Sunday, February 24, 2019

Through Other's Eyes . . .


In an interesting NYT article - "At our core, emotions" (February 23-24, 2019) - Sy Montgomery describes her last meeting with an old friend:
A few years ago, I found myself in a [sad] situation . . . . My friend Octavia was old, sick and dying. We hadn't looked into each other's eyes for a long while - nearly a fifth of her life span. I came to say goodbye. When she caught sight of me, Octavia, with great effort, using some of the last of her limited strength, rose to greet me and enveloped me in her arms . . . . My friend and I had last shared an ancestor in the Precambrian Era - before limbs or eyes had evolved, back when practically everyone was a tube . . . . Octavia's mouth was in her armpits, she had no skeleton at all and her arms were equipped with 1,600 suckers. Octavia was a giant Pacific octopus. Yet she and I cared for each other - enough for both of us to delight in one last, tender, emotional embrace.
As I said, interesting. Interesting, what we're learning about animals, particularly what we're learning about their intelligence, intelligence that in some ways challenges our own. Maybe even exceeds our own . . .

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Saturday, February 23, 2019

Slender Calves? Oh, the Humanity! Uh . . . the Animality?


The philosopher Simon Critchley, writing an NYT article - "In Aristotle's Garden" - tells us:
"Aristotle had slender calves."
Interesting anecdote, but perhaps Aristotle ought to have fed them better, as he had a large garden, or so the article goes on to inform us.

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Friday, February 22, 2019

Bruce L. Edwards on Satan in J.B. and Paradise Lost


The C. S. Lewis scholar Bruce L. Edwards tells us that MacLeish's Satan in J.B. is similar to Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost:
In the climax of J.B., it is Satan — as he arguably does in John Milton's Paradise Lost — who seems to emerge as the more sympathetic and compassionate character. The implication is that as soon as men and women discover this — as J.B. and Sarah do at the play's end — they no longer need God; they have the opportunity to grapple with human suffering without slogans and empty religious dogma.
Perhaps Edwards has a point, but only if Satan seems sympathetic to us in our human predicament, not that he really is sympathetic. He starts off as a sympathetic figure in Paradise Lost but quickly falls in our estimation of him. Does he have this trajectory in J.B.?

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Thursday, February 21, 2019

In Spirit and in Truth

Bishop Berkeley
Portrait by
John Smybert,1727

In a refute 'Beasley' moment, Bons fell through rock as though through water, despite Johnson.
In Spirit and in Truth
Stay active now, the hour is late,
such little time to love, or hate,
and worn down with the years that pass,
we scarcely think to raise a glass
for those gone on ahead of us
by the celestial omnibus.
Toward death, be not proud. Its scythe is the great leveler.

Homework: Find the various allusions in today's blogpost.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Or was that fox female?


There is a third possible rendering: The fox could be female:
Vixenation 3
One day, a fox ran through his town.
He did not wish to let her down,
so he gave chase and ran along
beside that russet one too long.

He found himself in forest deep,
and so, he lay him down to sleep,
exhausted, on the forest floor,
and there he sleeps forevermore.
Maybe that's got it: The word "vixen" is used of female foxes, and the title, "Vixenation," therefore better fits the poem after specifying the fox as "her."

I've also added a couple of arguably necessary commas . . .

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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Really, Truly, a Fox Did One Day Run Through Town

Dark Forest Fox?

Here's a poem that might be no good, but it's at least not doggerel:
Vixenation 1
One day a fox ran through my town.
I did not wish to let him down,
so I gave chase and ran along
beside that russet one too long.

I found myself in forest deep,
and so I lay me down to sleep,
exhausted, on the forest floor,
and there I sleep forevermore.
See? No dogs! Just a mysterious fox . . . and I. Or would you prefer the third person singular experience:
Vixenation 2
One day a fox ran through his town.
He did not wish to let him down,
so he gave chase and ran along
beside that russet one too long.

He found himself in forest deep,
and so he lay him down to sleep,
exhausted, on the forest floor,
and there he sleeps forevermore.
Which is best . . . or less bad?

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Reduced Text, Diminished Knight

MacLeish

Here are MacLeish's four pages on Milton, but cut to one page:
A Knight there was, [name of Milton,] rode on a mighty horse along a highway, rough and tortuous; his head held high, his eyes fixed on a distant mount from whose fair summit came a gleam of white, as ever and anon he saw it through the barren hills that lay about . . . . But as he rode and seemed to near the goal he sought, a cry came to his ears from out a narrow glen, and leaping from his saddle to the earth, he ran and . . . entered in the struggle (20). Two parties, at each other’s throats, unmindful of the higher law of patriotism, seemed content to let her[, the nation,] bear the suffering of their strife. On one hand stood a king, false, selfish and tyrannical; on the other, kneeled a group of men, courageous, yet fanatical, freedom loving, brave (21-22). When Milton, who had poured his soul into perhaps the sweetest of all English verse, . . . was made to feel the power of this mighty strife, he found himself forced to a choice . . . . Here, . . . we pause in admiration of his greatness (22). The years went by, . . . and now he would have turned his steps back to the road left years before. But . . . . his sight was taken (23). Then Cromwell died, . . .and Milton, sightless, friendless and alone, stood at the point his love of freedom called him from twenty years before. But in his heart, unchangeable and clear, still lay the vision that had brightened all his former life . . . . [I]n his heart he saw as clearly as before the gleam of white, pure marble in the sun, the terraced walls, and massive towers of the castle on the hill. And . . . . he wrote his epic . . . . The gate was won, the towers and the battlements (23).
Hmm . . . well, it is shorter, but also diminished, as is the knight, too.

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Sunday, February 17, 2019

Disgusting Milk Made

Giant Being Devoured by Cthulhu?
(Enceladus devoured by Milky Way-like galaxy)

Natalie Angier has noticed that "Everywhere in the Animal Kingdom, [There are] Followers of the Milky Way" (NYT, February 11, 2019), which may suggest to some ears the arrival of a cosmic religion after the Lovecraftian fashion of "The Call of Cthulhu," but which is actually a thing far worse. Have you perchance taken a look at how scientists are increasingly poking their noses into invariably noisome stuff? Take a glance and wince at what scientists have managed to dredge up in their research:
The newborn tsetse fly looks like a hand grenade and moves like a Slinky, and if you squeeze it too hard the source of its plumpness becomes clear — or rather a telltale white. The larva, it seems, is just a big bag of milk. "Rupture the gut, and the milk comes spilling out" . . . . And milk it truly is - a nutritional, biochemical and immunological designer fluid that the mother fly's body has spun from her blood meals and pumped into her uterus, where her developing young greedily gulped it down . . . . The new tsetse fly research is just one example of scientists widening the ranks of adherents to nature's Milky Way. Researchers lately have found the equivalent of mother's milk in an array of unexpected, breast-free places: in spiders, cockroaches and burying beetles.
Spiders!? Cockroaches!? Burying beetles!? Not to mention the already mentioned titty . . . titsie . . . tsetse fly! And the somehow uncannily disgusting image of that fly's ruptured gut spilling forth milk.

Why, this practically goes against nature!

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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Metaphysical Stuff of this World

Gender Studies: Tabula Rasa?

No doubt these two little traditional nursery rhymes are no longer politically correct:
What are little girls made of?

Sugar and spice
and everything nice.
That's what little girls are made of.

What are little boys made of?

Snakes and snails
and puppy dog tails.
That's what little boys are made of.
The first time I heard these two rhymes was not in a nursery, but in the third grade. Initially, we boys felt insulted. We complained that snakes, snails, and tails were disgusting things to be made of, but our teacher reassured us that these three were well-meant.

As for girls, they weren't sure about spice, till our teacher told them that variety is the spice of life. Spice, then, can be about anything you want it to be, which seemed to satisfy the girls, but left the boys annoyed that they could contain only three ingredients, whereas girls had an endless number to select from.

Tell me again how the patriarchy works . . .

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Friday, February 15, 2019

Good Knight! It's John Milton!

Red Cross Knight
Not Only the Spenserian One

Archibald MacLeish wrote the following essay, "John Milton," in 1909, when MacLeish was a seventeen-year-old student at Hotchkiss School, and it was published the next year in the Hotchkiss Record Literary Supplement (Volume 17, Issue 1, January 1910, pages 20-23).
A Knight there was, rode on a mighty horse along a highway, rough and tortuous; his head held high, his eyes fixed on a distant mount from whose fair summit came a gleam of white, as ever and anon he saw it through the barren hills that lay about. And oft he passed a traveler on the way, who laughed and mocked, and tempted him to turn from off the winding road into the summer-land of fields and vineyards that lay by. Yet did the Knight not turn, nor drop his glance, which searched the hilltops for the flash of white, pure marble in the sun. And now he passed through villages and towns, where dogs, and apish children followed at his heels and laughed. But still a light of visions touched his face, and raised him from the ranks those who mocked. But as he rode and seemed to near the goal he sought, a cry came to his ears from out a narrow glen, and leaping from his saddle to the earth, he ran and leaving horse and road, and vision and ambition, entered in the struggle. Long time he fought, until the light of victory seemed nearly to unveil the way out of this fearful place. Yet when he would have followed it, his sword was broken, and, weaponless, he stood before the trackless hills. But as he darkly fled across the desert land, he saw again the lordly castle set on its terraced hill, and, swordless as he was, pressed through the laurel and the thorn up to the gates that opened to his step.

Some centuries ago a boy was born in the very heart of London, whose life was destined to have an incalculable effect on the history, political and literary, of his time. In appearance and manner he was hardly different from any other boy of English stock and blood; perhaps even in mental powers he did not surpass them, but the difference lay in his heart. He dreamed, while still a child, a wond'rous dream, and in his vision saw things glorious and beautiful; himself the author of a mighty epic which should shake the world to its foundation, and should make mankind see clearly, face to face, the mighty unseen forces round about them; the world applauding and his name passed down from mouth to mouth into eternity. Here then he rose, in earliest youth, above the rank of his companions. His vision, puissant, splendid, satisfied in him all wishes and desires, and in his soul he vowed that he would live a life, that in its clean, unspotted purity, should elevate his mind to thoughts above the reach of any but the noblest and the best.

Thus then he lived, a hermit among men, led by a hope of dim foreshadowed things, content to spend his life, his being in their consummation. Such faith, such trust may not be passed without the deepest reverence and the highest praise. He was a man marked out from other men, marked by the sweet, stern beauty of his face, marked by the look of dreaming in his eyes. He seemed to live in youth, unconscious of the awful struggle that had swept his nation off her feet. Two parties, at each other's throats, unmindful of the higher law of patriotism, seemed content to let her bear the suffering of their strife. On one hand stood a king, false, selfish and tyrannical; on the other, kneeled a group of men, courageous, yet fanatical, freedom loving, brave. Around the standard of the king, had gathered gay, light hearted pleasure lovers; around the sombre altar of the Puritans, the sober worshipers, the stern undoubting seekers after truth. The king, false as he was, loved, in his heart, the beautiful. The Puritans, high though their purposes and aims, destroyed and ruined all that smacked of beauty and the earth. To half the world all life was pleasure, to the other half all happiness was sin. The Puritan rebellion was a war inevitable as the storms of winter. As truly as God-fearing men may feel the weight of a despotic hand, as truly as broad minded patriots foresee the rule of tyranny and force, so truly will an awful war be waged, and men be made to take a dauntless stand.

When Milton, who had poured his soul into perhaps the sweetest of all English verse, and from his hermit cell, had viewed the world through colored mists, was made to feel the power of this mighty strife, he found himself forced to a choice, which, with his soul, he hated; a choice between his vision and his land, between the dream which had become himself, and the duty which was calling him from off the road, to lead him down the soggy glen. Here, at the most momentous period of his life, we pause in admiration of his greatness. To him who loved the beautiful so well, who could, while yet a youth, write his "Il Penseroso," was offered association with those who hated beauty, and who destroyed it, when it lay within their grasp. But if he turned and followed Cavalier and King, he must accept the standard which they raised; tyranny, licentiousness, irreverence. How well he chose, his works have long since witnessed. He dropped his hopes and his ambitions, he left his horse and way and entered in the strife. His pen, which once had traced the sweetest poetry, was turned to work that any scribbler could have done. Yet even here, he stands pre-eminent; his quibbles and his heavy treatises have won a place and held it for the simple grandeur of their style.

The years went by, he gained distinction in the Common-wealth, victory seemed almost in his hands; and now he would have turned his steps back to the road left years before. But his sacrifice to liberty and truth was not yet quite complete. In the writing of his final work as minister of Cromwell's government, his sight was taken - his sword had fallen from his hand.

Then Cromwell died, and with him right and justice in the land. Back to the thrones they had disgraced were led the Stuart kings, and Milton, sightless, friendless and alone, stood at the point his love of freedom called him from twenty years before. But in his heart, unchangeable and clear, still lay the vision that had brightened all his former life. Still in the darkened chambers of his brain, fantastic figures moved, and scenes of rarest beauty were portrayed. His spirit, high, and yet unbroken, strove to place before the world the thoughts that crowded through his mind. He saw no way before him in the hills, but in his heart he saw as clearly as before the gleam of white, pure marble in the sun, the terraced walls, and massive towers of the castle on the hill. And 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. The gate was won, the towers and the battlements.
The 'story' reminds me of Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen and John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Probably, it would remind one of any story concerning a quest pursued despite the many impediments.

Anyway, we've made our way through the text, and it doubtless has a lot to tell us about Archibald MacLeish, but does it tell us anything about John Milton?

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Guest Who!

Boy-O-Boy!
Not Anglican

Who do you think is being introduced?
Some centuries ago a boy was born in the very heart of London, whose life was destined to have an incalculable effect on the history, political and literary, of his time. In appearance and manner he was hardly different from any other boy of English stock and blood; perhaps even in mental powers he did not surpass them, but the difference lay in his heart. He dreamed, while still a child, a wond'rous dream, and in his vision saw things glorious and beautiful; himself the author of a mighty epic which should shake the world to its foundation, and should make mankind see clearly, face to face, the mighty unseen forces round about them; the world applauding and his name passed down from mouth to mouth into eternity. Here then he rose, in earliest youth, above the rank of his companions. His vision, puissant, splendid, satisfied in him all wishes and desires, and in his soul he vowed that he would live a life, that in its clean, unspotted purity, should elevate his mind to thoughts above the reach of any but the noblest and the best . . .
And who do you think is doing the introducing?

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Was Milton or MacLeish Ever Subject to Wordlessness in Their Youth?

Wordiness?

I finally managed to access an early essay by Archibald MacLeish. I had tracked down the bibliographical details and was advised on whom to contact. Here are those details:
Archibald MacLeish, "John Milton," Hotchkiss Record Literary Supplement, Volume 17, Issue 1 (January 1910), 20-23.
On advice, I contacted the librarians at Hotchkiss School, the boarding school attended by MacLeish, and requested the essay on Milton. Here is the beginning:
A Knight there was, rode on a mighty horse along a highway, rough and tortuous; his head held high, his eyes fixed on a distant mount from whose fair summit came a gleam of white, as ever and anon he saw it through the barren hills that lay about. And oft he passed a traveler on the way, who laughed and mocked, and tempted him to turn from off the winding road into the summer-land of fields and vineyards that lay by. Yet did the Knight not turn, nor drop his glance, which searched the hilltops for the flash of white, pure marble in the sun. And now he passed through villages and towns, where dogs, and apish children followed at his heels and laughed. But still a light of visions touched his face, and raised him from the ranks those who mocked. But as he rode and seemed to near the goal he sought, a cry came to his ears from out a narrow glen, and leaping from his saddle to the earth, he ran and leaving horse and road, and vision and ambition, entered in the struggle . . .
Perhaps I'll continue typing this down tomorrow, but note for now the "narrow glen," which reminds me of the "ravine" in Dante. I also hear a distant echo of the Faerie Queen, and maybe even Pilgrim's Progress.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Hayden Carruth Offers Homage to Archibald MacLeish

Hayden Carruth

Hayden Carruth (1921–2008) was a very accomplished poet who published not only poetry, but also literary criticism, essays, and a novel. In the Winter 1977 (Volume 53, Issue 1) of The Virginia Quarterly Review, Carruth offered a "Homage to A. MacLeish." In the part of the homage on MacLeish's epic poem, Conquistador, Carruth composes a paragraph that I have broken into six pieces for ease of reading:
What to say of Conquistador, that splendid poem? . . .

One can hardly imagine a more compelling theme for our time, the conquest of Mexico, the confrontation between Cortés and Montezuma, those great men, incorporating everything we have come to feel about the European take-over of America, our pride and its voidance, our helplessness and self-reproach in the face of historical process. And the writing fits the theme; they are welded, they cling together.

Still the poem is flawed. One can see how . . . MacLeish was tempted by the chronicle of Bernal Diaz, the only account of the Spanish expedition possessing contemporary authenticity: there it was, all laid out, the plan and plot of the poem. But in the end MacLeish was hampered by Bernal, who became in the poem only a testy old warrior recalling the exploits of his youth, a tedious narrator.

There is too much description in the poem, not enough drama. I remember reading once a far inferior poem on the same topic in which the poet had chosen Maria for narrator, the remarkable young Indian woman whom Cortés picked up on the coast to serve him as bedmate, guide, and interpreter during the march inland to Tenochtitlán. In her splendid and terrible whoredom - imagine it, her treachery in bed with god - she assumed all our predicaments, moral and psychological, and gave the poem, potentially at least, a genuine dramatic structure.

So I wish MacLeish, in some similar fashion, had been more willing to fictionalize, to mythologize; for isn't that what epic is all about - myth? And do not doubt me, MacLeish was writing the American epic. That is what he had in mind. Epic needs fiction, however, needs myth, and usually a good dose of it, not just history. Does anyone, for example, believe the argument between Achilles and Agamemnon was really that important in the siege of Troy?

Still and all, Conquistador is what we have, it is our best epic, . . . it is coherent, complete, and strongly conceived, and it contains many, many magnificent passages. It merits a good deal more attention than it has been given lately.
Again, I am mining the insights of others to forge my own, for I need to form my image of the man, MacLeish.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

MacLeish's Early Childhood Education

Creation

Here are some notes on Archibald MacLeish's early childhood education, as described by Edward Arthur Morin in "An Interpretive Study of Archibald MacLeish's Plays" (1967, Dissertations, Paper 854):
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). 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).
This should turn out to be useful when the time comes for explaining some of MacLeish's 'cosmic' obsessions.

Update: Kevin Kim informs me that I've already posted this blogpost. He's right. My apologies. For myself, however, this remains a useful reminder to deal more with Milton soon.

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

"Serafim Rostiw": For A Name Angelic Is A Name To Trust!

Bloat Flab

This writing advertisement - note the links - appeared in the comment space of a prior blogpost, but I so appreciated its inadvertent irony that I just had to re-post it as a blogpost itself:
Serafim Rostiw said . . .

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Due to a number of factors, the mental medicine is nowadays one of extremely popular scientific directions as long as scientists from all over the world explore the reasons for psychological problems, mental health argumentative essay, and the ways to overcome and treat them. People’s psychological peculiarities, behavior, and reactions to various factors and circumstances are under discussion and are carefully examined.
Look carefully at the first part of the first paragraph's first sentence. Basically, it says "We are an essay." Look even more closely at the latter part of the second paragraph's first sentence, and you will find that it presents an essay as the equivalent of a psychological problem to be treated and overcome.

If you remove the linked phrases (the underlined ones), the absurdity is removed, but what remain are two flabby paragraphs.

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Saturday, February 09, 2019

Imam Mateen Khan Challenges Liberalism

Memri Special Dispatch
"Imam Mateen Khan"

Mateen Khan sets forth the tenets of liberalism as understood today, which are pretty much what he says they are, and - to put names to the result - a mixture of classical liberalism and postmodern liberalism:
"When we talk about liberalism we are talking about a political and moral philosophy. The people who are its proponents say it is built on liberty and equality. . . . They espouse a wide variety of views, depending on their understanding of principles. Like I said, it is a philosophy. It is a world view, it is how . . . [they] think.

So generally, they support the concept of civil rights, democracy, secularism, gender equality, racial equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press . . . . Now I know most of [you] . . . are listening to these words and thinking: 'What's wrong with that?' We will get there . . .

"[There] is a cultural war . . . . [There]is a philosophy that they want to spread. If you don't want to adopt [liberalism] on your own . . . [They say:] 'If you as a Muslim people do not want to adopt our philosophy on your own, then we will bring it to you with the excuse of [rights for] women and [rights for the] LGBT, and the excuse of the intolerance that you have in your land'" . . .

"Liberalism, by its core, is meant for everyone. Therefore, everyone must accept it, and if there are people [not accepting it], then that is a threat to [liberals'] core identity. And they need to find a way to get rid of [that threat] . . . . "They want you to take on the philosophy of liberalism, and in doing that, you will leave the philosophy that Islam brings with it . . .

"[They say:] 'You have to adopt what we believe in, as far as freedoms go. It is our ideology that we should be free to say whatever we want, so you need to let us curse the Prophet Muhammad, because if you don't, then you are backwards – you are not liberal, and you are not meant for the 21st century.' This is what you are being converted to.

[They say:] 'You can have Muhammad. He was a great man, but he should not have done what he did to [the Jews of] Banu Qurayza [when he beheaded all the men and enslaved the women and children]. No one [else] . . . in history [accomplished] what he did – but he should not have married Aisha [at 6 and should not have consummated that marriage when she was only nine].'"
Mateen Khan is speaking very carefully, so as not to be cited for hate speech, I'm assuming, for if he were to state very explicitly what he thinks the philosophy of Islam stands for - in all its gory detail - it would stand in almost complete opposition to liberalism.

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Friday, February 08, 2019

Anything Wrong in Job

J. B., A Modern Version
of the Book of Job

I came across a reference to MacLeish's play J.B., and decided to post an entry on it to my blog so as to remind myself that I need to get and read the entire play:
If Yhwh, the śāṭān, Job, and the omniscient narrator agree upon anything, it is that Job was righteous – though they may differ as to whether his righteousness is unconditional or "bought and paid for like a waiter's smirk."[31]

[Footnote 31] The phrase is employed by Nickels in Archibald MacLeish's play J. B., a modern version of the Book of Job. See Archibald MacLeish, J. B.: A Play in Verse. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston 1958. In the Book of Job, the narrator (1:1) and God (1:8, 2:3) claim Job to be blameless, upright, god-fearing, and avoiding wrong. The śātan admits that Job has "feared" God at least thus far (1:9; ירא , a stative, functions not as a participle but as a finite verb here; see Samuel Rolles Driver and George Buchanan Gray, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Job. T and T Clark, Edinburgh 1921, 1.13).
Nice quote. Nickels is the Satan figure in this play, so the name meaning a sort of money is apt. God is named Zuss, which sounds like the German word for sweet. Keep in mind that MacLeish seems to intentionally set out to address 'cosmic' issues.

Private Joke:

God: Have you seen my servant J.B.?

Satan: Why? Have you misplaced him?

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Thursday, February 07, 2019

Vast Wings Hover Over Vast Abyss


I know there are more original ways to return to what I was doing when I said that I had to wonder about these words, but I don't have time to write less, so consider again:
"There with vast wings across the cancelled skies."
Could this line from MacLeish be echoing the following passage in John Milton's Paradise Lost:
And chiefly thou, O spirit, that dost prefer.
Before all temples the upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for thou know'st. Thou from the first
Wast present, and, with mighty wings outspread,
Dove-like sattest brooding on the vast abyss,
And madst it pregnant.
Mighty wings? Vast wings? Echo? Maybe. Maybe not. But notice the word "vast" in the expression "vast abyss." Keep these images in mind as we cover some ground for a second time.

Here in Archibald MacLeish: An American LifeScott Donaldson shows much overlap with what MacLeish 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 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.

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 own 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).

Let's look again at 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 my copy of the 1926 original, which is in the journal Poetry and which is thus 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, circus atmosphere, that reflection of pandemonium, had come under judgement, the Last Judgement? (Rethink J.B., which also presents its setting as a circus.)

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

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Wednesday, February 06, 2019

MacLeish's Literary Awards


In MacLeish's government work, we have seen that he succeeded as a public figure even on the international stage, but how did he fare as a poet and writer?
The query nearly sounds absurd. MacLeish received three Pulitzer Prizes for literary works: Conquistador (1932, 1933), Collected Poems 1917-1952 (1952, 1953), and J.B. (1958, 1959). Other awards for literary works include the National Book Award for Poetry (Collected Poems, 1917-1952, 1953), the Bollingen Prize in Poetry (Collected Poems, 1917-1952, 1953), and the Tony Award for Best Play (J.B., 1958, 1959) (Frank, 2011, 8). MacLeish's early, lyrical poems from the mid-nineteen twenties are much the source of his poetic reputation and are notable for what David Barber terms their "lyrical grace and . . . tone of muted horror at the human experience of spinning on our small planet through the dark and empty universe," as in "You, Andrew Marvell" and other fine lyrics, including, "Ars Poetica," "The End of the World," "Eleven," and "'Not Marble Nor the Gilded Monuments'" (Barber, 1999).
There is more, but you get the point.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2019

The Hotchkiss School: MacLeish meets Milton


MacLeish attended the boarding school Hotchkiss and excelled there in academics, sports, and poetry. Later on, as both public life and private poetry grew in importance to him, he could perhaps reach back in memory for inspiration, especially since he had written at Hotchkiss a winning essay on Milton's hard choice between public and private:
At such a time, MacLeish could not but have reflected back on his Hotchkiss essay on Milton. In Archibald MacLeish: An American Life, Scott Donaldson (2016) informs us of this essay on John Milton by the 17-year-old MacLeish, an essay on Milton's dilemma, which was also MacLeish's dilemma. It was 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" (Donaldson). In Intellectuals Incorporated: Politics, Art, and Ideas Inside Henry Luce's Media Empire (2010), Robert Vanderlan had earlier linked Milton and MacLeish. The connection would be hard to miss, of course, as readers can see that even 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." Attention was then drawn by Vanderlan to the youthful poet's essay on John Milton: "During his time at Hotchkiss, [MacLeish] . . . 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'" (Vanderlan 32). Donaldson draws readers to see the same hard choice. In concrete detail, he shows that "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." Donaldson then quotes the same words as did Vanderlan about Milton turning "to work that any scribbler could have done." In this process, Donaldson adds, Milton's "sight was taken – his sword was fallen from his hand" (Donaldson). When "the Stuart kings returned to the throne, Milton was left 'sightless, friendless, and alone.'" He had, however, made the right decision, MacLeish insists, "for not only did he serve when needed, but Paradise Lost lay ahead" (Donaldson). Vanderlan had made the same point, citing MacLeish in arguing that "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 (Vanderlan, 32). Donaldson does the same, pointing to – and extending – what he calls MacLeish's 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" (Donaldson). Vanderlan argues that negotiating "the line between art and a broader engagement with the world became and remained the animating question of his [i.e., MacLeish's] intellectual life" (page 32).
I hope someone can read this passage and make sense of it. I don't have the Donaldson pagination, and that might confuse quite a few readers . . .

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Monday, February 04, 2019

More Than Mere Ambiguity?


Carter Kaplan and I had a humorous exchange of views on the meaning of poetry. He had offered a well-written, three-paragraph anecdote on talking with his father and Cleanth Brooks about poetry and lit-crit theory, to which I responded:

I like the way rhyme and alliteration transform ordinary observations into extraordinary observations, regardless of their truth value.

In short, I like beautiful lies.

Carter retorted: Well, there are values, and then there are virtues...

To which I inquired:

How am I to read the word "then" in Carter's retort?
"Well, there are values, and then there are virtues . . ."
Do I read it temporally (sequence)? Or logically (implication)? Or differentially (contrast)?

He didn't know, he admitted, but went on to make some quite interesting points . . .

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Sunday, February 03, 2019

MacLeish Moves Away From Imagism and Modernism


As the title already reveals, MacLeish forsakes Imagism and Modernism, which I show below, including the influence of Milton:
But MacLeish moved far from this conception of poetry, so far in mixing literature with politics that Joe Luna accuses him of being President Roosevelt's "stooge" for his propaganda work in the FDR administration (Luna, Autumn 2016, 119). Edmund Wilson called him a charlatan. Barber criticizes him for having 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." MacLeish responded that he was merely exhorting his fellow Americans to envision "a good idea of themselves," and "he continued to seek a modern Dante to give our age its motivating vision" (Barber, Fall 1988) Some of his opponents thought that he put himself in that role, and he may have done so. Amy Lowell, however, preferred MacLeish as a different poet, but he would need real "gusto," that is, he would need to be "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" (Lowell, 1931, 155). Morton Dauen Zabel thought that the onset 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).

Barber, David. Fall 1988. "In Search of an 'Image of Mankind': The Public Poetry and Prose of Archibald MacLeish." 29 American Studies. 3(i), 36.

Lowell, Amy. 1931. “Comment: Archibald MacLeish,” Poetry 38.

Luna, Joe. Autumn 2016. "Space | Poetry." Critical Inquiry. 43.

Zabel, Morton Dauen. 1941. “The Poet on Capitol Hill,” Partisan Review. 8.
I'm soon getting into more Milton stuff, which will get very interesting, at least for me, and I hope I can make good progress.

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Saturday, February 02, 2019

Archibald MacLeish: "Ars Poetica" (Imagist, Modernist)


"Ars Poetica" was first published in the journal above, and this poem is probably the best known and most critically acclaimed of all his short poems.

MacLeish's early, short poems seem to have been written to support the Imagist and Modernist view that a poem should be distinct and separate from meaning anything. This is perhaps especially characteristic of his poem "Ars Poetica," particularly of its last two lines:
A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit;

Dumb
As old medallions to the thumb;

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown –

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

*

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs;

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees –

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind.

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.

*

A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf;

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea –

A poem should not mean
But be.
(MacLeish, 1926)
Reflect on this: "A poem should not mean / But be." These famous final two lines of the poem, ironically, serve to express a manifesto for Imagism or Modernism and also serve to reveal those movements' intention to remain separate from the world of discourse and their intention to set a poem apart as a type of sacred object, a thing to wonder at, not a thing with meaning awaiting explication.

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Friday, February 01, 2019

Kuwaiti Cleric Othman Al-Khamis On Dealing With Unbelievers: Convert, Die, or Pay Protection Money

Islamist Live
Working On
Anagrammatical
"I Am Evil" Lists?

Kuwaiti Cleric Othman Al-Khamis Makes the Evil Lists (as MEMRI tells us on January 30, 2019):

A person who leaves Islam is killed (unless repentant).
Such a person is punished because apostasy is tantamount to scorning Islam, and he is therefore punished as if he cursed the Prophet Muhammad or Allah. This is why an apostate is killed. It's not that we're trying to force Islam upon him. Islam does not need or want mercenaries. We don't say: "Turn Muslim or we will slaughter you."
Only infidels (non-Muslims) may be enslaved.
If we capture an infidel, he becomes a slave. In such a case, he is forced into slavery. Since he refused to willfully become a respected slave [of Allah], he shall become a despicable slave against his will. This is the way things go with people who do not worship Allah. Don't feel sorry for them. They are infidels who refuse to worship Allah. They refuse to obey Allah. They are hostile toward Allah and they curse Him. People should not be blinded by mercy towards them . . . . Muslims must not be enslaved. Only infidels may be enslaved.
Do not be ashamed of your religion (Islam).
I ask people not to be ashamed of their religion and to refrain from saying: "No, this was only in the past, Islam does not call for this . . . ." No! Be firm in your religion, proclaim it, and say: "Yes, this is my religion!" Those who do not want to worship Allah should be enslaved, be forced to pay the jizya poll tax (protection money), be converted to Islam, or be fought against . . . . If an infidel (non-Muslim) refuses to either worship Allah or pay the jizya, we say to him: "We have no choice but to fight you." So we fight him for that reason.
The infidels (non-Muslims) are always the aggressors, according to Othman Al-Khamis. Their very infidel existence is a crime against Allah. Their infidel life is an insult to Allah. Their infidel refusal to convert is an affront to Allah. That's how Islamists see things, and they state their case very clearly, that all might see and understand what lies in store for the defeated infidel.

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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Nice Ice . . .

A bit of ice can still be found on Bonghwasan:

Nice

Ice

Sun-Ae took these two photos at two slightly different angles. She also made a short video of water flowing just under the ice. Moving with the water were what we first took to be tadpoles but eventually realized were tangled clumps of algae.

Such was our exercise of body and mind yesterday . . .

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Archibald MacLeish's Air Raid and the Nature of Modern Warfare


In my research for an article that I'm trying to write, I stumbled upon a very interesting book, Off-Canon Pleasures: A Case Study and a Perspective (Goettingen University Press, 2011), by Armin Paul Frank. The author's aim is to criticize the 'deciders' of the literary canon for their lit-crit-driven choices as to which writers to include and which to exclude. Archibald MacLeish has largely disappeared from the canon, and Frank wants to bring him back.

Frank has defended MacLeish's radio play Air Raid against critics, analyzing it carefully to show its excellence as a work of art that reveals the depravity of modern warfare in bombing cities. Elsewhere, MacLeish also spoke out against chemical weapons. Such weapons were not used in WW2, though this has been attributed to the difficulty in controlling the gases, once released, as had been seen in WW1 when winds shifted and poison gas floated back toward the very ones who'd released it. I don't find this explanation entirely convincing, and I'm not alone. Some war theorists after WW1 were more 'optimistic' about the use of gases, and they wished that the war had lasted longer so that they could have tested poison gases on Germans in the cities rather than in the trenches in the countryside:
Winston S. Churchill was sure what would have happened. On 21 March 1922, he said in Parliament: "Had the war lasted a few more months, or possibly even a few weeks, there would have been operations from these coasts upon Berlin and in the heart of Germany, and those operations would have increased in magnitude and consequence had the campaign been prolonged all through the year 1919." But peace intervened "owing to our having run short of Germans and enemies before the experiments were completed." In his retrospect on the Great War, he declared that had Germany continued to fight, poison gases of "incredible malignity" would have been employed; "[t]housands of aeroplanes would have shattered their cities." [page 45]
But what WW2 showed was that similar bombing (e.g., fire-bombing of German cities) did not break the Germans' morale, so we cannot assume that poison gases would have broken that will either.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Trafika Europe: Lithuanian Honey Cake


Travel to Lithuania via Trafika Europe!

Andrew Singer informs us that Trafika Europe is happy to announce the anthology Trafika Europe 15: Lithuanian Honey Cake, free online. You'll find about 300 pages of new fiction, memoir, and poetry from Lithuania.

If you keep 'driving' through the Trafika, you'll find an entire libretto by Icelandic author Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson, also known as Sjón, and poetry from Slovenia and Ireland.

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Monday, January 28, 2019

Dylan Meets Archibald MacLeish, Praises Him?


In his Chronicles, Volume 1 (Simon and Schuster, 2004), Bob Dylan recalls meeting Archibald MacLeish, who was planning to write a play called Scratch, loosely based on Stephen Vincent Benét's story The Devil and Daniel Webster, and MacLeish wanted Dylan to write the songs.

That didn't work out, but Dylan seemingly came away with a positive impression of the man:
"He possessed more knowledge of mankind and its vagaries than most men acquire in a lifetime." (129)
Sounds like high praise, but is it? Strictly speaking, to be wiser than most people at the end of one's life is only moderate praise.

So what did Dylan mean? I suppose he meant well . . .

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Sunday, January 27, 2019

Dark And Empty Universe?


I came across a useful passage in an article by David Barber:
[Archibald MacLeish was] always an organized worker, [so during his time in Europe,] he established a program of reading to develop poetic style and technique. Perhaps he studied too well, for during the Paris period he wrote several long poems, which sounded much like T S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and other pioneering modernists (The Pot of Earth [1925], Nobodaddy [1926], Einstein [1926, in Streets in the Moon], and The Hamlet of A. MacLeish [1928]). But he also wrote short poems equally notable for lyrical grace and a tone of muted horror at the human experience of spinning on our small planet through the dark and empty universe, as in "You, Andrew Marvell."

This poem and other lyrics - such as "Ars Poetica," "The End of the World," "Eleven," and "'Not Marble Nor the Gilded Monuments'" - have long been the source of MacLeish's poetic reputation.
And here's the reference:
Barber, David. 1999 "Archibald MacLeish's Life and Career." American National Biography. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds. New York: Oxford University Press.
That'll certainly fit well in my list of references.

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Saturday, January 26, 2019

Archibald MacLeish: Public Servant


I've been trying to summarize Archibald MacLeish's public service:
He did succeed as a public figure. As Librarian of Congress from 1939 to 1944, he successfully reorganized its administrative structure, even while setting up public poetry readings and establishing a Chair of Poetry in English. He started the Quarterly Journal of Acquisitions for the library, and he offered resident fellowships for young scholars and set up the Fellows of the Library of Congress for notable writers and poets. He was also even more closely involved in the government. In 1941, he supervised the Office of Facts and Figures, which he combined with other agencies in 1942, relabeling it the Office of War Information. He even crafted speeches for the President. In March 1944, he attended the London Conference of Allied Ministers of Education. He stepped down from his position as Librarian in late 1944 and become an Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs (Library of Congress, n.d.). He also helped develop the Research and Analysis Branch of the Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (Katz, 1991). He even devoted a year representing the United States at the creation of UNESCO. Some of these jobs clearly required skills in propaganda, and MacLeish's literary training had prepared him for that (Buitenhuis, 1996).
I will cite the following three sources for the information provided above:
Buitenhuis, Peter. "Prelude to War: The Interventionist Propaganda of Archibald MacLeish, Robert E. Sherwood, and John Steinbeck." Canadian Review of American Studies. Volume 26, Issue 1, Spring 1996, pp. 1-30.

Katz, Barry M. 1991. "German Historians in the Office of Strategic Services." An Interrupted Past: German Speaking Refugee Historians in the United States After 1933. Pages 136-137.

Library of Congress, "Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982)," 9th Librarian of Congress, 1939-1944.
If I've missed any major public service accomplishment by MacLeish, or made any factual errors, then let me know.

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Friday, January 25, 2019

The One True Path to Success in the Wily Korean Wilds

Here are photos that Sun-Ae and I managed to bring back from our Bonghwasan hunt stalking a wild Emanation.

Seeing the Emanation before it saw us, we quietly sneaked up on it . . .


. . . but it then saw us . . .

. . . and distanced itself . . .


. . . then turned its back to us and flew to another bench.


It then fluttered toward a growth of tall, thick grasses . . .


. . . but approached us carefully, seemingly curious . . .



. . . but soon backed off again toward the thick grass . . .


. . . where it lingered, as if to bolt into the safety of the tall, thick stalks and blades.


Off it then suddenly went again, so we followed till it reached a dry gulch . . .



. . . where it again stopped, and looked around . . .


. . . as if to reflect on the paradox of streambed with no stream.


Baffled at that, then at tree roots above ground . . .


. . . the Emanation opted to fly away, though I nearly succeeded in plucking it from the air!


It managed to escape, however, for my reach exceeded my grasp, and it flew to a nearby tree, where it perched precariously.


Then, spreading its wings,  it flew from the tree to a bench . . .


. . . then to another tree . . .


. . . then to yet another tree . . .


and another, where it remained . . .


. . . a while, then left for good . . . or for ill.

After all, who knows what good or ill might be accomplished by a book as complex as an Emanation?

Especially when it's called "Emanations."

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