You gave voice lessons to your followers, reminding them back to the poetic possibilities of their own idioms. You knew the absurdity of lovesickness, the hopelessness of waiting, and the dogged persistence of stubborn hope. You lamented time’s slow passage even when you found it making still too quick an interval between before and after.
How do you catch a heartbeat? Build a poem to break everything, until what is left is the syncopated feeling of forest voices, to polish the mirror where the Unconscious seeks itself. What escapes the lover’s reach?
You knew the maddening moon, your death, beneath the dripping branches, the work of the web undone; you heard the tragic anthem of the unattended sun . . . like a gland ripped from the throat, and still. You could not keep from singing.
It’s the birthday of Jules Laforgue (1860-1887), French symbolist poet whose work strongly influenced T.S. Eliot’s development, and who championed the expansion of free verse. The opening line of this post references an enthusiastic comment of Eliot’s, soon after he encountered Laforgue’s early work in an anthology of symbolists. Much of Laforgue’s later work was not published in his lifetime (he died at the age of twenty-seven, of tuberculosis). This morning, I read Moon Solo: The Last Poems of Laforgue, published by William Jay Smith in a 1956 issue of The Sewanee Review. Some of the images (and italicized phrases) above are from these poems.
You left the door open, called everyone familiar––and they were, after so long looking. You had born witness to their hope and heartbreak, their quiet, their children and the children they had once been, faces breaking open in a running laugh. They knew that you saw them and felt recognized, knew the shock of relief from their own anonymity in a world crowded with rushed strangers, too busy or beaten to look. Your lens could not resist a smile toward the lovers, and your heart swelled too full to make it stop.
Inspired by Willy Ronis, whose birthday was yesterday, and by this article about the photographer who saw Paris “with his heart in his eyes.”
Once upon a time, when the bodies of the residents of former villages were still warm, so many had lived in homes, among families. After the wars, there was more and more talk of melancholy retrospection, this chronic looking back, this impulse to exhume the buried once upon a time that had so abruptly gone.
The word nostalgia had been coined centuries earlier, to describe the pathological homesickness afflicting soldiers separated from family and village. One doctor wrote extensively to insist that the condition be treated seriously as “a pathological state” rather than “an imaginary malady.” He saw death of a broken heart in the land of exile as something more lethal than enemy fire.
Reading these words, I begin to wonder if I know anyone who isn’t separated from family, who has ever known a village. Surely, there must be someone, but what is the word to name this longing for a place you’ve never known?
The doctor mentioned above is Raoul Chenu in “De la Nostalgie” whose insights appear regularly in connection with this topic. I was intending to write about the work of French photographer Willy Ronis (1910-2009), who was born on this day, but his work in post-war France naturally led me here. The word I was wondering about is hireath, of Welsch origin and not entirely translatable, which a student presented to me once as “longing for a place that never was.”
In the land where time is a circle, I meet you again and again, always with a rush of recognition–– the lilting wave that beckons hello, stranger. It seems I have known you before, and each time I lose you, it is with the shocking pain of the first cut.
In the land where time is water, a tiny rivulet of this becoming will sometimes turn backstream, and any creatures, debris, soil, falling branches, or conversations will find themselves suddenly in the past. In this world, we know even after our most recent reunion, of the loss that comes next, because we learned this when we lived in the land where time was a circle.
In another world, two times exist concurrently. One is mechanical, its form a massive pendulum of iron, back and forth. The other is of the body, bodies, the body of the living planet and its teeming forms. It squirms, wiggles . . . makes its mind up as it goes along. Most reject one or the other form of time. But the worlds have a way of colliding. The collision tends to create a desperate state, because everybody knows that you can make a world in one or another time but not both. This is because each time is true, but the truths are not the same.
This morning, while waiting for the coffee to brew, I was delighted to discover Einstein’s Dreams, a slim novel by Alan Lightman, hiding in plain sight on a bookshelf. Although I do not remember buying this book, it is easy for me to imagine why I would have wanted to, upon learning that the premise is based on a series of dreams that the young scientist had before arriving at his theories of relativity. I wrote today’s post while reading the opening twenty pages of the book, using three of the worlds Lightman describes. Italicized phrases are Lightman’s.
The weight of remembrance.
In the days of constant violence and plagues, when the crops are dead with drought and fire and even the shade trees are gone, the citizens gather. The cry is help, and the answer calls to mind a riddle and a mirror, and who is the most mysterious of all?
––And the mirror answered back with a reflection, the face of the king and all behind him. But what does it take to read a body’s history?
Ask the oracle, she’ll tell you again: not until there is justice, will you know peace in your homes and shade for your children. The old questions return: whose death continues to echo within the city walls; whose blood stains the soil of these charred acres? What severances between life and the living continue to bleed.
Bring in the blind prophet to remind the assembly of the weight of this knowledge and what it means to have it, where no gain can come except through the death of a timeworn dream.
Nevertheless, they resisted.
I am inspired by the work of Brian Doerries and Theatre of War in placing Greek tragedies at the center of community discussions around central challenges of the moment. I jotted these notes while reviewing his translation of the Oedipus Trilogy and related notes.
In the dark between destruction and rebirth.
After the promise, before the fallen fruit, love was so loud that what followed might be called nature’s reproach. We suspected it was. But our memories of watercolor flights stayed anyway between water and sky, and us gliding in wide-winged pelican formations––long after their welcome, ignoring the new signs warning against the trespass of our breath.
After the storm, our eyes fall into these empty hands and roll across the wreckage around us until they are soaked in the sludge of charred remains.
Only this silent plea between us now, strong and invisible; and time no longer ours, and in the dark hours before dawn, it may echo an inquiring trinity, Love, will you make the world here again? and then Hear, again and Love, here.
Orpheus to Eurydice, overheard.
You were tired of tired imitation, wanted something real. Only the unreasonable would do. Okay, I said, and tuned the strings at the joint in the forked paths, from which one would lead home and the other to a forever road. Let me play you a burning thornbush. Your mother floats halfway between the bed and the ceiling in your sleep. We love a riddle, and the ones we can’t solve tend to linger, like the notes of the last dance, like the earth ringing now in my ears.
Inspired by a comment that director Andrey Tarkovsky makes in Sculpting in Time. Paraphrasing Paul Valéry, he notes how “the real is expressed most immanently through the absurd.” The last line is adapted from images in Arseny Tarkovsky’s poem “Eurydice.”
With Dorothea Klumpke Roberts.
Since Cain slew Abel, she considered hers a threefold role: mother, priestess, aide. Faithful service to each has meant time spent gazing up to question the sun, moon, and stars in concert with the evolving hour at hand––not as objects or territories to be conquered or subdued, but with the reverence and awe she comes to hold as original truths. Her wish: to be a living torch, bearing these, that tomorrow’s children might see and be awed in turn. To look as she does, it will be impossible for them not to feel the moral impact of the moment and be awed by all that is and may yet be.
Today is the birthday of groundbreaking astronomer Dorothea Klumpke Roberts (1861-1942). This post is composed of ideas and images from a 1919 article she published in Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, “Woman’s Work in Astronomy.”
Afterwards, amid the autumn dusk,
I shall not care.
Let it be forgotten by February twilight,
My heart is heavy with old love.
Love, this is not a word, but an epitaph.
What do I care, in the morning?
Says a voice around me now,
here in this spirit’s house.
Today is the birthday of American lyric poet Sara Teasdale (1884-1933). The lines above are composed with some of her poem titles. The title of this post references a collection she published in 1915.
To catch and release, in good company.
Imagination loves a circle, perhaps because these are hooped like fishing nets for catching the galaxies swimming ever wider, above and below us.
Friend, help me remember to let whatever knowns I manage to forage keep company with the wildly proliferating abundance of unnamed and undiscovered worlds suspended like invisible solutes in this glass and scattered like weeds along the walkway and around the floor like loose socks and cat fur, and in the back of cabinets like forgotten condiments long past their moment, so that I might continue to discover that behind the bright surfaces of the best I have found, these underbellies still dark with silence.
It will be good to walk together and return them, tossing wide arcs into the turbulent waters of these sacramental tides everlasting though ordinary time, that each temporary finding may rediscover it’s secret affinities in those depths. What a process, to bear a human heart from its bottomless nowhere to its forever paths, each crashing an infinity with the next wave––out, out, out.