Asher Blake’s Essay On Form

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Needing a preface for my first real book of lyrics, Tribesmen of the Telos-Caster, God blessed me to write an essay sometimes risking overdisclosure, and grandiosity, nonetheless the result is personal and sincere.  Any responses to my preface to Tribesmen of the Telos-Caster are very welcome. I look forward to any comments.

Asher Blake’s The Emanation

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This poem was written for my champion dear dog, Sunny Freckles.  She is an Aussie/Catahoula mix, and very beautiful and smart. I suppose this poem is written on the theme of trusting the beautiful and smart.

The Emanation

I feared her heart was the type
to snarl and strike,
and so raised up her lip,
but she was fanged
with milk horns.
Whereupon, as live snail
quick in the grace of animal
love leap upon their brides,
her tongue in grateful emanation
darted me a lick, and swung away
contented, departing to the cool tents
of unicorn stripe and nursing brides.

Ignatow’s Sunday At The State Hospital

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Sunday at the State Hospital

I am sitting across the table
eating my visit sandwich.
The one I brought him stays suspended
near his mouth; his eyes focus
on the table and seem to think,
his shoulders hunched forward.
I chew methodically,
pretending to take him
as a matter of course.
The sandwich tastes mad
and I keep chewing.
My past is sitting in front of me –
filled with itself
and trying with almost no success
to bring the present to its mouth.

More Abstract Ignatow 2 - Dryden

Sappho’s Fragment 31

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Fragment 31
by Sappho
translated by Willis Barnstone

To me he seems like a god
as he sits facing you and
hears you near as you speak
softly and laugh

in a sweet echo that jolts
the heart in my ribs. For now
as I look at you my voice
is empty and

can say nothing as my tongue
cracks and slender fire is quick
under my skin. My eyes are dead
to light, my ears

pound, and sweat pours over me.
I convulse, greener than grass,
and feel my mind slip as I
go close to death,

yet, being poor, must suffer
everything.

The ancient literary critic Longinus is the only reason we have this fragment, one of Sappho’s longest surviving works. (Though she was a fairly prolific and well collected writer in ancient times.) Longinus quoted this fragment to show the ecstasy of its lyric, attaining a sublime pitch through reproducing the almost diagnostic details that accompanied her experienced emotion.  The following is from Longinus’ work, “On The Sublime”.

“Are you not amazed at how she evokes soul, body, hearing, tongue, sight, skin, as though they were external and belonged to someone else? And how at one and the same moment she both freezes and burns, is irrational and sane, is terrified and nearly dead, so that we observe in her not a single emotion but a whole concourse of emotions? Such things do, of course, commonly happen to people in love. Sappho’s supreme excellence lies in the skill with which she selects the most striking and vehement circumstances of the passions and forges them into a coherent whole.” (Longinus, On the Sublime).

In a book review by Edith Hall in the NY Review of Books, she says, “public access to Sappho’s poem was widened by Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux’s French translation of Longinus (1674). Running through more than twenty editions by 1740, and published in English translation in 1711, Boileau’s Longinus put sublimity at the center of literary debate and laid the foundation-stone of the invention of aesthetics as a discrete philosophical field by Burke and Kant.”

One could then make a case that the lyric ecstasy of Sappho, presented historically by Longinus and Boileau, managed to exert a strong influence on the emotional shape of the Enlightenment and Romantic literary and philosophical periods, as well as the Victorian era and it has not died out yet I am sure. This influence is summed by the word, sublime, but takes strange shapes, from grand and terrifying landscapes, to Yeats’ tragic joy.

Mona Van Duyn’s Letters From A Father

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In her early 70s, in 1992, Mona Van Duyn became the first woman U.S. poet laureate.  She is not showy, but she is smooth, genuine, and moving.  From the Academy of American Poets online, poets.org, is the following profile.

“Poet Alfred Corn has said, ‘Mona Van Duyn has assembled, in a language at once beautiful and exact, one of the most convincing bodies of work in our poetry.” Cynthia Zarin has called her poetry “notable for its formal accomplishment and for its thematic ambition,” adding that the “searching intelligence of the persona we have learned to know in her poems, combined with the humor, technical ease, and the blend of the abstract and the quotidian that the poet has made her own have resulted in that rare good thing: a strong, clear voice, original without eccentricity.'”

“Van Duyn was awarded the Bollingen Prize, the Hart Crane Memorial Award, the Ruth Lilly Prize…as well as fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.”

“Van Duyn has said, ‘I believe that good poetry can be as ornate as a cathedral or as bare as a pottingshed, as long as it confronts the self with honesty and fullness. Nobody is born with the capacity to perform this act of confrontation, in poetry or anywhere else; one’s writing career is simply a continuing effort to increase one’s skill at it.’

Read this superb, somehow surprising, somehow delightful poem of hers here. (Portrait above was painted by Marion Miller in 1993.)

Asher Blake’s Field Party

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Field Party

For us, break the tablets Levi.
These profligate days
and criminal nights run riot.

I want the tight juicy thighs
that don’t break.
I want the decadent dog
to lay there and wait.
Summer is a spoiled rotten Christmas.

Humid as beer breath,
Summer puts his equatorial arm around my shoulders.
Wearing a slick, grassy pompadour,
he cajoles and jollies and is a grueler that all love.

A grove of doves, like you Tata-Lucia,
white wings curving,
that is all the hope in my world.
The grape of doves and proper riches.

The Hero says,
“those who live only for pleasure are dead.” *
But who could stand to live for anything else?
And Tacita-Lucia, my wages will be coming in.
Now let’s get to my house,
nothing is waiting for us here.

 

 

Hope Gangloff 2

Asher Blake’s The Pride of Williamsburg

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The Pride of Williamsburg

All the scholars concede giants.
Monarch Nephilim may survive,
at least their bones, and why not
I? My breath snatched away,
beneath this huge mastodon frame –
the mastoid process is the carriage.
At last Williamsburg is suddenly swept
away by time, New York
teaming the carriage of my faith
with enormous showstoppers,
stopping even perhaps my heart?

For the history museum cracks me
like a fossil egg, my cold sweat, my
curious eye, the fantasy of ancient
universal power, the magisterial Hand
of the Living One I recognize,
where the heads of the sauropods,
like shoe horns; I climb step by step
up the ladder of their ponderous grace.

They are deft zeppelins
whose height in naked faith,
appears with no wig in the clumsy
windless exhibition hall.
Here no breath against the page,
no cubit, sterling, sage,
inside these locks I am fine, mounted
upon the sauropod, mounting screws,
a lab of plaster. Some day my frame
known resting in beauty,
the A train the same, Strayhorn,
and sterling fortitude for love.

Kizer’s Summer Near the River

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Here Carolyn Kizer has appropriated themes from the Midnight Songs, (both a genre and anthology, “Tzu Yeh”) and also the Book of Songs anthology, both from the Classical Chinese tradition.  However her work is as fresh as the best direct translations of Classical Chinese poetry I have read.  (The Chinese and Japanese translations of Kenneth Rexroth I recommend wholeheartedly.)  Best to just read her poem instead of my prattling.

Hempel’s The Transfer

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Here is a lovely poem by Elise Hempel. She has a page at Poetry Foundation with another poem here. This poem expresses a fleeting and rarely captured sentiment, so it took me hours to find the image featured here, a painting by Alice Neel.

The Transfer

His car rolls up to the curb, you switch
your mood, which doll to bring and rush

out again on the sliding steps
of your shoes half-on, forgetting to zip

your new pink coat in thirty degrees,
teeth and hair not brushed, already

passing the birch, mid-way between us,
too far to hear my fading voice

calling my rope of reminders as I
lean out in my robe, another Saturday

morning you’re pulled toward his smile, his gifts,
sweeping on two flattened rafts

from mine to his, your fleeting wave
down the rapids of the drive.

Hopkins’ To Seem The Stranger

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To Seem The Stranger
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

To seem the stranger lies my lot, my life
Among strangers. Father and mother dear,
Brothers and sisters are in Christ not near
And he my peace my parting, sword and strife.

England, whose honour O all my heart woos, wife
To my creating thought, would neither hear
Me, were I pleading, plead nor do I: I wear-
y of idle a being but by where wars are rife.

I am in Ireland now; now I am at a thírd
Remove. Not but in all removes I can
Kind love both give and get. Only what word

Wisest my heart breeds dark heaven’s baffling ban
Bars or hell’s spell thwarts. This to hoard unheard,
Heard unheeded, leaves me a lonely began.

Discussion:

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote this “Terrible Sonnet” seeming strangely filled with inspiration, and I hope it brought him deep relief.  At the outset he declares he is a stranger removed from his family, close to God but drawn by Him into conflict and perhaps estrangement. The first stanza, like a number of Davidic hymns, can also be read from the perspective of Christ, in this case, on the cross. The author really heats up as he goes along and becomes more and more intimate with the reader.

In the second stanza, Hopkins is acting as a Catholic priest, giving all his heart to England, who ‘all his heart woos’. Does he not know to love the Lord with all his heart? I believe Hopkins here is expressing a desire to fight for the salvation of England. Therefore he writes for her, and he preaches for her, and he serves as a school teacher for her, to win souls.

Not only a soul he woos, but the wife of his “creating thought,” meaning he is created in a sense by the thoughts he has for her. (As a poet there are overtones that these thoughts are those of his poetic creativity.) So in this sense he is even created by her. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.” This sublimation of his natural being is the key to the trickiest part of the poem, its last stanza.

Hopkins says he woos England, but he does not plead with her. Christ is Hopkins’ peace and sad parting (here we see a hint that Hopkins parted from home and the Anglican faith of his family in order to serve Christ). Christ is also here his sword and strife. (line 4) This is a references to the fact that Christ did not come to bring peace, but a sword, and that by Him is the rising and falling of many. In addition, winning souls requires the wise use of the Word, which is compared to a sword. (Ephesians 6:!7, Hebrews 4:12, Proverbs 11:30)

This priest goes where wars are rife, at once saying that he is weary of idle people (meaning I think, idle Christians), so goes to war for religious purposes, to save souls, and at the same time the syntactic flexibility permits a reading like “weary of the idle except in war zones,” (where the active often seek to harm.)

In the third stanza Hopkins speaks of being at the “third remove,” meaning Ireland. I believe he is centering himself at Christ on the cross in Jerusalem. The first remove is Rome, the second remove is England, and the third remove is Ireland.

Now these two sentences are the heart of the poem and should be read together.

Not but in all removes I can
Kind love both give and get. Only what word//
Wisest my heart breeds dark heaven’s baffling ban
Bars or hell’s spell thwarts.

In the first sentence Hopkins is saying that where love face a difficulty or extremity of circumstance, perhaps a lack of acceptance or welcome or some persecution, that is where kind love can be found. Christ did not accept loving others in the easiest of ways as virtuous because even sinners did that.

“And if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36)

But there is also a reality to the ideality that only in the greatet remove from the broad way of the world, the most instinctive way, can one give the greatest love. Where love has traveled furthest to save, love gives and receive kindness best. In the true extremity of love is the backbone of love that it possesses when dwelling in peace. By His deep descent and His exalted loftiness ascended, we understand best the infinite love, which was incarnate on the Cross in Truth. Also, only when our love is unconditional, universal, and all consuming, are we lovers because love is by its nature unstinting, and total. Moreover, in all removes with love present Hopkins witnesses to a kindness, and as Paul says, “love is kind.” (1 Corinthians 13:4)

In these ways love is not found but in the nakedness of “all removes.” This line (10) also illuminates lines 1 and 2, which read,

To seem the stranger lies my lot, my life
among strangers.

This lot in life, to be among strangers, is reminiscent of the lot that the Roman soldiers cast at Jesus feet.  They were true strangers to Him, to the extent possible, and while they were humans acting so oddly they lost their humanity and relevance to the cosmos, no one treated them as strange, but God was dying on the Cross, bearing the wrath of His Father against all sin, and He retained so much humanity, that he makes human suffering imbued with his holiness and piteous tenderness.

Hopkins is saying by praising limitless removes, that he would like his missionary activity to bring him to the farthest reaches of the globe. This is where a poor stranger can receive and be shown great love. When men are separated by pain and ostracized by enmity or old guilt, then love can be most fully expressed.

This next sentence is a doozy but I believe it can be rewritten “what word my heart most wisely breeds, either dark heaven’s baffling ban does bar, or else hell’s spell will thwart.” So below I want to search out the meaning Hopkins here expresses, that his best efforts are sublimated into the blessings and energies of others, or are spread through the body of Christ.

Paul spoke of this in several places to teach us about the interpenetration of the body of believers. From scriptures like Romans 6:6, Galatians 2:20, and 5:24, and 6:14, and 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, we are taught about how we are crucified with Christ and die with Him and so live with Him, being united in His effort.  2 Corinthians 11:29, and 1 Corinthians 12:23-26 take this idea another logical step, asserting that being united in the life of Christ means being united in the lives of other believers.  And so in a mystical and powerful sense, blessings from God, and His intricate and holy work, flows between one part of the body of believers to another part. And this means that to live and die with Christ, we do not do what we would do, but are made new creatures through a kind of strange sublimation that benefits the world and the body. We desire new and wonderful things but are not in control of how they turn out, but we trust God and can often see His hand at work. The following passage makes this clear.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

Again, Hopkins wrote,

Only what word//
Wisest my heart breeds dark heaven’s baffling ban
Bars or hell’s spell thwarts.

This I believe is properly, but more easily understood as, “what word my heart most wisely breeds, either dark heaven’s baffling ban does bar, or else hell’s spell will thwart.” This turns on the ironic idea that the best fruit of Hopkins heart is barred by Heaven. This best fruit is described as his wisest words. It may be Hopkins feels his work is languishing in anonymity and has no impact. But what is “dark heaven”? I believe this refers to the storm clouds over Christ on the Cross, and certainly refers to the baffling mysteries of how a merciful God frustrates our hopes. But these best fruits of service are the ones that Christ would take in the Temple of sacrifice as most sweet and useful.

The idea is that in God’s wrath upon His sweet and tender Son – all sin at once being met with God’s wrath – we also know that sweet wisdom has its worshiping place. And so under the baffling ban of Calvary’s wrath, that love which is foolishness to unbelievers, (also baffling was the ban of the favor that Jesus enjoyed,) Hopkins finds his wisest words silenced by being removed from intimacy with others, because he became a stranger. (1 Corinthians 1:23) That silent cross, having a mission of love, but no intimates, remains true in his poetic life (having almost no readers.)  Also, as I have been arguing, it may be that Hopkins is barred precisely for the work, and for the service of sweet worshiping words in production, since that is how his life in the interpenetrating body is Christ-like.

But the alternate outcome is that if Satan succeeds in keeping a man blind; to use the New Testament figure, if the bird comes and eats the seed of the Gospel before it can work, then the soul is not saved, but Hell has thwarted the good work.

The next and final sentence is also wonderful.

This to hoard unheard,
Heard unheeded, leaves me a lonely began.

If Hopkins hoards what he hears but does not share; if a hearer of the word hoards the hearing, and does not really hear with heart; or if someone hears but does not do, that leaves a great loneliness in this priest. He is comparing Himself with the loneliness of Christ on the Cross, whose people did not know Him, who as the first Living One, the only immortal One, in whose dawn we have all found life, was nonetheless rejected even in His very kindness and innocence. (John 1:10,11) And so the Alpha and Omega at the center saved us at the extremity of loneliness; there He began, but from there He continues and marches on and brings an end of the race to all those He has made.

(The picture below is Caravaggio’s other scene of Paul’s conversion on the way to Damascus.  Here is some of that strife Hopkins speaks of, as Jesus is reaching for Paul and a Jewish soldier fends Him off with a spear. This makes no sense at all on a mundane level but is spiritual, and irrational to the understanding of the flesh.)

Caravaggio Conversion Paul 1