection could easily take up several very large bookcases.  I have read a number of essays and have several books gathering dust in my TBR bookcase which I will get to, probably, one of these days. But, Stevenson's brief comment--Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the child .  .  .  so resonates with me that I may never get to those dusty books awaiting me.

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."  We read this in the King James Version of Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians, and it seems to fit.  Many adults put away those childish things, one of which is play, and they become very serious and solemn; life becomes a grim struggle.

But, this isn't true of all, for some (and that includes me), have exchanged that childish play for fiction.  A child at play is lost somewhere in there, and that child is thoroughly wrapped up in the game, whatever it may be.  The child is now on a different plane of existence.    How different is this from when I settle down with a book and travel off to far planets or to the future?  or work out how someone managed to murder a thoroughly nasty character and escape from a locked room?  or follow the destinies of a young man or a young woman who struggles to become a mature adult and not just a carbon copy of the neighbors? 

As a child, the call to "come out and play" was an invitation to another world; as adults, some of us have substituted "Once upon a time.  .  ."

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Eric Hoffer: More! More! More! More!

No. 22

"MORE!" is as effective a revolutionary slogan as was ever invented by doctrinaires of discontent.  The American, who cannot learn to want what he has, is a permanent revolutionary.  He glories in change, has faith in that which he has not yet, and is ready to give his life for it. 

-- Eric Hoffer --
from The Passionate State of Mind and other Aphorisms 

Frankly I have some doubt about part of the following assertion:

He glories in change, has faith in that which he has not yet, and is ready to give his life for it. 

I agree that we have faith in that which we don't have and might give up our lives to gain it, depending, of course, upon what it is we think we don't have and must have, but I do think Hoffer goes a bit overboard here.

What I most disagree with is that part about glorying in change.  This may be true for some Americans, but based on how I read the papers and listen to politicians, there appears to be a very large portion of the American populace who do NOT glory in change, but fear it instead.  They glory in stasis and fear any change and are much more likely to give their lives to maintain a static existence or even return to a mythical Golden Age (and what's worse, are ready to give the lives of others also).

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Robert Frost's commemorative poem: Edward Thomas March 3, 1878--April 9, 1917

Sadly, Edward Thomas is another of those artists, from many countries, whose artistic life was cut short during the Great War.  He enlisted in the army in 1915 and was sent to France as an artillery officer at the end of January 1917.   Thomas was at a forward observation post when he was killed.

I posted a sample of his poetry on June 8, 2014 and Dec. 23, 2013 and prose on March 20, 2015.   Robert Frost, a friend and mentor, published the following poem in 1923 in his collection, New Hampshire

To E. T.

I slumbered with your poems on my breast
Spread open as I dropped them half-read through
Like dove wings on a figure on a tomb
To see, if in a dream they brought of you.

I might not have the chance I missed in life
Through some delay, and call you to your face
First soldier, and then poet, and then both,
Who died a soldier-poet of your race.

I meant, you meant, that nothing should remain
Unsaid between us, brother, and this remained--
And one thing more that was not then to say:
The Victory for what it lost and gained.

You went to meet shell's embrace of fire
On Vimy Ridge, and when you fell that day
The war seemed over more for you than me,
But now for me than you--the other way.

How over, though, for even me who knew
The foe thrust back unsafe beyond the Rhine,
If I was not to speak of it to you
And see you pleased once more with words of mine?
 -- Robert Frost --

"E.T. . . .British essayist Edward Thomas . . ., a close friend of Frost's in England, began writing poetry with Frost's encouragement.   He joined the army in 1915, the year that Frost returned to the United States.   Several of Thomas's poems were published pseudonomously  from 1915 to 1917 and Frost succeeded in having a collection of Thomas's poems published in America."
from "Notes"
Robert Frost:  Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays
Richard Poirier and  Mark Richardson, Editors

Following is one of Thomas's last poems, written on December 24, 1916, while in England at home with his family.

Out in the dark

Out in the dark over the snow
The fallow fawns invisible go
With the fallow doe;
And the winds blow
Fast as the stars are slow.

Stealthily the dark haunts round
And, when a lamp goes, without sound
At a swifter bound
Then the swiftest hound,
Arrives, and all else is drowned,

And star and I and wind and deer
Are in the dark together, -- near,
Yet far, -- and fear
Drums on my ear
In that sage company drear.

How weak and little is the light,
All the universe of sight,
Love and delight,
Before the might,
If you love it not, of night.

 -- Edward Thomas --
The "Notes" regarding this poem in Edward Thomas: The Annotated Collected Poems suggest that Thomas Hardy's poem, "The Fallow Deer at the Lonely House," may have been influenced by Thomas's poem.  As Hardy is another favorite of mine, I must take a look at his poem.  It's intriguing to find Thomas as sort of a link between Frost and Hardy, both favorite poets of mine.   And, that "If" at the end sounds a note of ambiguity that is reminiscent of  both Hardy and Frost.
You will be seeing more of Edward Thomas's poetry here in the future.  If you haven't read anything by him yet, I would recommend you take a look.   And, thanks again to Stephen Pentz at "First Known When Lost" for introducing Thomas to me. 

It's a remarkable poem, considering it was written some four months before his death, and he knew he would be sent to France within the month.  Is it prophetic?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Rubaiyat: Second Edition, Quatrain LXIV

Another in a series of posts regarding quatrains that Edward FitzGerald added when he published the Second Edition of The Rubaiyat.

Second Edition:  Quatrain LXIV

I must abjure the Balm of Life, I must,
Scared by some After-reckoning ta'en on trust,
     Or lured with Hope of some Diviner Drink,
When the frail Cup is crumbled into Dust! 

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain LXII
I must abjure the Balm of Life, I must,
Scared by some After-reckoning ta'en on trust,
     Or lured with Hope of some Diviner Drink,
To fill the Cup--when crumbled into Dust! 

The first three lines of the two are identical, and the only modification appears in the last line where we read

Second Edition:  "When the frail Cup is crumbled into Dust!"
Fifth Edition:      "To fill the Cup--when crumbled into Dust!"

The "Cup" and its fate is a reference to other quatrains in which the Potter is seen fashioning cups out of clay, much as the Creator created humans out of dust or clay and at the end will return to their original state.  In yet another quatrain, a cup remarks that if filled with wine, it might return to life again.

Is there a difference, perhaps even a subtle difference, between the two versions?
It seems to me that in the Second Edition, there is the hope that after death, there might be "some Diviner Drink," with no reference to the body.  The last line in the Fifth Edition suggests something quite different, or so it seems to me:

". . .some Diviner Drink,
To fill the Cup--when crumbled into Dust!"

This seems to say that the "Diviner Drink" will fill the "Cup" after death, possibly a reference to the resurrection of the body after death, a belief that Moslems hold, as do Christians, and Jews, as far as I can tell. 

This quatrain is linked to the previous quatrain in which the Poet defends drinking wine by arguing that it's God's creation, which cannot, therefore, be evil.  In this quatrain, he points out that the ban against alcohol is really based on "trust," or faith that either one might be punished or rewarded in an after-life.  Of course, the Poet has already made the point in previous quatrains that nobody really knows what happens after death, that nobody has ever returned to tell us, and that all such theories are just guesses based on nothing substantial.

The Poet's attitude about the virtues of drinking wine are expressed quite clearly and openly, once again, when he refers to it as "the Balm of Life," something which is comforting.