One has just been sent out as a biblical dove, has found nothing green, and slips back
into the darkness of the ark -- Kafka

Friday, June 30, 2017

"Clips" #2: Keats' Letters

Of course I'm hoping the read will bear fruit in me. Keats has been complaining (off and on) re a sore throat since his journey to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Seems to be a sign (though, in googling this morning, apparently there is some disagreement re the jots and tittles of Keats' consumption).


An extensive knowledge is needful to thinking people — it takes away the heat and fever; and helps, by widening speculation, to ease the Burden of the Mystery, a thing which I begin to understand a little, and which weighed upon you in the most gloomy and true sentence in your Letter. The difference of high Sensations with and without knowledge appears to me this: in the latter case we are falling continually ten thousand fathoms deep and being blown up again, without wings, and with all horror of a bare-shouldered Creature — in the former case, our shoulders are fledged, and we go through the same air and space without fear. This is running one’s rigs on the score of abstracted benefit — when we come to human Life and the affections, it is impossible to know how a parallel of breast and head can be drawn (you will forgive me for thus privately treading out of my depth, and take it for treading as school-boys tread the water); it is impossible to know how far knowledge will console us for the death of a friend, and the ill “that flesh is heir to.” 
The Reformation produced such immediate and great benefits, that Protestantism was considered under the immediate eye of heaven, and its own remaining Dogmas and superstitions then, as it were, regenerated, constituted those resting-places and seeming sure points of Reasoning — from that I have mentioned, Milton, whatever he may have thought in the sequel, appears to have been content with these by his writings — He did not think into the human heart as Wordsworth has done — Yet Milton as a Philosopher had sure as great powers as Wordsworth — What is then to be inferred? O many things — It proves there is really a grand march of intellect, — It proves that a mighty providence subdues the mightiest Minds to the service of the time being, whether it be in human Knowledge or Religion.
What shocks the virtuous philosopher delights the chameleon poet. It does no harm from its relish of the dark side of things, any more than from its taste for the bright one, because they both end in speculation. A poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence, because he has no Identity — he is continually in for and filling some other body. The Sun, — the Moon, — the Sea, and men and women, who are creatures of impulse, are poetical, and have about them an unchangeable attribute; the poet has none, no identity — he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God’s creatures.
My dear Brother and Sister — You will have been prepared before this reaches you for the worst news you could have, nay, if Haslam’s letter arrives in proper time, I have a consolation in thinking that the first shock will be past before you receive this. The last days of poor Tom were of the most distressing nature; but his last moments were not so painful, and his very last was without a pang. I will not enter into any parsonic comments on death — yet the common observations of the commonest people on death are as true as their proverbs. I have scarce a doubt of immortality of some nature or other — neither had Tom.

"Clips" #1: Keats' Letters

Should've been reading Yeats in Ireland, I suppose. But, sort of aping last year's reading of Coleridge's Letters in Scotland, I went with Keats (not really into his poetry, but his letters are quite poignant -- especially knowing the end of the story -- and at times quite interesting re content and language) because his letters are "new to me" and they were already drawing me in, i.e., I had already started them and liked them (Zagajewski had pointed the way). Though Keats occupied most of my reading time in Ireland (and of course the focus was "Seeing Ireland" not "Reading Keats"), I also continued pecking away at (deliciously pecking away at) Szymborska's poems.



You perhaps at one time thought there was such a thing as worldly happiness to be arrived at, at certain periods of time marked out, — you have of necessity from your disposition been thus led away — I scarcely remember counting upon any Happiness — I look not for it if it be not in the present hour, — nothing startles me beyond the moment. The Setting Sun will always set me to rights, or if a Sparrow come before my Window, I take part in its existence and pick about the gravel. The first thing that strikes me on hearing a Misfortune having befallen another is this— “Well, it cannot be helped: he will have the pleasure of trying the resources of his Spirit” —
 I have never had your Sermon from Wordsworth, but Mr. Dilke lent it me. You know my ideas about Religion. I do not think myself more in the right than other people, and that nothing in this world is proveable. I wish I could enter into all your feelings on the subject, merely for one short 10 minutes, and give you a page or two to your liking. I am sometimes so very sceptical as to think Poetry itself a mere Jack o’ Lantern to amuse whoever may chance to be struck with its brilliance. As tradesmen say everything is worth what it will fetch, so probably every mental pursuit takes its reality and worth from the ardour of the pursuer — being in itself a Nothing. Ethereal things may at least be thus real, divided under three heads — Things real — things semireal — and nothings. Things real, such as existences of Sun moon and Stars — and passages of Shakspeare. — Things semireal, such as love, the Clouds etc., which require a greeting of the Spirit to make them wholly exist — and Nothings, which are made great and dignified by an ardent pursuit — which, by the by, stamp the Burgundy mark on the bottles of our minds, insomuch as they are able to “consecrate whate’er they look upon.”

Irish Sojourn: Day #3: Goodbye Limerick, Hello Dingle


Irish Sojourn: Day #2: Ailwee Cave and the Burren








Irish Sojourn: Day #2: Poulnabrone Dolmen





Irish Sojourn: Day #2: High Crosses at Kilfenora




Irish Soujourn: Day #2: Cliffs of Moher

















Irish Sojourn: Day #1: Limerick

Flew into Shannon. Limerick: First two nights. Saw very little the first day, then took a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher, Etc. I'm reading Keats' letters and the occasional Szymborska poem; of course googling all things Irish that come to mind: Yeats, Synge, dolmens, high crosses, etc.









Friday, June 16, 2017

Reading: Szymborska's "Brueghel's Two Monkeys"

Brueghel's Two Monkeys
This is what I see in my dreams about final exams:
two monkeys, chained to the floor, sit on the windowsill,
the sky behind them flutters,
the sea is taking a bath.

The exam is History of Mankind. 
I stammer and hedge.

One monkey stares and listens with mocking disdain,
the other seems to be dreaming away --
but when it's clear I don't know what to say
he prompts me with a gentle
clinking of his chain.

Two Monkeys by Brueghel
[From Wikipedia]

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Knight-Errants: Time to Fly

More "Clips" from Zagajewski

Re the painter/writer Jozef Czapski:
He had many friends, who loved and admired him unreservedly to the end. He was in essence, though, a solitary man. He was my friend and master.

The master of my not-knowing. And what is not-knowing but thought?
Re an "inner life":
Contemporary mass culture, entertaining and at times harmless as it may be, is marked by its complete ignorance of the inner life. Not only can it not create this life; it drains it, corrodes it, undermines it. Science, caught up in other problems, likewise neglects it. Thus only a few artists, philosophers, and theologians are left to defend this fragile, besieged fortress.

Defending the spiritual life is not merely a sop thrown to the radical aesthetes. I see the spiritual life, the inner voice that speaks to us, or perhaps only whispers, in Polish, English, Russian, or Greek, as the mainstay and foundation of our freedom, the indispensable territory of reflection and independence shielding us from the mighty blows and temptations of modern life.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Reading: Zagajewski Essays

Two "clips":

Our great reality obviously contains many other elements as well. Can we count them all? Should we?  
They include not only darkness, tragedy, and madness but also joy. Not long ago I was rereading the essays of Jerzy Stempowski, a major Polish essayist who spent the second half of his life as a humble √©migr√© in Switzerland, in Berne, where he died in 1969. And I came upon a surprising quotation from Maupassant—surprising, since you don’t expect metaphysical gifts from naturalists! I must have come across it earlier, but its force struck me this time.

From time to time I experience strange, intense, short-lived visions of beauty, an unfamiliar, elusive, barely perceptible beauty that surfaces in certain words or landscapes, certain colorations of the world, certain moments … I’m not able to describe or communicate it, I can’t express it or portray it. I save these moments for myself … I have no other reason for continuing, no other cause for keeping on …

“Strange, intense, short-lived visions of beauty”—how could we live without them! “I can’t describe it,” Maupassant says. And we discover in his account something very familiar that is also very difficult to convey. In such moments one experiences something incomprehensible and piercing, both extravagant and absolutely fundamental.


My first readings of Nietzsche endure in my memory as a festival of freedom; there was something liberating in their message. After all, who’s better equipped than a young poet to respond to the young Nietzsche, whose strongest defense was his intoxicating solitude, his sense of his own genius, his inner freedom, and finally—perhaps most important—his sense that the essential energy of any human creation, cultural or otherwise, escapes the notice of the age’s learned authorities. These great scholars, who seem to know everything, who’ve counted the disks of the vertebrates and the syllables in Archilochus’ poems, can’t manage to identify whatever it is that catalyzes human minds and creativity. They analyze the outcome, but are blind to its essence; they study the fire but can describe only its ashes. And as we know, Nietzsche gleefully calls this principle that the scholars overlook none other than life itself.