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Much further into Harmonium. I love this book. It is the best book in the world some days.

"The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad" explains which and why. I felt a similar liberation when I talked myself into reading Kafka whenever that was - a second poet was added, so poetry was. Even Bishop has limits, can become (at times) another world of repeated days. Probably Harmonium could, but you know what?

It is pitched exactly and entirely at freeing those too closely pent in their being, those who have forgotten where voice can go. It's almost like it was written by someone following a non- ridiculous version of Poe's "Composition" essay, one working backwards from what's amazing in poetry to how that might be newly written down, rather than whatever bullshit's supposed to get us to "The Raven." Probably the way Harmonium would flag reread frequently, though, would be that the subject matter of all the examples in this model of how to make poetry is how-to-make-poetry. At times it's taken to such an extreme that it feels more like an illustrated kit for making your own how-to-make-poetry KIT. So don't drink more than four Harmonia per week, kids.

(Not that the fact that you can totally go as far with art-about-art artistically as you can with any other sort is not itself remarkably suggestive, and if not yet a clear part of the message here certainly becomes so later in Stevens. Well, clear as in camouflaged in standard Stevens "bric-a-brac" rather than forming a cloudier part of the lens through which he asks us to look, at first seemingly just to see how much bric-a-brac there can be.)

But if you haven't been reading, or haven't been reading right, as for whatever reason seems to have been true of me at most points in my life, Harmonium is perfect. It gives the whole, basic case, and nothing but the case, and in the most efficiently self-proving ways. And atomized! I love how atomized it is. Because that's exactly what you need when you've gone idiot. And memorable lines, and instant enigmas that are just teasing enough to keep you working (the answer is usually less than eight pages away, part of some similar neighboring molecule, when logic or memory happen to fail at the nonce). I'm sure many find it difficult, even nonsensical, but it is the easiest, clearest way into what isn't at all clear or easy (but's nonetheless worth it) I know of.

And so full of Shelley! Keats is big in a couple of the more famous bits, like Monocle and Morning, and Whitman's a sort of permeating absence (the person who wrote the even better, but less easified and atomized, Harmonium - the one for when your head's been unscrewed to the seeking point, for day five of the week and thereafter), but the Shelley is strong with this one. And made to eat Emerson's Nature whole, here:

To the One of Fictive Music

Sister and mother and diviner love,
And of the sisterhood of the living dead
Most near, most clear, and of the clearest bloom,
And of the fragrant mothers the most dear
And queen, and of diviner love the day
And flame and summer and sweet fire, no thread
Of cloudy silver sprinkles in your gown
Its venom of renown, and on your head
No crown is simpler than the simple hair.

Now, of the music summoned by the birth
That separates us from the wind and sea,
Yet leaves us in them, until earth becomes,
By being so much of the things we are,
Gross effigy and simulacrum, none
Gives motion to perfection more serene
Than yours, out of our imperfections wrought,
Most rare, or ever of more kindred air
In the laborious weaving that you wear.

For so retentive of themselves are men
That music is intensest which proclaims
The near, the clear, and vaunts the clearest bloom,
And of all the vigils musing the obscure,
That apprehends the most which sees and names,
As in your name, an image that is sure,
Among the arrant spices of the sun,
O bough and bush and scented vine, in whom
We give ourselves our likest issuance.

Yet not too like, yet not so like to be
Too near, too clear, saving a little to endow
Our feigning with the strange unlike, whence springs
The difference that heavenly pity brings.
For this, musician, in your girdle fixed
Bear other perfumes. On your pale head wear
A band entwining, set with fatal stones.
Unreal, give back to us what once you gave:
The imagination that we spurned and crave.

Of "13 Blackbirds" I best loved the last one and the icicles one, this time 'round. Probably they're always my favorites (--Which are yours?). Blackbirds and Fictive Music are not the most obvious influences on young Bishop, but I think they're damn close to decisive ones, given what I'm arguing. Luckily I don't need to prove that claim to put them to some kind of work.
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Rereading Harmonium for Bishop purposes.

"Le Monocle de Mon Oncle" is an archipelago of shotgun blasts to the me, at 39.8.

Wondering if this fed those scenes I liked best in "It Follows," along with all that other stuff:

And you? Remember how the crickets came
Out of their mother grass, like little kin,
In the pale nights, when your first imagery
Found inklings of your bond to all that dust.

Not sure I ever fully appreciated the title till now, either. You're showing the friend a vision-helper inherited from your now-deceased uncle, presumably one you associate with him hence retained, so characteristic of how he appeared in middle age when you first knew him well. And realize idly that monocle and my uncle sound the same. And realize, picking it up, that it fits your present degree of poor eyesight. Realize, looking in the mirror, that it fits how you look at this age. That you look like him. And that you must now be looking at things now the way he did. To have picked up a monocle is to no longer feel one is the star of the show, one of the romantic leads. One is now a spectator, to some degree, and one now sees it all differently - both because one's eyes have decayed and because with those decaying eyes one has seen how all the eyes decay. One is but halfway there oneself - just one eye needs it. "Forty," we're later told. And though one couldn't have seen that one would see this way before, it was right there in front. My uncle, who was ridiculous, if nice enough. Who saw the world as I would never see it, because that I would never be him. And I wasn't necessarily wrong, as I'm not now necessarily that I. My eye is a new one: the eye of an uncle. How we see things is what we are, how we are how we see things. Or close enough - give or take one eye, one n. Corrected vision removes the blind spot, brings the visual fields together, takes that space in the middle away a la Mad Magazine in the day. Or maybe it's just that a crack has gone right through the center.

(I wish I had time to know more about monocles - if he's like Bishop with optics this will have been thought out down to a ridiculous level of detail. They must be for far-sightedness, since used occasionally, on just one eye, and by the c. 40+? Far-sightedness, my lad. Whatever, uncle.)
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(1. The Palm at the End of the Mind)

In parentheses because I may want more Stevens.

There, I read at least one book this winter. I think Chocorua to his Neighbor came across best this time around, though it may need some of his other poems as context. After the strange beginning sections Extracts from Addresses to the Academy of Fine Ideas struck me as the clearest introduction to later Stevens in general - among the poems anyway. The perplexed would be best off reading his Adagia. Some poems I love I found I'm still just burnt out on - Owl in the Sarcophagus, some of Ordinary Evening, various late lyrics.

I like when flurrying qualifications give way to dithyrambs, in Stevens - both look the same down the page from you, and how he puts words together doesn't change much either, so tone shifts occur through what he says, not how he's saying it. He repeats with variations when something is making him very happy or very sad, which creates a quickening effect, and that and the logic of what he's saying (if you're following that) is the only way you'll know he's even emotional, that this isn't just blather. This is exactly what annoys people coming to grips with him, but it's fantastic once you're with him because it gives the impression of what reasoning your way back to happiness is like. He's evoking that mood where you're frowning, you're trying to keep your emotions out of it while you figure something life and death to you out, avoiding premature elation and panic both, it's all too important to not be painstaking over. And when this impasse unblocks it's because one of the many paths you've been following over and over that all lead back to the tangle is suddenly going somewhere else, and you pore over every inch of it carefully, then start to pull on it, and say to yourself exactly what should appear around the corner of the table after each new tug. And it does, you're giving names to things before they appear for a change, the way you would if you finally knew what you were talking about. You speak to yourself the same way you did earlier when it was all hopeless because it's the same task. These poems aren't logical proofs, but they're just like what someone would talk like while discovering a proof of something changing everything. The champagne comes afterward - unceilinged excitement's where the poem's meant to take you, is what emanates from the whole poem as you glance back at it on finishing. But it's not baked into particular lines. No, I overstate - he has his secret passages of rapture. But they're not his signature.

This effect is especially neat because the change in a Stevens poem is a slight adjustment to interpretation, never a new exposure of facts. The particles are the same before and after, and so should the clauses be. But the astral and Shelleyan lights have changed the world.
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Opened a book finally, Stevens again, Comedian and Notes. Both fantastic, but the latter! Not very hard, nor have his other poems been hard - clear Stevens paths a couple times and they stay cleared, looks like. Though I haven't yet gotten to Ordinary.

Notes is even more invisible obsessed than Auroras, and Romantic obsessed, curiously overtly, lots of deliberate alluding, though there's no mention of the poem closest to it, Shelley's Hymn. Lots of prefiguring of Crowley, too, though it's possible he didn't read it, just its own prefigurations scattered about in the Harmonium hits. I liked this bit best this time:

The eye of a vagabond in metaphor
That catches our own.


Describes itself, for me. I wonder how often I can reread this poem, because I should often.
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I should put a warning label on procrastination entries. They're not like other entries.

I've gone back to the three late long poems a few times, "Auroras" rather a lot because it and some bird poems featured in my thesis, and of course "Sunday Morning" and the other anthology darlings pretty often for classes or kicks. But I haven't spent time with him this way since 2004, at Capilano, when I'd read around in Palm at the End of the Mind in empty rooms or stairways between classes (I didn't have much in common with 18-20 year old wealthy suburbanites, who gave the impression of trying junior college in exchange for their parents buying them Escalades, though most were nice enough). And it was a neat way to read him - I probably ended up rereading everything a few times, then ran through Collected Poems a bit later to see what I'd missed. Not a lot - there's something to be said for a 60% selection like Palm. Not even the best poets can muster a batting average much past that. Even Shelley I'd put at 66-75, even Wordsworth through Poems in Two Volumes (past which you're fine with 6%). And the good/not-good selection boundary will often be a lot less controversial than the great/merely-good one. But I guess once you're reading 60% of somebody you're likely to go ahead to the rest; though you'll think much more highly of the poet, helping you get through that best 60% in the first place, if the off-40%'s been sequestered somewhere else.

There's a few of those around for Romantics - the Oxford World Classics selection of Shelley isn't far off from how I'd have done it, the Oxford Authors Wordsworth (though it lacks the 2-Book Prelude). I think their Blake and Keats volumes were along the same line, Tennyson too. Penguin's large Byron selection is about all you'll ever want of him if you add their well-annotated Don Juan. I have a hardback somewhere with like 20-25 Shakespeare plays. You usually need to read a bunch of these people to grasp them. Might help make the case I always wish to but wouldn't know where to start, that knowing the dozen or so best poets is one of the few things you can reliably do to make your life less like death. And reading the dozen or so runners-up can clear your sinuses.

Someone really needs to do this for Dickinson, though for her that's pretty much the greatness cutoff. But on second thought she did it herself.
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Had a dream that seemed extremely significant and wrote these things down before losing it:

chewing on things, paper

attacks (but [something] solid books in areas [something] or chewed through shells)

authors in dreams - those she dreams will be healthier, will live



box format
seasonal


I think it involved following a female up and down a mountainside, one simultaneously reminiscent of Mary Poppins, Auntie Mame, and the Witch of Atlas. I was either in tow or enamored.

What she was like depended on what side of a generally box-like circuit she was at. I'm not sure whether it was the top or going down the slope from the top (the 'downward side' - yes, I think perhaps that) where she went mad. There were, among others signs of madness and damage and blight, bookshelves along the vaguely stairlike way (so on the left as we went down, as the route was counterclockwise) in which were books, hollow white fragments of shells of books she'd gnawed on [day content: our neighbors are leaving for the weekend, we're caring for their big crazy dog that runs in circles but is fun, she has a basket of half-chewed up shells of chew toys]. But sometimes there were real books there, colorful, intact ones, and these corresponded to her spells of sudden exaltation in among her cruelty (because here she was cruel to me, and herself and everyone). In one she said she authored them in dream, and those she dreams will be healthy, be healthier, will live - and by this she meant me and us, not the books, and behind her hope you could sense many failures, whether hers or failures that somehow were other females, as though she were the human race or the maker of it and it chiefly or somehow its progress. And surely this was the winter side, though I don't remember what else was there because of waking up, and the other sides other seasons. I'm not sure how well the scheme held up, or what autumn would be like as high ground. The area sometimes seemed to be a park or resort, perhaps a ski resort, and I had the sense of fields around, though these may have been lingering bits of whatever dream has led me to this one, not entirely destroyed by the lathe of dreams.

She was crucial but frequently mad. Maybe aspects of god role, mother role, breathless guide to the new role, couldn't tell but perhaps erotic object role. But now I'm definitely out of it and interpreting. (Stumbling to write it down, felt the presence of influences there, so maybe not interpreted in after but aspects of the feeling that the dream was: Borges' story "The Circular Ruins" definitely, "The Library of Babel" because the colored books felt like truths, maybe some Stevens/Little, Big scheme for the seasons; the box progress something like that bizarre Fred Astaire poem I put up here a few months back, also I see now like the circles of Laney the dog - as well as her leaving the path, as well as her being overpowering since that dog is crazy and fun and huge). Yes, now all gone. Way too much of it fell into sands as I grasped it. And of course it all seems insignificant now.
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Oh, also noticed last week that this must be Pullman's source for his angels:

Large Red Man Reading

There were ghosts that returned to earth to hear his phrases,
As he sat there reading, aloud, the great blue tabulae.
They were those from the wilderness of stars that had expected more.

There were those that returned to hear him read from the poem of life,
Of the pans above the stove, the pots on the table, the tulips among them.
They were those that would have wept to step barefoot into reality,

They would have wept and been happy, have shivered in the frost
And cried out to feel it again, have run fingers over leaves
And against the most coiled thorn, have seized on what was ugly

And laughed, as he sat there reading, from out of the purple tabulae,
The outlines of being and its expressings, the syllables of its law:
Poesis, poesis, the literal characters, the vatic lines,

Which in those ears and in those thin, those spended hearts,
Took on color, took on shape and the size of things as they are
And spoke the feeling for them, which was what they had lacked.


Stevens was one of the few poets on his favorite books list, I think. And I know Lindsay was--pre-Galatea, I wonder?

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Reality Is an Activity of the Most August Imagination, Stevens

Last Friday, in the big light of last Friday night,
We drove home from Cornwall to Hartford, late.

It was not a night blown at a glassworks in Vienna
Or Venice, motionless, gathering time and dust.

There was a crush of strength in a grinding going round,
Under the front of the westward evening star,

The vigor of glory, a glittering in the veins,
As things emerged and moved and were dissolved,

Either in distance, change or nothingness,
The visible transformations of summer night,

An argentine abstraction approaching form
And suddenly denying itself away.

There was an insolid billowing of the solid.
Night’s moonlight lake was neither water nor air.
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Narrative elements are so rare in Stevens yet he handles them so well. This is a favorite of mine. And surely is some kind of response or tribute to Yeats.

Mrs. Alfred Uruguay, Stevens

So what said the others and the sun went down
And, in the brown blues of evening, the lady said,
In the Donkey's ear, "I fear that elegance
Must struggle like the rest." She climbed until
The moonlight in her lap, mewing her velvet,
And her dress were one and she said, "I have said no
To everything, in order to get at myself.
I have wiped away moonlight like mud. Your innocent ear
And I, if I rode naked, are what remain."

The moonlight crumbled to degenerate forms,
While she approached the real, upon her mountain,
With lofty darkness. The donkey was there to ride,
To hold by the ear, even though it wished for a bell,
Wished faithfully for a falsifying bell.
Neither the moonlight could change it. And for her,
To be regardless of velvet, could never be more
Than to be, she could never differently be,
Her no and no made yes impossible.

Who was it passed her there on a horse all will,
What figure of capable imagination?
Whose horse clattered on the road on which she rose,
As it descended, blind to her velvet and
The moonlight? Was it a rider intent on the sun,
A youth, a lover with phosphorescent hair,
Dressed poorly, arrogant of his streaming forces,
Lost in an integration of the martyrs' bones,
Rushing from what was real; and capable?

The villages slept as the capable man went down,
Time swished on the village clocks and dreams were alive,
The enormous gongs gave edges to their sounds,
As the rider, no chevalere and poorly dressed,
Impatient of the bells and midnight forms,
Rode over the picket rocks, rode down the road,
And, capable, created in his mind,
Eventual victor, out of the martyrs' bones,
The ultimate elegance: the imagined land.
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Long and Sluggish Lines, by Wallace Stevens

It makes so little difference, at so much more
Than seventy, where one looks, one has been there before.

Wood-smoke rises through trees, is caught in an upper flow
Of air and whirled away. But it has been often so.

The trees have a look as if they bore sad names
And kept saying over and over one same, same thing...

In a kind of uproar, because an opposite, a contradiction,
Has enraged them and made them want to talk it down.

What opposite? Could it be that yellow patch, the side
Of a house, that makes one think the house is laughing;

Or there--escent--issant pre-personae: first fly,
A comic infanta among the tragic drapings,

Babyishness of forsythia, a snatch of belief,
The spook and makings of the nude magnolia?

...Wanderer, this is the pre-history of February.
The life of the poem in the mind has not yet begun.

You were not born yet when the trees were crystal
Nor are you now, in this wakefulness inside a sleep.
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Sudden high recommendation for Stevens' "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven"; it might just be my mood but this strikes me as his ultimate poem. My reservations about him have one by one proved unjustified, he's the poet of our birth century. Neruda's best work is nearer perfection but less important. Lorca, Rilke, Frost (even in "Directive" I've decided) etc. also only compete by going for a few accessible effects at a time. They're only better when we're worse. Which is often enough but first place is first place.

The poem's twenty pages long and requires a special kind of rereading: read each section through, alternately glacier slow and tapwater fast, until you get it. Stop if exhausted and resume another day; your mind will retain what it mastered last time. If you just can't figure out what he's talking about read a few of his essays or try "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction"; this isn't the "Sunday Morning" Stevens, he worked out a complex and beautiful way of taking things throughout the 30s and 40s. I assure you every sentence makes sense.

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