Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Influential Anxiety?


I've been looking into Harold Bloom's famous lit-crit book, The Anxiety of Influence, in which he presents his view that strong poets write in response to powerful poets before them out of an anxiety of influence that drives the latter poets to test their poetic strengths against such powerful poets of the past and thereby reveal their own poetic strengths through creative reinterpretations surpassing those of the earlier poets.

I think that this describes Archibald MacLeish in his attempts to wrestle with John Milton, whom he, of course, cannot best.

Or so I hope to show . . .

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Some People Just Don't Like MacLeish

Earthrise

Joe Luna, the author of this article "Space | Poetry" (Critical Inquiry 43, no. 1 (Autumn 2016): 110-138), was one of the many who did not like MacLeish:
One of the most influential and widely reproduced commentaries on the image was written by Archibald MacLeish. The prose essay "A Reflection: Riders on Earth Together, Brothers in Eternal Cold" first appeared on Christmas Day, 1968 in the New York Times. It was quoted prominently in the special issue May 1969 National Geographic on Apollo 8, accompanied by a full-color centerfold reproduction of Earthrise. "To see the earth desireable as it truly is," concludes MacLeish,
small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold - brothers who know now they are truly brothers.[13]
Poetry was bound up in these events, not only as part of the hackneyed official propaganda by stooges like MacLeish, but also through the way in which contemporary media made the adventures discoverable and desirable in language.

[13.] Archibald MacLeish, "A Reflection: Riders on Earth Together, Brothers in Eternal Cold," New York Times, 25 Dec. 1968, p. 1. As Poole points out, the essay was in fact written and published before MacLeish could have seen the photograph to which it responds; see Poole, Earthrise, p. 35.
Luna had his reasons for disliking MacLeish. More on that another time . . .

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Monday, January 21, 2019

MacLeish - Conquistador

Cortés

MacLeish's"Conquistador" can be found in Collected Poems, 1917-1982, and here are the lines that preface the tale of Bernal Díaz del Castillo:
The Argument

Of that world's conquest and the fortunate wars:
Of the great report and expectation of honor:
How in their youth they stretched sail: how fared they

Westward under the wind: by wave wandered:
Shoaled ship at the last at the ends of ocean:
How they were marching in the lands beyond:

Of the difficult ways there were and the winter's snow
Of the city they found in the good lands: how they lay in it:
How there were always the leaves and the days going . . . (page 184)
This actually sounds rather like Milton, to my ear, anyway. Recall the opening lines of Paradise Lost, which I've borrowed from The John Milton Reading Room and which begin immediately after an argument (see Reading Room):
OF Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat, [ 5 ]
Sing Heav'nly Muse . . .
I hear a distant echo of Milton in MacLeish's lines. I also hear an echo of Beowulf. Consider this: "Westward under the wind: by wave wandered." All that alliteration? There's even a caesura! Very like Beowulf. But I didn't come here today to talk to you about Beowulf. You already know about Beowulf. He's either alive in your mind, or he's not.

I mean to talk here today about Milton and MacLeish. Notice, then, the fact that MacLeish, like Milton, prefaces the beginning lines with an 'Argument.' As I said before, go to the Reading Room, and see just above the opening lines of Paradise Lost.

Of course, there will be differences . . .

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Robert Vanderlan: Intellectuals Incorporated: Politics, Art, and Ideas Inside Henry Luce's Media Empire


Vanderlan connects Milton and MacLeish, as we see in the following passages:
From a very young age MacLeish was already trying to sort out his conflicting feelings about the relationship between art and the rest of the world. During his time at Hotchkiss, he wrote an essay on John Milton. The great poet had been called away from his art to serve the cause of Cromwell, a decision MacLeish depicted in these terms: "His pen, which once had traced the sweetest poetry, was turned to work any scribbler could have done." Yet MacLeish maintained Milton had been correct in his choice, for his active engagement with the world prepared him for the greater poems to follow. "Now there gathered in his brain the threads of the great realities of life and death," he concluded, and it was this that enabled him to write Paradise Lost. Negotiating the line between art and a broader engagement with the world became and remained the animating question of his intellectual life. (page 32)

While compiling a sterling academic, social, and athletic record MacLeish still worried over how to balance his competing interests. At Yale, he found it hard to sustain the optimism contained in his earlier Milton essay. He felt it to be an inopportune place to write poetry. His athletic achievements were celebrated, his classroom success venerated, but his poetry (or maybe it was his odd combination of poet/athlete) fell somehow outside the narrowly prescribed bounds of Yale identity. (page 32)

Here he gave full voice to his determination to live for art and art alone. As he wrote in the famous last lines of "Ars poetica," "A poem should not mean, but be." Forsaking the example of Milton, MacLeish had joined Mason and the idealists. (page 34-35)

As school friend Culbreth Sudler remembered, Luce’s favorite poet was Milton, probably for the same reasons he appealed to the young Archibald MacLeish. Luce "said he wanted to be a poet," Sudler recalled, "He would have liked to be as good as Milton." His pursuit of poetry seems to have subsided only after he took Henry Seidel Canby's advanced writing course. The class included Stephen Vincent Benét and Thornton Wilder and was often visited by recent alumni, among them MacLeish, John Farrar, and Philip Barry. (page 68)

In "Public Speech and Private Speech in Poetry" MacLeish had invoked a poetic tradition running back to Milton and Dante. It was time to revive that tradition, he argued, "to regain that conception of poetry in which a poem, like a war or an edict, is an action on this earth." (page 133)
We now see that MacLeish returned again and again to Milton, comparing and contrasting Milton and himself, at times, siding with Milton, at other times, not siding with Milton.

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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Notes on the Bible (1834), by Albert Barnes, Bible Commentaries


We will discover that many theologians note an intriguing allusion in the opening lines of the Bible. The American Presbyterian theologian Albert Barnes, who published the 1834 popular commentary, Notes on the Bible, wrote of Genesis 1:2 that the verb rı̂chēp (רחף) in its specific context means "brooded," with the allusion to the actions of a bird brooding over its eggs. The brooding spirit of God thus operates upon chaos as an organizing, vivifying force (Barnes' Notes on the Old and New Testaments).

This allusion has been recognized from antiquity, so tracing lines of influence from individual to individual can easily be mistaken since both individuals may share a debt to a common tradition.

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Friday, January 18, 2019

MacLeish's Early Home Education

Martha MacLeish

MacLeish's early schooling was conducted at home, and he and his brothers loved learning about the various creation stories. Of the Hebrew, Greek, and Norse stories, they thought the Hebrew version was best (page 25; Edward Arthur Morin, "An Interpretive Study of Archibald MacLeish's Plays" (1967). Dissertations. Paper 854).

The children had had Bible stories reserved for Sundays from the beginning of the reading program, when Archibald was three years old. At first Martha read isolated stories and then, when the children asked her to begin at the beginning and read the whole Bible, she began with Genesis (page 27).

"Occurring as it did between Archibald's fifth and ninth years and in an informal but supervised way on into his adolescence, with the Bible readings beginning when Archibald was three, the program reached a climax when the young mind was most impressionable for the formation of life long habits" (pages 30-31).

MacLeish entered the prestigious Hotchkiss School in 1907, when he was 15, and graduated in 1911, age 18. Scott Donaldson, writing in Archibald MacLeish: An American Life, informs us that in the Hotchkiss annual literary contest between the Forum and its rival society, the Agora, in December 1909, MacLeish read his essay "John Milton," which contributed to the Forum's victory by winning the best essay award.

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Young Archibald MacLeish's Essay on John Milton


In Archibald MacLeish: An American Life, Scott Donaldson (2016) informs us of an essay on John Milton by a 17-year-old MacLeish, an essay on Milton's dilemma, which was also MacLeish's dilemma, a:
dilemma that was to confront him time and again in his career: how to reconcile the demands of private poetry with those of public service. Using the kind of concrete detail notably missing from his Lincoln essay and from the fable of the westerner, MacLeish focuses on the choice the great English poet had to make between his art and his country, "between the dream which had become himself, and the duty which was calling him from off the road." Milton chose to do his duty, to give up the artistic career that had already produced such brilliant work as "Il Penseroso," in order to become a pamphleteer and treatise writer for the Puritan cause and Oliver Cromwell's government. "His pen, which once had traced the sweetest poetry, was turned to work that any scribbler could have done." In the process "his sight was taken - his sword was fallen from his hand." When the Stuart kings returned to the throne, Milton was left “sightless, friendless, and alone.” Yet Milton made the right choice, the essay maintains, for not only did he serve when needed, but Paradise Lost lay ahead. As Archie expressed it in a flight of rhetoric, "Now there gathered in his brain the threads of the great realities of life and death, and exalted by the scenes of noble beauty in his sightless eyes, he wrote his epic through the hand of one who did not know the greatness of the thing he wrote." At the annual literary contest between the Forum and its rival society the Agora, in December 1909, Archie read his "John Milton," which won the bestessay award and contributed to the Forum's victory. [40 . . . "John Milton," Hotchkiss Record Literary Supplement, (January 1910), 20-23]
This passage includes some of MacLeish's essay on Milton. From such an essay by one so young, we can infer that MacLeish entertained a desire to be like Milton, if duty should call him to do so. I will refer to this passage again in another blog entry when I have more on MacLeish's familiarity with Milton.

Meanwhile, does anyone have access to MacLeish's entire essay?

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

MacLeish Brooding . . .


In Archibald MacLeish: An American Life, Scott Donaldson tells us us of MacLeish's teenage business of raising chickens:
In a copy of Country Gentleman he read about the brand-new idea of using an incubator and a brooder in raising chickens. He then secured a loan from his father and went into the chicken-and-egg business. (no page number given)
Apparently, he was good at the job, but my interest in this biographical point lies in the word "incubator" (and perhaps also in the word "brooder"), for I will need to connect his interest in such practical things to his later noetic interests.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

"Flood," by James Joyce

James Joyce

This poem was written by James Joyce in 1914 [1915?] in Trieste, shortly before the start of WWI (or a year into that conflict?).

Flood

Goldbrown upon the sated flood
The rockvine clusters lift and sway;
Vast wings above the lambent waters brood
Of sullen day.

A waste of waters ruthlessly
Sways and uplifts its weedy mane
Where brooding day stares down upon the sea
In dull disdain.

Uplift and sway, O golden vine,
Your clustered fruits to love's full flood,
Lambent and vast and ruthless as is thine
Incertitude!

Since Joyce was a personal friend of MacLeish, the latter surely knew of this poem, and the twelve years till 1926 gave plenty of time for reading it. In fact, MacLeish did see the poem at least one time, in March 1927, when MacLeish responded very favorably to the poems in the booklet prepared to contain them (Pomes Penyeach), so Joyce went ahead with publication. They were first published 6 (or 7) July 1927 by Silvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company.

Plus, the poem's title allows for reading the title as reference to the epic flood in the Bible, which might explain the use of the title in apocalyptic senses.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

Salomé, Oscar Wilde (Joost Daalder's Analysis)

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde's drama Salome is a complex text in its English translation from the French original. It was first translated by Wilde's lover Lord Alfred Douglas in 1894, but this version was considered unsatisfactory and was replaced in 1906 by a much superior translation by Wilde's lifelong friend and literary executor Robert Ross. This fact that the text of 1894 was not very good was suppressed by Wilde and Ross in order that Douglas's feelings not be hurt, which could lead to Wilde's loss of his lover (i.e., Douglas). I have pasted the first two pages of Joost Daalder's article as a way of introducing these issues.

Daalder, incidentally, notes that Douglas tends to 'biblicize' the text, which means that he puts the English translation into the language of the Authorized Version (i.e., the King James Version). Here is an example of this biblicizing (W = Wilde; D = Douglas; R = Ross) by Douglas:

Aussi j'ai entendu un battement d'ailes dan l'air, un battement d'ailes gigantesques. Ce sont de tres mauvais presages. Et i1 y en avail d'autres. Je suis sur qu'il y en avait d'autres, quoique je ne les aie pas vus. Eh bien! Salome, vous ne voulez pas qu'un maIheur m'arrive? Vous ne voulez pas cela. Enfin, ecoutez-moi W; Also did I not hear a beating of wings in the air, a beating of vast wings?'These are ill omens. And there were other things. I am sure that there were other things, though I saw them not. Thou wouldst not that some evil should befall me, Salome? Listen to me again D; Also, I heard a beating of wings in the air, a beating of mighty wings. These are very evil omens, and there were others. I am sure there were others though I did not see them. Well, Salomé, you do not wish a misfortune to happen to me? You do not wish that. Listen to me, then R

Note the biblical "Thou" and the subjunctive of "will" (want) in "wouldst": "Thou wouldst not that some evil should befall me." (Note also the shift from Douglas's "vast" wings to Ross's "mighty" wings, though this is not a biblicizing move.)

Here begins Joost Daalder's opening pages:

[Page 131]

"A History of Confusion: The Two Earliest English Translations of Oscar Wilde's Salomé," Bibliographical Society of Australia New Zealand Bulletin, Vo1. 26, No. 3, and 4, 2002, 131-172

Joost Daalder

Introducing the Issues

Salome is now one of Oscar Wilde's most highly regarded plays - no longer only in continental Europe, but also in English-speaking countries. As is well known, it was originally written in French and published in 1893:
Oscar Wilde, Salome: Drame en un Acte, Paris: Librairie de l'Art Indépendant; London: Elkin Mathews and John Lane, 1893. - Stuart Mason, Bibliography of Oscar Wilde, London: Bodley Head and T. Werner Laurie, 1914 (new ed., London: Bertram Rota, 1967), no. 348.[1].

[1]This is an extremely rare book. As most readers will have great difficulty locating a copy, I cite Wilde's French from Robert Ross's first collected edition of the Works, London: Methuen, 1908, reproduced under the title The First Collected Edition of the Works of Oscar Wilde, 1908-1922, in 15 vols, London: Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1969. Salomé is part of vo1. l3 (though of vo1. 2 in the 1908 version). I use the form Salome instead of the French Salomé wherever the texts cited allow me to do so, and also when I refer to the play in general terms. In English the second syllable normally receives the stress, in French it is always the last.
Page 132

It is also common knowledge that an unsatisfactory translation of the play into English by Wilde's beloved 'Bosie', Lord Alfred Douglas, appeared in 1894:
Salome - A Tragedy in One Act: Translated from the French of Oscar Wilde: Pictured by Aubrey Beardsley, London: Elkin Mathews and John Lane; Boston: Copeland and Day, 1894 - Mason Nr. 350[2]

[2]This, again, is a very rare book. The illustrations in this article are from a copy in the Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne.
The 1894 text does not bear Douglas's name, but does include an acknowledgement: 'To my friend Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas the translator of my play'. What until now has not been realised, however, is that this translation has been persistently confused with a later, drastically overhauled version - virtually a new translation - first published in 1906 and almost certainly prepared by Robert Ross, Wilde's life-long friend, and his literary executor after his death in 1900.[3] This later version has been repeatedly mistaken for Douglas's original translation. Thus many - indeed most - judgements formed about what is held to be Douglas's translation are in fact based on Ross's amended version, which has often been re-printed by later publishers, and presented to an unknowing public, as though it was Douglas's. Vice versa, those who concern themselves with Douglas's version are unaware of the existence of Ross's.
[3]Salome: A Tragedy in One Act Translated from the French of Oscar Wilde, London: John Lane, Bodley Head; New York.: John Lane Co., 1906. Mason (no. 352) points out that this book was reprinted in the form he describes in 1908 and 1911. An upgraded version of the 1906 publication (Mason no. 355) had meanwhile appeared, dated 1907 but published in September 1906: Salome: A Tragedy in One Act Translated from the French of Oscar Wilde, with Sixteen Drawings by Aubrry Beardsley, London: John Lane, Bodley Head; New York.: John Lane Co., 1907. The text of the play remained unaltered from the 1906 publication, though some significant material was added. Either the 1906 or the 1907 volume provided the basis for all subsequent reprints of Ross's 1906 version, which will from here on be referred to as '1906-7'. Page references are to the 1907 volume.
Thus ends Joost Daalder's opening pages. Shift now below to the confused notes that I took when I thought that Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas was the sole authoritative translator of the French into English, despite the fact that I am first quoting from Daalder himself:

HEROD (6): C'etait le vent sans doute W; It was the blowing of the wind D; - of the wind, no doubt R # un battement d'aiIes W; a beating of wings D; the beating - R# HEROD (7): C'est votre

[Page 166]

fille qui est malade. Elle a rair tres malade, votre fille W; It is your daughter who is sick to death D; It is your daughter who is sick. She has the mien of a sick person R #

The Two Earliest English Translations of Oscar Wilde's Salome [Page 171]

Aussi j'ai entendu un battement d'ailes dan rair, un battement d'ailes gigantesques. Ce sont de tres mauvais presages. Et i1 y en avail d'autres. Je suis sUr qu'il y en avait d'autres, quoique je ne Ies aie pas W5. Eh hien! Salome, VOllS ne voulez pas qu'un maIheur m'arrive? VOllS ne voulez pas cela. Enfin, ecoutez-moi W; Also did I not hear a beating of wings in the air, a beating of vast wings?'These are ill omens. And there were other things. I am sure that there were other things, though I saw them not. Thou wouldst not that some evil should befall me, Salome? Listen to me again D; Also, I heard a beating of wings in the air, a beating of mighty wings. These are very evil omens, and there were others. I am sure there were others though I did not see them. Well, Salome, you do not wish a misfortune to happen to me? You do not wish that. Listen to me, then R # HEROD (2): Vous voyez, vous ne m'ecoutez pas. Mais soyez calm•.· Moi, je suistres calme. Je suis tout afait calme W; Ah! thou art not listening to me. Be calm. As for me, am I not calm? I am altogether calm D; Ah! you are not listening to me. Be calm. I - I am calm. I am quite calm

Away from Daalder, here is my confused analysis:

In Oscar Wilde's Salomé: A Tragedy in One Act, we find two passages in which the expression "vast wings" occurs, depending on which translation from French to English is used. Lord Alfred Douglas translated Wilde's French original into English three years later, in 1894. There have been other translations. The authoritative version is that of Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde's lover, since Wilde chose him as translator.

Here is the first passage:

HEROD: His father was a king. I drove him from his kingdom. And you made a slave of his mother, who was a queen, Herodias. So he was here as my guest, as it were, and for that reason I made him my captain. I am sorry he is dead. Ho! why have you left the body here? I will not look at it - away with it! [They take away the body.] It is cold here. There is a wind blowing. Is there not a wind blowing?

HERODIAS: No; there is no wind.

HEROD: I tell you there is a wind that blows . . . . And I hear in the air something that is like the beating of wings, like the beating of vast wings. Do you not hear it?

HERODIAS: I hear nothing.

HEROD: I hear it no longer. But I heard it. It was the blowing of the wind, no doubt. It has passed away. But no, I hear it again. Do you not hear it? It is just like the beating of wings.

HERODIAS: I tell you there is nothing. You are ill. Let us go within.

Here is the original translation of the first passage from French into English in 1894:

Herod. His father was a king. I drove him from his kingdom. And his mother, who was a queen, you made a slave, Herodias. So he was here as my guest, as it were, and for that reason I made him my captain. I am sorry he is dead. Ho! why have you left the body here? It must be taken to some other place. I will not look at it — away with it! (They take away the body). It is cold here. There is a wind blowing. Is there not a wind blowing?

Herodias. No; there is no wind.

Herod. I tell you there is a wind that blows. And I hear in the air something that is like the beating of wings, like the beating of vast wings. Do you not hear it?

Herodias. I hear nothing.

Herod. I hear it no longer. But I heard it. It was the blowing of the wind. It has passed away. But no, I hear it again. Do you not hear it? It is just like a beating of wings.

Herodias. I tell you there is nothing. You are ill. Let us go within.

Here is the second passage:

Herod: Be silent! You cry out always; you cry out like a beast of prey. You must not. Your voice wearies me. Be silent, I say Salomé, think of what you are doing. This man comes perchance from God. He is a holy man. The finger of God has touched him. God has put into his mouth terrible words. In the palace as in the desert God is always with him.... At least it is possible. One does not know. It is possible that God is for him and with him. Furthermore, if he died some misfortune might happen to me. In any case, he said that the day he dies a misfortune will happen to some one. That could only be to me. Remember, I slipped in blood when I entered. Also, I heard a beating of wings in the air, a beating of mighty wings. These are very evil omens, and there were others. I am sure there were others though I did not see them. Well, Salomé, you do not wish a misfortune to happen to me? You do not wish that. Listen to me, then.

Here is the original translation of the second passage from French into English in 1894:

Herod: Peace! you are always crying out. You cry out like a beast of prey. You must not cry in such fashion. Your voice wearies me. Peace, I tell you! . . . Salomé, think on what thou art doing. It may be that this man comes from God. He is a holy man. The finger of God has touched him. God has put terrible words into his mouth. In the palace, as in the desert, God is ever with him . . . It may be that He is, at least. One cannot tell, but it is possible that God is with him and for him. If he die also, peradventure some evil may befall me. Verily, he has said that evil will befall some one on the day whereon he dies. On whom should it fall if it fall not on me? Remember, I slipped in blood when I came hither. Also did I not hear a beating of wings in the air, a beating of vast wings? These are ill omens. And there were other things. I am sure that there were other things, though I saw them not. Thou wouldst not that some evil should befall me, Salomé? Listen to me again.

Note that I here turn to another text, Milman's Belshazzar, a text which I am elsewhere among these texts analyzing, a text that I thought showed parallels to a passage in Salome in which Herod considered the beating of wings to be evil omens, perhaps omens as found in Belshazzar:

A dim oppression loads the air, and sounds
As of vast wings do somewhere seem to brood
And hover on the winds; and I that most
Should tremble for myself, the appointed prey
Of sin, am bow'd, as with enforced compassion,
To think on sorrows not mine own, to weep
O'er those whose laughter and whose song upbraids
My prodigality of mis-spent pity.

But one must remember that Wilde's drama was first published in a French version, only three years later to be translated into English, so there is not so much to be uncovered, perhaps.

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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Two Creation Passages in Paradise Lost

John Milton:
Creation Water?
As Conceived by
Terrance Lindall

Paradise Lost has two creation passages, both of which I'll post here for easy reference.

Here's the first creation passage in PL:

PL 1:17-26

And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th' upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know'st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread [ 20 ]
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad'st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumin, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence, [ 25 ]
And justifie the wayes of God to men.

Here is the second creation passage in PL:

7:232-242

Thus God the Heav'n created, thus the Earth,
Matter unform'd and void: Darkness profound
Cover'd th' Abyss: but on the watrie calme
His brooding wings the Spirit of God outspred, [ 235 ]
And vital vertue infus'd, and vital warmth
Throughout the fluid Mass, but downward purg'd
The black tartareous cold Infernal dregs
Adverse to life: then founded, then conglob'd
Like things to like, the rest to several place [ 240 ]
Disparted, and between spun out the Air,
And Earth self ballanc't on her Center hung.

There is much to say about these two passages, and of special interest to me are the lines with the term "brooding." Readers interested in this term can find an article of mine where much is said, even going back to antiquity.

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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Archibald MacLeish: An American Life, Scott Donaldson

Scott Donaldson

MacLeish here says much the same as what he says in "Reflections" when asked how he had come to write the poem "The End of the World":
In August the weather off the Atlantic turned foul. A tempest washed the beach away, and the winds, howling at night, spoke of menace. A small traveling circus — "one tent, a very few animals, a few clowns, a few acrobats, and that was it." All the MacLeishes went one evening, watching the performers in the eerie light of torches: "One touch of the torch on the canvas roof and we were gone." The phrase that came to Archie a few days later, as he sat in his room high above the Atlantic trying to shut out the noise of the yelping dogs and of Ada singing Stravinsky, was “quite unexpectedly.” Just that most unpoetic phrase, "quite unexpectedly," and then the repetition, "quite unexpectedly the top blew off." So commenced the composition of "The End of the World," another of his best and most widely anthologized poems:
Quite unexpectedly as VasserotThe armless ambidextrian was lightingA match between his great and second toeAnd Ralph the lion was engaged in bitingThe neck of Madame Sossman while the drumPointed, and Teeny was about to coughIn waltz-time swinging Jocko by the thumb --Quite unexpectedly the top blew off:

And there, there overhead, there, there, hung overThose thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,There in the starless dark the poise, the hover,There with vast wings across the canceled skies,There in the sudden blackness the black pallOf nothing, nothing, nothing -- nothing at all.
The jury is deadlocked on how to interpret this poem. To some, it reads like yet another statement of postwar disillusionment and emptiness: man confronted with a universe that has no connection with him and nothing to say. Yet others detect a kind of excitement at the very prospect of the tabula rasa out in space, awaiting those who will inscribe their message. Technically, most critics agree that the poem derives its power from the extraordinary contrast between the lively and busy octet – the hurly-burly of the circus underneath the tent – and the slow, measured pace of the sestet depicting the starless skies and ending in a memorable string of four negations. Because of this remarkable contrast, it is one of MacLeish’s poems most often set to music.
But my question is: what is the connection between this poem above with its "vast wings" (in what appears to be an un-creation) and Milton's lines on the mighty wings outspread (in what is clearly a creation event).

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Friday, January 11, 2019

Archibald MacLeish: Reflections


In this book, edited by Bernard A. Drabeck and Helen E. Ellis, we find MacLeish reflecting on his writing of "The End of the World" (1926), and he spends pages 32 through 39 (eight pages give or take) doing nothing but talk mostly about the writing of that poem, pages in which he never mentions Milton, though he surely is thinking (isn't he?) of Milton and Milton's image of the Spirit of God hovering over the abyss and impregnating it.

Here is the correctly punctuated poem, the critical edition (I hope):
"The End of the World"

Quite unexpectedly as Vasserot
The armless ambidextrian was lighting
A match between his great and second toe
And Ralph the lion was engaged in biting
The neck of Madame Sossman while the drum
Pointed, and Teeny was about to cough
In waltz-time swinging Jocko by the thumb --
Quite unexpectedly the top blew off:

And there, there overhead, there, there, hung over
Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
There in the starless dark the poise, the hover,
There with vast wings across the canceled skies,
There in the sudden blackness the black pall
Of nothing, nothing, nothing -- nothing at all.
MacLeish recalls very well the 'raw ingredients' that he says goes into this poem: a gypsy circus with an elephant, a mangy lion, a large, buxom lady who had seen better days, and lots of clowns, plus the gales coming in off the channel, threatening to blow the tents away, or perhaps getting the tents to flapping into the torches and leaving everyone watching the entire performance go up in smoke? Some of this can also be read in Archibald MacLeish: An American Life, by Scott Donaldson.

But why the end of the world? Maybe the carnival atmosphere, that reflection of pandemonium, had come under judgement, the Last Judgement.

Note, anyway, the connection between creating and un-creating.

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

"Archibald MacLeish, 1892–1982" (Poetry Foundation)

Archibald MacLeish

"Archibald MacLeish, 1892–1982" (Poetry Foundation)

The following quote, offering Conrad Aiken's view of MacLeish's accomplishments, tells us:
Aiken went on, however, to pose the unanswered question of "whether [MacLeish's] 'echoes' might not, by a future generation, be actually preferred to the things they echo." Often, in MacLeish's work, such "echoes" are a form of brilliant, purposeful parody, an additional stylistic power finally recognizable fifty postmodern years later for what it is.
This very thing may be what MacLeish is doing in "The End of the World." Interestingly, that poem is not once mentioned in this Poetry Foundation's biography of MacLeish, so let's tack it on here at the end to recall it:

"The End of the World"

Quite unexpectedly as Vasserot
The armless ambidextrian was lighting
A match between his great and second toe
And Ralph the lion was engaged in biting
The neck of Madame Sossman while the drum
Pointed, and Teeny was about to cough
In waltz-time swinging Jocko by the thumb --
Quite unexpectedly the top blew off:

And there, there overhead, there, there, hung over
Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
There in the starless dark the poise, the hover,
There with vast wings across the canceled skies,
There in the sudden blackness the black pall
Of nothing, nothing, nothing -- nothing at all.

Recall again the echoes of Milton in these lines, but also of the other writers whom we've been looking into.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2019

John T. Shawcross, Milton Quarterly, Volume 42, Issue 1, March 2008, Pages 69-77


The Milton expert John T. Shawcross, in a thoughtful reaction to the terror of 9/11, published the article 'What is Faith, Love, Vertue unassaid': Some Literary Answers to Our Ever‐Present Evils," in the Milton Quarterly after several years of deliberation (Volume 42, Issue 1, March 2008, Pages 69-77), and I quote a passage relevant to my current interests:
Our current times have brought an onslaught of terror and scandal and crisis all together in one fell swoop, and we can easily be overwhelmed. The questions pertinent to these ever‐present evils have been "answered" (well, that's not the right word, perhaps "allayed"? perhaps "invalidated"?) in literature by faith, though it may be, as one knows, but a chimera, or by no answer, a mere void, a black hole, the nihilism of the nineteenth century continued. I think of Archibald MacLeish's little poem, for one expression of this vacuum that many feel and that he envisioned as "The End of the World":
And there, there overhead, there, there, hung over
Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
There in the starless dark the poise, the hover,
There with vast wings across the canceled skies,
There in the sudden blackness the black pall
Of nothing, nothing, nothing -- nothing at all.
Though Shawcross as Milton scholar published the above passage in the Milton Quarterly (Volume 42, Issue 1, March 2008, pages 69-77), he simply notes that this (part of the) short poem by Archibald MacLeish might express the moral vacuum that many people feel in our era of terror, scandal, and crisis. He does not call attention to the parallels between this stanza above and the lines from Paradise Lost (Book 1, lines 17-26), though he surely must have recognized the allusions to Milton in MacLeish's wording. Let's take a look at that passage in Paradise Lost to refresh our memory:
And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th' upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know'st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread [ 20 ]
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad'st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumin, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence, [ 25 ]
And justifie the wayes of God to men.
Shawcross neither quotes nor cites these lines from Milton; I have placed them here for ease of reference. This enables us to see the parallels between Milton's understanding of creation and MacLeish's expression of un-creation. MacLeish's use of Milton is not 'plagiarism' but a re-imagining of Judgement Day envisioned through echoes of Milton, if one will allow me this paradox.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Belshazzar: A Dramatic Poem (London, 1822) by Henry Hart Milman

George Frederic Watts

My blogposts might be more boring than usual over the next several weeks as I investigate the expression "vast wings" and similar expressions, as in Belshazzar: A Dramatic Poem (London, 1822), by Henry Hart Milman:

A dim oppression loads the air, and sounds
As of vast wings do somewhere seem to brood
And hover on the winds; and I that most
Should tremble for myself, the appointed prey
Of sin, am bow'd, as with enforced compassion,
To think on sorrows not mine own, to weep
O'er those whose laughter and whose song upbraids
My prodigality of mis-spent pity.

(page 93)

My Notes:

Milman (1791-1868) was a clergyman, a historian, and a poet, and as poet was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1821. We should compare his lines above with those of Milton below in Book 1 of Paradise Lost:

And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer [17]
Before all Temples th' upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know'st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread [ 20 ]
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad'st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumin, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence, [ 25 ]
And justifie the wayes of God to men. [26]

[From Dartmouth's Milton Reading Room]

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Monday, January 07, 2019

David Barber, "In Search of an 'Image of Mankind': The Public Poetry and Prose of Archibald MacLeish"

Archibald MacLeish
Wikipedia

Last spring, I noted on the Milton List that Archibald MacLeish had a Miltonic moment (vast) and might have had Miltonic pretensions (cancelled skies) in writing the poem "The End of the World" (1926). Here's that poem:

"The End of the World"

Quite unexpectedly as Vasserot
The armless ambidextrian was lighting
A match between his great and second toe
And Ralph the lion was engaged in biting
The neck of Madame Sossman while the drum
Pointed, and Teeny was about to cough
In waltz-time swinging Jocko by the thumb --
Quite unexpectedly the top blew off:

And there, there overhead, there, there, hung over
Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
There in the starless dark the poise, the hover,
There with vast wings across the canceled skies,
There in the sudden blackness the black pall
Of nothing, nothing, nothing -- nothing at all.

There is clearly something of Milton in this sonnet, as we can see by even a mere glance at these lines from Paradise Lost (Book 1, lines 17-26):

And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th' upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know'st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread [ 20 ]
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad'st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumin, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence, [ 25 ]
And justifie the wayes of God to men.

This is taken from Dartmouth's John Milton Reading Room.

David Barber, in his article "In Search of an 'Image of Mankind': The Public Poetry and Prose of Archibald MacLeish," (31-56) (29 American Studies 3 i, 36 (Fall 1988)) circles around a Miltonic conception of MacLeish (but does not note the parallels between the passages above):

"In 1931 Archibald MacLeish conceived a goal which he never afterward abandoned, though his idea of how to accomplish it changed: to identify or generate a vision for humanity, a motivating 'image of mankind in which men can again believe.'"[p 31, f 2]

[Footnote 2: "Nevertheless One Debt," Poetry 38 (1931), 216]

"His defects are in little danger of being forgotten, they are so visible. He failed to explain in prose, or demonstrate in poetry, just how poets can influence society's vision and direction. During World War II he claimed to want a national dialogue but contrived to set limits of allowable debate. He misused the podium of public office attempting to coerce the image makers: poets and artists and historians and journalists and film makers, into supporting his position. Perhaps his later opposition to McCarthyism, or his primary role in securing the release of Ezra Pound, or his repeated public reminders throughout the postwar period that Americans must know what they are for, not just what they are against -- perhaps such activities were his atonement. Not that he ever expressed a need to repent, or failed ultimately to prove his sincerity if not his judgment. Though Edmund Wilson always believed him a charlatan, MacLeish was doing, admittedly in a patronizing way, what Americans and all cultures need: exhorting them to conceive 'a good idea of themselves.' Thinking for a time that poetry alone could generate that vision, he eventually moderated this hope; and though he continued to seek a modern Dante to give our age its motivating vision, he lived to see no such genius appear. Certain of his enemies believed that MacLeish saw himself in this role; possibly at some point he did."[p 52, f 76]

[Footnote 76: "Rosenberg, for example, scorned MacLeish as 'the Poet Leader who has put poetry in the place formerly occupied by God' ("The God in the Car," 338, 340), and Zabel surmised that the opening of World War II gave MacLeish 'his chance to impress on his fellow-citizens the fact that a Milton not only should be living in this hour but by miraculous good fortune is" ("The Poet on Capitol Hill," 4).]

"To think that the people merely need someone to give them their vision, this perhaps was his failure of faith. It was a weakness he shared with Walt Whitman. And also — to descend from the sublime - with Amy Lowell. In MacLeish's pivotal year 1931 she had doubted whether MacLeish could play such a role. Perhaps, she mused, he lacked a certain 'gusto.' Perhaps we needed to wait for 'some poet of grit and brawn, some prophet of grandeur and laughter, some cross between John Milton and Ogden Nash, to tell us the whole truth and save the world.'"[77]

[Footnote 77: "Comment: Archibald MacLeish," Poetry 38 (1931), 155.]

We have reason to expect more on Milton and MacLeish . . .

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Sunday, January 06, 2019

"Former FSC chair believes Koreans have mighty DNA"


Korean's Mighty DNA! Need I say more? But if more is needed, click on Hong Byeong-gee's JoongAng interview with Kim Seok-dong (please, no funny-name jokes) for the latter's views on:
"[T]he DNA with which Koreans' unique temperament is embedded [is mighty], because [t]hanks to this DNA, within less than 60 years, Korea became a great economic power in the world . . . . [and] I want to inform the [younger] generation about how great our country and our DNA is in order to become a world-class citizen competing in this world."
People don't generally talk about their DNA in this way if they're referring to genetics. This sounds more like the metaphorical use of the term, as in reference to a company's DNA. But who knows what Kim Seok-dong really meant.

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Saturday, January 05, 2019

An Easter Egg in Aquaman?


Did anyone else notice a copy of The Amityville Horror on a bookshelf early in the movie Aquaman? Or was it Lovecraft's book, The Dunwich Horror? I recall seeing the name Lovecraft.

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Friday, January 04, 2019

A Tall Order

I've reworked the previous format to my concrete poem "Starbucks Crew: Tall Orders" in an attempt to show the rare rhymes and numerous near rhymes more clearly:


There's also a covert sense of atmospheric pressure from an occult espresso pressing down upon a couple or more of croissants pushing back through dynamic tension and holding the poem up visually from underneath.

Or so says my inner lit-crit cult-crit theory exponent . . .

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Thursday, January 03, 2019

Finesse of a Virtuoso, Power of a Machine


Something to mull over, "One Giant Step for a Chess-Playing Machine," is an article published on December 26, 2018 in the NYT by Steven Strogatz, a professor of mathematics at Cornell (and don't be fazed by my re-wording):
AlphaZero has not grown stronger in the past twelve months, but the evidence of its superiority has. It clearly displays a breed of intellect that humans have not seen before, and that we will be mulling over for a long time to come . . . . [T]hese chess "engines" [seem to] have real understanding of the game. They [do not] have to be tutored in the basic principles of chess . . . . These principles, which have been refined over decades of human grandmaster experience, are programmed into the engines as complex evaluation functions that indicate what to seek in a position and what to avoid: how much to value king safety, piece activity, pawn structure, control of the center, and more, and how to balance the trade-offs among them . . . . All of that has [come] . . . with the rise of machine learning. By playing against itself and updating its neural network as it learned from experience, AlphaZero discovered the principles of chess on its own and quickly became the best player ever . . . . Most unnerving was that AlphaZero seemed to express insight. It played like no computer ever has, intuitively and beautifully, with a romantic, attacking style. It played gambits and took risks . . . . Grandmasters had never seen anything like it. AlphaZero had the finesse of a virtuoso and the power of a machine. It was humankind's first glimpse of an awesome new kind of intelligence.
This begins to sound ominous. But also over-romanticized. Strogatz ascribes personality to the machine. It has 'insight.' It has a real 'understanding' of the game. "[It has] 'discovered' the principles of chess on its own" (single quote marks mine).

But this machine is not a person. It lacks personhood. Doesn't it?

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Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Whether Fisticuffs or Cufflinks, Style Makes the Man

A Stylish Peter Parker
Out on the Town in Daegu

I spent a couple of the holiday's days in Daegu, the town where my wife grew up. Daegu is a good place to be stuck in for one or two days reading in the NYT about John McPhee's most recent book, The Patch, in a review by Craig Taylor:
Here is the seventh collection of essays by John McPhee, his 33rd book and perhaps his eleventy-billionth word of published prose. This far into a prolific career, it may be a good time to finally unmask the 87-year-old as a one-trick pony. In “The Patch,” he again shamelessly employs his go-to strategy: crafting sentences so energetic and structurally sound that he can introduce apparently unappealing subjects, even ones that look to be encased in a cruddy veneer of boringness, and persuade us to care about them. He’s been working this angle since the 1950s; it’s a good thing we’re finally onto him now.
Taylor is using self-irony to praise Mcphee's good writing, but also good is that McPhee writes far better sentences than this one by Taylor:
This far into a prolific career, it may be a good time to finally unmask the 87-year-old as a one-trick pony.
We do see that Taylor intends to praise McPhee with an ironic manner of expression, but inadvertently manages merely to hang himself, from what appears to be a dangling modifier, with rope provided by the NYT.

Or is the problem more specifically with the overworked, yet lazy pronoun "it"?

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Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Happy Newer Year

Season's Greetings!

Monday, December 31, 2018

Be Back Soon!

Blogging is proving difficult here in Daegu, but I'll return on the first!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Postmodern Me Asks Some Past-Timely Questions


Postmodern Me: Is Tom Waits the first to have uttered this gem of a statement?
Tom Waits: "I'd rather have a free bottle in front of me than a prefrontal lobotomy."
Postmodern Me: And what Taryton smoker first said this?
Taryton Smoker: "I'd rather fight than switch!"
Postmodern Me: But let's say I grabbed that switch and lashed out at anyone who tried to fight me.
Early Modern Questioneer: Which switch would'st thou?
Postmodern Me: The good switch, Wanda. Along with that free bottle. I do need a drink.

Elphaba: Me too.

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Friday, December 28, 2018

Shoshanna at Work Blending In

Spy-Dear

A good spy-dear must adopt the native ways - to go loco, as we say . . .

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Thursday, December 27, 2018

Woman of Mystery

My Wife in Seoul

This photo comes down to us from last week, when my brother and his wife went downtown with my wife and our two kids, leaving me alone at home to grade papers and generally deal with practical academic things . . .

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Pugnacious words from Sheikh Younus Kathrada


Canadian Cleric Younus Kathrada informs us that "Congratulating Christians For Christmas Is Worse Than Murder"
[According to Memri,] "During a sermon delivered at the Muslim Youth of Victoria in British Columbia, Sheikh Younus Kathrada said that Muslims must be offended when people worship Jesus. He explained that congratulating non-Muslims on Christmas and other 'false festivals' is tantamount to approving of them, and that it is a far greater sin than murder, adultery, and other major sins."
Consider that! For a Muslim to wish someone a 'Merry Christmas' is far worse then murder. But the Sheikh demurred when faced with the implications:
"Sheikh Kathrada stressed that he never calls to kill non-Muslims, who should be treated justly." [Here are several excerpts:]
Sheikh Younus Kathrada: "We see around us that people are preparing themselves to celebrate Christmas, and that with great sadness we see that amongst us there are those who think it's a small matter, and so, not only might we congratulate them on their Christmas, on their false holiday and celebration, but we may take part in their holiday as well. There are those who will say to them 'Merry Christmas' – what are you congratulating them on? [Are these] congratulations on the birth of your Lord? Is that acceptable to a Muslim? Are you now approving of their beliefs? By saying that you are approving of it."
But only now does the Sheik get serious:
"If a person were to commit every major sin – committing adultery, dealing with interest, lying, murder . . . If a person were to do all of those major sins, they are nothing compared to the sin of congratulating and greeting the non-Muslims on their false festivals. This doesn't mean that we treat the non-Muslims in a bad way or that we deal with them unjustly. I'm not saying, and I've never said, go out and just kill them, and do this to them . . . No! Because Allah tells us not to allow the enmity that may exist between you and a people to cause you to be unjust towards them. Rather, be just."
The good Sheikh need not call for killing the one guilty of greeting "Merry Christmas." He need merely advise to treat offenders with justice. The implication is clear enough. If wishing "Merry Christmas" is far worse than murder, then one surely is justified in killing the one guilty of offering the greeting.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Season's Greetings


Merry Christmas

from

The Gypsy Scholar

and

Family

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Monday, December 24, 2018

Shoshanna Cogan: International, Trainer, Facilitator, Coach, and Consultant

Shoshanna Cogan

Shoshanna is married to my brother Shannon - as you know if you've been reading my blog entries lately - and that marital fact speaks volumes for her ability to facilitate events, among her many other other abilities, talents, and skills.

Should anyone wish to learn more, here's her website:
Shoshanna Cogan
Here's more about her:
Shoshanna Cogan is an international trainer, facilitator, coach, and consultant with over 25 years of expertise serving on 6 continents. She has trained more than 26,000 participants and led training teams across the country and around the world. She designs and delivers customized programs and trainings for small, medium, and large teams and organizations.
Plenty more at the site . . .

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Sunday, December 23, 2018

Tall Orders

Here's a poem I wrote for the longsuffering Starbucks crew, who have to deal with a customer like me (namely me) who requests odd orders:




I hope that this is legible as is and when enlarged . . .

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