Archive for the 'Playwright' Category

Tony Harrison

May 9, 2007

tony-harrison.jpg
(1937-)

Born in Leeds, England to a working class family
Poems embody the tension of the classically educated son and his humble origins
His triumph has been to bring the sensual power, vigor, wit and immediacy of working-class Yorkshire speech into an exciting amalgam with literary English
Writes poetry, plays, and translated opera libretti

Quotations:

I
Baked the day she suddenly dropped dead/ we chew it slowly that last apple pie.
Shocked into sleeplessness you’re scared of bed./ We never could talk much, and now don’t try.
You’re like book ends, the pair of you, she’d say,/ Hog that grate, say nothing, sit, sleep, stare . . .
The ‘scholar’ me, you, worn out on poor pay,/ only our silence made us seem a pair.

II
The sone’s too full. The wording must be terse./ There’s scarcely room to carve the FLORENCE on it-
Come on, it’s not as if we’re wanting verse./ It’s not as if we’re wanting a whole sonnet!
After tumblers of neat Johnny Walker/ (I think that both of us we’re on our third)/ you said you’d always been a clumsy talker/ and couldn’t find another, shorter word/ for ‘beloved’ or for ‘wife’ in the inscription,/ but not too clumsy that you can’t still cut:
You’re supposed to be the bright boy at description/ and you can’t tell them what the fuck to put!
I’ve got to find the right words on my own.
I’ve got the envelope that he’d been scrawling,/ mis-spelt, mawkish, stylistically appalling/ but I can’t squeeze more love into their stone.

-Book Ends

When the chilled dough of his flesh went in an oven/ not unlike those he fuelled all his life,/ I thought of his cataracts ablaze with Heaven/ and radiant with the sight of his dead wife,/ light streaming from his mouth to shape her name,/ ‘not Florence and not Flo but always Florrie’./ I thought how his cold tongue burst into flame/ but only literally, which makes me sorry,/ sorry for his sake there’s no Heaven to reach./ I get it all from Earth my daily bread/ but he hungered for release from mortal speech/ that kept him down, the tongue that weighed like lead.
The baker’s man that no one will see rise/ and England made to feel like some dull oaf/ is smoke, enough to sting one person’s eyes/ and ash (not unlike flour) for one small loaf.

-Marked with D. (in whole)

E. E. Cummings

November 27, 2006

e-e-cummings.jpg
(1894-1962)

American poet and painter who first attracted attention for his eccentric punctuation
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to liberal, encouraging parents
His father was a Harvard teacher and later a Unitarian minister
Educated at Cambridge High and Latin School, and from 1911 to 1916 he attended Harvard, where he met John Dos Passos
Became an aesthete, he began to dress unconventionally, and dedicated himself to painting and literature
During the last years of World War I, he drove an ambulance in France: indiscreet comments in the letters of a friend led to Cummings’s arrest and incarceration in a French concentration camp at La Ferté-Macé: later, he found out he had been accused of treason but the charges were never proved
Supported himself by painting portraits and writing for Vanity Fair
Was married three times
Believed that modern mass society was a threat to individuals
Interersted in cubism, and jazz (which had not became mass entertainment, and contemporary slang) an unorthodox form of language
Poetry expressed his rebellious attitude towards religion, politics, and conformity
Dealt with the antagonism between an individual and masses

Quotations:

am was.  are leaves few this.  is these a or / scratchily over which of earth dragged once / -ful leaf. & were who skies clutch an of poor / how colding hereless.  air theres what immense / live without every dancing.  singless on- / ly a child’s eyes float silently down / more than two those that and that noing our / gone snow gone
                      yours mine / .  We’re
alive and shall be:cities may overflow (am / was) assassinating whole grassblades,five / ideas can swallow a man;three words im / -prison a woman for all her now:but we’ve / such freedom such intense digestion so / much greenness only dying makes us grow

-am was.  are leaves few this.  is these a or (in whole)

up into the silence the green / silence with a white earth in it
you will (kiss me) go
out into the morning the young / morning with a warm world in it
(kiss me) you will go
on into the sunlight the fine / sunlight with a firm day in it
you will go (kiss me
down into your memory and / a memory and a memory
i) kiss me (will go)

-up into the silence the green (in whole)

anyone lived in a pretty how town / (with up so floating many bells down) / spring summer autumn winter / he sang his didn’t he danced his did.
Women and men (both little and small) / cared for anyone not at all / they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same / sun moon stars rain children guessed (but only a few / and down they forgot as up they grew / autumn winter spring summer) / that noone loved him more by more
when by now and tree by leaf / she laughed his joy she cried his grief / bird by snow and stir by still / anyone’s any was all to her someones married their everyones / laughed their cryings and did their dance / (sleep wake hope and then) they / said their nevers they slept their dream
stars rain sun moon / (and only the snow can begin to explain / how children are apt to forget to remember / with up so floating many bells down)
one day anyone died i guess / (and noone stooped to kiss his face) / busy folk buried them side by side / little by little and was by was all by all and deep by deep / and more by more they dream their sleep / noone and anyone earth by april / wish by spirit and if by yes.
Women and men (both dong and ding) / summer autumn winter spring / reaped their sowing and went their came / sun moon stars rain

 -anyone lived in a pretty how town (in whole)

these people socalled were not given hearts / how should they be?their socalled hearts would think / these socalled people have no minds but it / they had their minds socalled would not exist 
but if these not existing minds took life / such life could not begin to live id est / breathe but if such life could its breath would stink
and so for souls why souls are wholes not parts / but all these hundred upon thousands of / people socalled if multiplies by twice / infinity could never equal one)
which may your million selves and my suffice / to through the only mystery of love / become while every sun goes round its moon 

-these people socalled were not given hearts (in whole)

if there are any heavens my mother will (all by herself) have / one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor / a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but / it will be a heaven of blackred roses
my father will be (deep like a rose / tall like a rose)
standing near my
(swaying over her / silent) / with eyes which are really petals and see
nothing with the face of a poet really which / is a flower and not a face with / hands / which whisper / This is beloved my / (suddenly in sunlight / he will bow,
& the whole garden will bow)

-if there are any heavens my mother will (all by herself) have (in whole)

O sweet spontaneous / earth how often have / the / doting
fingers of prurient philosophers pinced / and / poked
thee / , has the naughty thumb / of science prodded / thy
beaty     . how / often have religions taken / thee upon their scraggy knees / squeezing and
bufferting thee that thou mightest conceive / gods / (but / true
to the imcomparable / couch of death thy / rhythmic / lover
thou answerest
them only with
spring)

-O sweet spontaneous (in whole)

Henry James

October 24, 2006

henry-james.jpg
(1843-1916)

American-born writer, interested in literature, psychology, and philosophy
Wrote 20 novels, 112 stories, 12 plays and a number of works of literary criticism
Born in New York City into a wealthy family
Father was one of the best known intellectuals of his time
Traveled back and forth between Europe and America during his youth
Outbreak of WWI was a shock and became a British citizen in 1915 to protest the US’s refusal to enter the war
Died of a stroke on December 2nd
Draws understanding and sensitive portraits of ladies
Themes of innocence of the New World in conflict with corruption and wisdom of the Old
Became interested in the unconscious and supernatural

Washington Square (1880)

Inspired by a story James heard at a dinner party
Tells how Morris Townsend tries to win the heart of heiress Catherine Sloper against the objections of her father
Endures as a matchless social study of New York in the mid-nineteenth century

Quotations:

“During a portion of the first half of the present century, and more particularly during the latter part of it, there flourished and practised in the city of New York a physician who enjoyed perhaps an exceptional share of the consideration which, in the United States, has always been bestowed upon distinguished members of the medical profession. This profession in American has constantly been held in honour, and more successfully than elsewhere has put forward a claim to the epithet of ‘liberal.’ In a country in which, to play a social part, you must either earn your income or make believe that you earn it, the healing art has appeared in a high degree to combine two recognised sources of credit. It belongs to the realm of the practical, which in the United States is a great recommendation; and it is touched by the light of science- a merit appreciated in a community in which the love of knowledge has not always been accompanied by leisure and opportunity.”

“It will be seen that I am describing a clever man; and this is really the reason why Dr. Sloper had become a local celebrity.”

“She grew up a very robust and healthy child, and her father, as he looked at her, often said to himself that, such as she was, he at least need to have no fear of losing her. I say ‘such as she was,’ because, to tell the truth—. But this is a truth of which I will defer the telling.”

“Once, when the girl was about twelve years old, he had said to her-
‘Try and make a clever woman of her, Lavinia; I should like her to be a clever woman.’
Mrs. Penniman, at this, looked thoughtful a moment. ‘My dear Austin,’ she then inquired, ‘do you think it is better to be clever than to be good?’
‘Good for what?’ asked the Doctor. ‘You are good for nothing unless you are clever.'”

“After this, the tide of fashion began to set steadily northward, as, indeed, in New York, thanks to the narrow channel in which it flows, is obliged to do, and the great hum of traffic rolled father to the right and left of Broadway.”

“It was here, as you might have been informed on good authority, that you had come into a world which appeared to offer a variety of sources of interest; it was here that your grandmother lived, in venerable solitude, and dispensed a hospitality which commended itself alike to the infant imagination and the infant palate; it was here that you took your first walks abroad, following the nurserymaid with unequal step and sniffing up the strange odour of the ailanthus-trees which at that time formed the principal umbrage of the square, and diffused an aroma that you were not yet critical enough to dislike as it deserved; it was here, finally, that your first school, kept by a broad-bosomed, broad-based old lady with a ferule, who was always having tea in a blue cup, with a saucer that didn’t match , enlarged the circle both of your observations and our sensations. It was here, at any rater, that my heroine spent many years of her life; which is my excuse for this topographoical parenthesis.”

“He looked straight into Catherine’s eyes. She answered nothing; she only listened, and looked at him; and he, as if he expected no particular reply, went on to say many other things in the same comfortable and natural manner. Catherine, though she felt tongue-tied, was conscious of no embarrassment; it seemed proper that he should talk, and that she should simply look at him. What made it natural was that he was so handsome, or rather, as she phrased it to herself, so beautiful. The music had been silent for a while, but it suddenly began again; and then he asked her, with a deeper, intenser, smile, if she would do him the honour of dancing with him. Even to this inquiry she gave no audible assent; she simply let him put his arm around her waist- as she did so it occurred to her more vividly than it had ever done before, that this was a singular place for a gentleman’s arm to be- and in a moment he was guiding her around the room in the harmonious rotation of the polka.”

“‘That’s the way to live in New York- to move every three or four years. Then you always get the last thing. It’s because the city’s growing so quick- you’ve got to keep up with it. It’s going straight up town- that’s where New York’s going…
They invent everything all over again about every five years, and it’s a great thing to keep up with the new things. I always try and keep up with the new things of every kind. Don’t you think that’s a good motto for a young couple- to keep ‘going higher?'”

“She confessed that she was not particularly fond of literature. Morris Townsend agreed with her that books were tiresome things; only, as he said, you had to read a good many before you found it out. He had been to places that people had written books about, and they were not a bit like the descriptions. To see for yourself- that was the great thing; he always tried to see for himself. He had seen all the principal actors- he had been to all the best theaters in London and Paris. But the actors were always like the authors- they always exaggerated. He like everything to be natural. Suddenly he stopped, looking at Catherin with his smile.
‘That’s what I like you for; you are so natural! Excuse me,’ he added; ‘you see I am natural myself!'”

“…for Catherine, at the age of twenty-two, was after all a rather mature blossom, such as could be plucked from the stem only by a vigorous jerk.”

“‘Don’t you see anything in people but their bones?’ Mrs. Almond rejoined. ‘What do you think of him as a father?’
‘As a father? Thank Heaven I am not his father!’
‘No; but you are Catherine’s. Lavinia tells me she is in love.'”

Amiri Baraka

October 17, 2006

amiri-baraka.jpg
(1934-) 

Born LeRoi Jones
Born in the industrial city of Newark, New Jersey
After attending Howard University in Washington, D. C., he served in the United States Air Force
In the late fifties, settled in New York’s Greenwich Village where he was a central figure of that bohemian scene
Became nationally prominent in 1964, with the New York production of his Obie Award-winning play, Dutchman
Became a Black Nationalist, moving first to Harlem and then back home to Newark
In the mid-1970s, became a Third World Marxist-Leninist
1999, after teaching for twenty years in the Department of Africana Studies at SUNY-Stony Brook, he retired
Currently he lives with his wife, the poet Amina Baraka, in Newark.

Quotations:

Poems are bullshit unless they are / teeth or trees or lemons piled / on a step. Or black ladies dying / of men leaving nickel hearts / beating them down. Fuck poems / and they are useful, wd they shoot / come at you, love what you are, / breathe like wrestlers, or shudder / strangely after pissing. We want live / words of the hip world live flesh & / coursing blood. Hearts Brains / Souls splintering fire. We want poems / like fists beating niggers out of Jocks / or dagger poems in the slimy bellies / of the owner-jews. Black poems to / smear on girdlemamma mulatto bitches / whose brains are red jelly stuck / between ‘lizabeth taylor’s toes. Stinking / Whores! We want ‘poems that kill.’ / Assassin poems, Poems that shoot / guns. Poems that wrestle cops into alleys / and take their weapons leaving them dead / with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland. Knockoff / poems for dope selling wops or slick halfwhite / politicians Airplane poems. rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr / rrrrrrrrrrrr … tuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuh / … rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr … Setting fire and death to / whities ass. Look at the Liberal / Spokesman for the jews clutch his throat / & puke himself into eternity … rrrrrrrrrr / There’s a negroleader pinned to / a bar stool in Sardi’s eyeballs melting / in hot flame. Another negroleader / on the steps of the white house one / kneeling between the sheriff’s thighs / negotiating cooly for his people. / Aggh … stumbles across the room … / Put it on him, poem. Strip him naked / to the world! Another bad poem cracking / steel knuckles in a jewlady’s mouth / Poem scream poison gas on beasts in green berets / Clean out the world for virtue and love, / Let there be no love poems written / until love can exist freely and / cleanly. Let Black People understand / that they are the lovers and the sons / of lovers and warriors and sons / of warriors Are poems & poets & / all the loveliness here in the world
We want a black poem. And a / Black World. / Let the world be a Black Poem / And Let All Black People Speak This Poem / Silently
or LOUD

-Black Art (in whole)

For Malcolm’s eyes, when they broke/ the face fos ome dumb white man, For/ Malcolm’s hands raised to bless us/ all black and strong in his image/ of ourselves. For Malcolm’s words/ fire dars, the victor’s tireless/ thrusts, words hung above the world/ change as it may, he said it, and/ for this he was killed, for waying,/ and feeling, and being/change, all/ collected hot in his heart, For Malcolm’s/ heart raising us above our filthy cities,/ for his stride, and his beat, and his address/ to the grey monsters of the world, For Malcolm’s/ pleas for your dignity, black men, for your life,/ black man, for the filling of your minds/ with righteousness. For all of him dead and/ gone and vanished from us, and all of him which/ clings to our speech black god of our time./ For all of him, and all of yourself, look up,/ black man, quit stuttering and shuffling, look up,/ black man, quit whining and stooping, for all of him,/ For Great Malcolm a prince of the earth, let nothing in us rest/ until we avent ourselves for his death, stupid animals/ that killed him, let us never breathe a pure breath if/ we fail, and whtie men call us faggots till the end of/ the earth.

-A Poem For Black Hearts (in whole)

In the south, sleeping agains/ the drugstore, growling under/ the trucks and stoves, stumbling/ through and over the cluttered eyes/ of early mysterious night. Frowning/ drunk waving moving a hand or lash./ Dancing kneeling reaching out, letting/ a hand rest in shadows. Squatting/ to drink or pee. Stretching to climb/ pulling themselves onto horses near/ where there was sea (the old songs/ lead you to believe). Riding out/ from this town, to another, where/ it is also black. Down a road/ wehre people are asleep. Towards/ the moon or the shadows of houses./ Towards the songs’ pretended sea.

-Legacy (For Blues People) (in whole)

How will it go, crumbling earthquake, towering inferno, juggernaut, volcano, smashup,/ in reality, other than the feverish nearreal fantasy of the capitalist flunky film hacks/ tho they sense its reality breathing a quake inferno scar on their throat even snorts of/ 100% pure cocaine cant cancel the cold cut of impending death to this society. On all the/ screens of america, the joint blows up every hour and a half for two dollars an fifty cents./ They have taken the niggers out to lunch, for a minute, made us partners (nigger charlie) or/ surrogates (boss nigger) for their horror. But just as superafrikan mobutu cannot leopardskinhat his/ way out of responsibility for lumumba’s death, nor even with his incredible billions rockefeller/ cannot even save his pale ho’s titties in the crushing weight of things as they really are./ How will it go, does it reach you, getting up, sitting on the side of the bed, getting ready/ to go to work. Hypnotized by the machine, and the cement floor, the jungle treachery of trying/ to survive with no money in a money world, of making the boss 100,000 for every 200 dollars/ you get, and then having his brother get you for the rent, and if you want to buy the car you/ helped build, your downpayment paid for it, the rest goes to buy his old lady a foam rubber/ rhinestone set of boobies for special occasions when kissinger drunkenly fumbles with/ her blouse, forgetting himself./ If you dont like it, what you gonna do about it. That was the question we asked each other, &/ still right regularly need to ask. You dont like it? Whatcha gonna do, about it??/ The real terror of nature is humanity enraged, the true technicolor spectacle that hollywood/ cant record. They cant even show you how you look when you go to work. or when you come back./ They cant even show you thinking or demanding thenew socialist reality, its the ultimate tidal/ wave. When all over the planet, men and women, with heat in their hands, demand that society/ be planned to include the lives and self determination of all the people ever to live. That is/ the scalding scenario with a cast of just under two billion that they dare not even whisper./ Its called, “We Want It All … The Whole World!”

-A New Reality Is Better Than a New Movie! (in whole)

We’ll worship Jesus/ When jesus do/ Somethin/ When jesus blowup/ the white house/ or blast nixon down/ when jesus turn out congress/ or bust general motors to/ yard bird motors/ jesus we’ll worship jesus/ when jesus get down/ when jesus get out his yellow lincoln/ w/ the built in cross stain glass/ window& bow w/black peoples/ enemies we’ll worship jesus when he get bad enough to at least scare/ somebody

Jesus need to hurt some a our/ enemies, then we’ll check him/ out, all that screaming and hollering/ & wallering and moaning talkin bout/ jesus, jesus, in a red/ check velvet vine + 8 in. heels

we aint gonna worship jesus cause jesus dont exist/ xcept in song and story except in ritual and dance, except in slum stained/ tears or trillion dollar opulence stretching back in history, the history/ of the oppression of the human mind/ we worship the strength in us/ we worship our selves/ we worship the light in us/ we worship the warmth in us/ we worship the world/ we worship the love in us/ we worship our selves/ we worhsip nature/ we worship ouselves/ we worship the life in us, and science, and knowledge, and transformation/ of the visible world/ but we aint gonna worship no jesus/ we aint gonna legitimize the witches and devils and spooks and hobgoblins/  the sensuous lies of the rules to keep us chained to fantasy and illusion/ sing about life, not jesus/ sing about revolution, not no jesus/ stop singing about jesus,/ sing about, creation, our creation, the life of the world and fantastic/ nature how we struggle to transform it, but dont victimize our selves by/ distorting the world/ stop moanin about jesus, stop sweatin and crying and stompin and dyin for jesus/ unless thats the name of the army we building to force the land finally to/ change hands. And lets not call that jesus, get a quick consensus, on that,/ lets damn sure not call that black fire muscle no invisible psychic dungeon/ no gentle vision straight jacket, lets call that peoples army, or wapenduzi or/ simba/ wachanga, but we not gon callit jesus, and not gon worship jesus, throw/ jesus out yr mind. Build the new world out of reality, and new vision/ we come to find out what there is of the world/ to understand what there is here in the world!/ to visualize change, and force it./ we worship revolution

-When We’ll Worship Jesus

Georgia Douglas Johnson

October 15, 2006

georgia-douglas-johnson.jpg
(1880-1966)

Best-known woman poet of the Harlem Renaissance
Poems suggest a feminine sensibility and a feminist awareness, and take up challenges and aspirations of the African-American community
Born in Atlanta, studied at Atlanta University and Oberlin College
Married Henry Lincoln Johnson, an African-American lawyer and politician who died in 1925
Worked clerical jobs in Washington, D.C. to support her two sons who went on to law and medical school
Wrote stories, plays, and a weekly column
Early poetry draws comparisons with personal lyrics of Sara Teasdale and Edna St. Vincent Millay, and later poetry attempts to deeply connect issues of the Harlem Renaissance

Quotations:

The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn, / As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on, / Afar o’er life’s turrents and vales does it roam / In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.
The heart of a woman falls back with the night, / And enters some alien cate in its plight, / And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars / While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.

-The Heart of a Woman (in whole)

Reflects the frustrations Johnson observed and felt in domestic life
Her husband disapproved of his wife’s poetic aspirations
Plumbs the anguish of a woman trapped in traditional marital and child-bearing roles
Metaphor of broken and caged bird echoes Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem ‘Sympathy’

Robert Browning

October 11, 2006

robert-browning.jpg
(1812-1889)

During his lifetime, was often referred to as “Mrs. Browning’s husband”: was a relatively unknown experimenter whose poems were greeted with indifference
gained a public and was recognized as the rival of Alfred, Lord Tennyson in the 1860’s
Poetry was admired by two groups of readers widely different in tastes: Browning was seen as a wise philosopher and religious teacher resolving doubts seen in Tennyson’s poetry, and also as a poet interested in solving the problems of how poetry should be written (Ezra Pound and Robert Lowell recognized that Browning became the main road of twentieth-century poetry)
Uses dramatic monologue to separate the speaker from the poet
Born in Camberwell, a London suburb
Until marriage at age of 34, Browning was rarely absent from his parents’ home
Preferred to pursue his education at home
Overwhelmed with embarrassment, avoided confessional writings and exposing himself too explicitly before his readers
Wrote plays instead of narratives, but stage productions remained failures
Carried dramatic monologue to poetry and enabled him through imaginary speakers to avoid explicit autobiography
Became an atheist, vegetarian and liberal at 14 after discovering Percy Bysshe Shelley’s works, retained Shelley’s influence in poetry, but grew away for atheism
The random nature of his education later surfaced in his writing, leading to criticism of his poems’ obscurities
After reading Elizabeth Barrett’s Poems (1844) and corresponding with her for a few months, Browning met her in 1845 and they were married in 1846,

Quotations:

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, / Looking as if she were alive, I call / That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands / Worked busily a day, and there she stands. / Will ‘t please you to sit and look at her? I said / ‘Fra Pandolf’ by design, for never read / Strangers like you that pictured countenance, / The depth and passion of its earnest glance, / But to myself they turned (since none puts by / The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) / And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, / How such a glance came there; so, not the first / Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not / Her hustand’s presence only, called that spot / Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps / Fra Pandolf chanced to say ‘Her mantel laps / Over my lady’s wrist too much,’ or ‘Paint / Must never hope to reproduce the faint / Half-flush that dies along her throat’: such stuff / Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough / For calling up that spot of joy. She had / A heart- how shall I sa? -too soon made glad, / Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er / She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. / Sir, ’twas all one! My favor at her breast, / The dropping of the daylight in the West, / The bough of cherries some officious fool / Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule / She rode with round the terrace -all and each / Would draw from her alike the approving speech, / Or blush, at least. She thanked men- good! but thanked / Somehow- I know not how- as if she ranked / My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name / With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame / This sort of trifling? Even had you skill / In speech – (which I have not)- to make your will / Quite clear to such an one, and say, ‘Just this / Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, / Or there exceed the mark’ -and if she let / Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set / Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse / -E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose / Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, / Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without / Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands / As if alive. Will ‘t please you to rise? We’ll meet / The company below, then. I repeat, / The Count your master’s known munificence / Is ample warrant that no just pretense / Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; / Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed / At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go / Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, / Taming a sea horse, thought a rarity, / Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

-My Last Duchess (in whole)

A duke speaks of his dead wife in a one-sided conversation
Reader must piece together the past and present situation and infer what sort of woman the duchess really was and what sort of man the duke really is

Edgar Lee Masters

September 18, 2006

masters1.gif
(1868-1950)

American poet, biographer, and dramatist
First published his early poems and essays under the pseudonym Dexter Wallace

Spoon River Anthology 1915

Collection of unusual, short, free-form poems that collectively describe the life of the fictional small town of Spoon River
Includes two hundred and twelve separate characters, all providing two-hundred forty-four soliloquies
Each poem is an epitaph of a dead citizen, delivered by the dead themselves
Insanely popular: more so with non-poetry specialists

Quotations

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley, / The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the / boozer, the fighter? / All, all, are sleeping on the hill.
One passed in fever, / One was burned in a mine, / One was killed in a brawl, / One died in a jail, / One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife- / All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.
Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith, / The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, / the happy one?- / All, all, are sleeping on the hill.
One died in shameful child-birth, / One of a thwarted love, / One at the hands of a brute in a brothel, / One of a broken pride, in the search for heart’s desire, / One after life in far-away London and Paris / Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and mag- / All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.
Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily, / And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton, / And Major Walker who had talked / With venerable men of the revolution:- / All, all, are sleeping on the hill.
They brought them dead sons from the way, And daughters whom life had crushed, / And their children fatherless, crying- / All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.
Where is Old Fiddler Jones / Who played with life all his ninety years, / Braving the sleet with bared breast, / Drinking, roiting, thinking neither of wife nor kin, / Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven? / Lo! he babbles of the fish-frys of long ago, / Of the horse-races of long ago at Clary’s Grove, / Of what Abe Lincoln said / One time at Springfield.

-The Hill (in whole)

Henry got me with child, / Knowing that I could not bring forth life / Without losing my own. / In my youth therefore I entered the portals of dust. / Traveler, it is believed in the village where I lived / That Henry loved me with a husband’s love, / But I proclaim from the dust / That he slew me to gratify his hatred.

-Amanda Barker (in whole)

In life I was the town drunkard; / When I died the priest denied me burial / In holy ground. / The which redounded to my good fortune. / For the Protestants bought this lot, / And buried my body here, / Close to the grave of the banker Nicholas, / And of his wife Priscilla. / Take note, ye prudent and pious souls, / Of the cross-currents in life / Which bring honor to the dead, who lived in shame.

-Chase Henry (in whole)

My wife lost her health, / And dwindled until she weighed scarce ninety pounds. / Then that woman, whom the men / Styled Cleopatra, came along. / And we-we married ones / All broke our vows, myself among the rest. / Years passed and one by one / Death claimed them all in some hideous form, / And I was borne right along by dreams / Of God’s particular grace for me, / And I began to write, write, write, reams on reams / Of the second coming of Christ. / Then Christ came to me and said, / “Go into the church and stand before the congregation / And confess your sin.” / But just as I stood up and began to speak / I saw my little girl, who was sitting in the front seat- / My little girl who was born blind! / After that, all is blackness!

-Willard Fluke (in whole)

Over and over they used to ask me, / While buying the wine or the beer, / In Peoria first, and later in Chicago, / Denver, Frisco, New York, wherever I lived, / How I happened to lead the life, / And what was the start of it. / Well, I told them a silk dress, / And a promise of marriage from a rich man- / (It was Lucius Atherton). / But that was not really it at all. / Suppose a boy steals an apple / From the tray at the grocery store, / And they all begin to call him a thief, / The editor, minister, judge, and all the people- / “A thief,” “a thief,” “a thief,” wherever he goes. / And he can’t get work, and he can’t ge bread / Without stealing it, why the boy will steal. / It’s the way the people regard the theft of the apple / That makes the boy what he is.

-Aner Clute (in whole)

When my moustache curled, / And my hair was black, / And I wore tight trousers / And a diamond stud, / I was an excellent knave of hearts and took many a trick. / But when the gray hairs began to appear- / Lo! a new generation of girls / Laughed at me, not fearing me, / And I had no more exciting adventures / Wherein I was all but shot for a heartless devil, / But only drabby affairs, warmed-over affairs / Of other days and other men. / And time went on until I lived at Mayer’s restaurant, / Partaking of short-orders, a gray, untidy, / Toothless, discarded, rural Don Juan…. / There is a mighty shade here who sings / Of one named Beatrice; / And I see now that the force that made him great / Drove me to the dregs of live.

-Lucius Atherton (in whole)

Often Aner Clute at the gate / Refused me the parting kiss, / Saying we should be engaged before that; / And just with a distant clasp of the hand / She bade me good-night, as I brought her home / From the skating rink or the revival. / No sooner did my departing footsteps die away / Than Lusius Atherton, / (So I learned with Aner went to Peoria) / Stole in at her window, or took her riding / Behind his spanking team of bays / Into the country. / The shock of it made me settle down, / And I put all the money I got from my father’s estate / Into the canning factory, to get the job / Of head accountant, and lost it all. / And then I knew I was one of Life’s fools, / Whom only death would treat as the equal / Of other men, making me feel like a man.

-Homer Clapp (in whole)

The earth keeps some vibration going / There in your heart, and that is you. / And if the people find you can fiddle, / Why, fiddle you must, for all your life. / What do you see, a harvest of clover? / Or a meadow to walk through to the river? / The wind’s in the corn; you rub your hands / For beeves heareafter ready for market; / Or else you hear the rustle of skirts / Like the girls when dancing at Little Grove. / To Cooney Potter a pillar of dust / Or whirling leaves meant ruinous drouth; / They looked to me like Red-Head Sammy / Stepping it off, to “Toor-a-Loor.” / How could I till my forty acres / Not to speak of getting more, / With a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos / Stirred in my brain by crows and robins / And the creak of a wind-mill- only these? / And I nevered started to plow in my life / That some one did not stop in the road / And take me away to a dance or picnic. / I ended up with forty acres; / I ended up with a broken fiddle- / And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories. / And not a single regret.

-Fiddler Jones (in whole)

I was only eight years old; / And before I grew up and knew what it meant / I had no words for it, except / that I was frightened and told my Mother; / And that my Father got a pistol / And would have killed Charlie, who was a big boy, / Fifteen years old, except for his Mother. / Nevertheless the story clung to me. / But the man who married me, a widower of thirty-five, / Was a newcomer and never heard it. Till two years after we were married. / Then he considered himself cheated, / And the village agreed that I was not really a virgin. / Well, he deserted me, and I died / The following winter.

-Nellie Clark (in whole)

Herbert broke our engagement of eight years / When Annabelle returned to the village / From the Seminary, ah me! / If I had let my love for him alone / It might have grown into a beautiful sorrow- / Who knows? -filling my life with healing fragrance. / But I tortured it, I poisoned it, / I blinded its eyes, and it became hatred- / Deadly ivy instead of clematis. / And my soul fell from its support, / Its tendrils tangled in decay. / Do not let the will play gardener to your soul / Unless you are sure / It is wiser than your soul’s nature.

-Louise Smith (in whole)

The got me into the Sunday-school / In Spoon River / And tried to get me to drop Confucius for Jesus. / I could have been no worse off / If I had tried to get them to drop Jesus for Confucius. / For, without any warning, as if it were a prank, / And sneaking up behind me, Harry Wiley, / The minister’s son, caved my ribs into my lungs, / With a blow of his fist. / Now I shall never sleep with my ancestors in Pekin, / And no children shall worship at my grave.

-Yee Bow (in whole)

Not character, not fortitude, not patience / Were mine, the which the village thought I had / In bearing with my wife, while preachingon, / Doing the work God chose for me. / I loathed her as a termagant, as a wanton. / I knew of her adulteries, every one. / But even so, if I divorced the woman / I must forsake the ministry. / Therefore to do God’s work and have it crop, / I bore with her! / So lied I to myself! / So lied I to Spoon River! / Yet I tried lecturing, ran for the legislature, / Canvassed for books, with just the thought in mind: / If I make money thus, I will divorce her.

-Amos Sibley (in whole)

The secret of the stars, -gravitation. / The secret of the earth, -layers of rock. / The secret of the soil, -to receive seed. / The secret of the seed, -the germ. / The secret of man, -the sower. / The secret of woman, -the soil. / My secret: Under a mound that you shall never find.

-Mrs. Sibley (in whole)

To be able to see every side of every question ; / To be on every side, to be everything, to be nothing long; / To pervert truth, to ride it for a purpose, / To use great feelings and passions of the human family / For base designs, for cunning ends, / To wear a mask like the Greek actors- / Your eight-page paper – behind which you huddle, / Bawling through the megaphone of big type: / “This is I, the giant.” / Thereby also living the life of a sneak-thief, / Poisoned with the anonymous words / Of your clandestine soul. / To scratch dirt over scandals for money, / And exhume it to the winds for revenge, / Or to sell papers, / Crushing reputations, or bodies, if need be, / To win at any cost, save your own life. / To glory in demoniac power, ditching civilization, / As a paranoiac boy puts a log on the track / And derails the express train. / To be an editor, as I was. / Then to lie here close by the river over the place / Where the sewage flows from the village, / And the empty cans and garbage are dumped, / And abortions are hidden.

-Editor Whedon (in whole)

The white men played all sorts of jokes on me. / They took big fish off my hook / And put little ones on, while I was away / Getting a stringer, and made me believe / I hadn’t see aright the fish I had caught. / When Burr Robbins circus came to town / They got the ring master to let a tame leopard / Into the ring, and made me believe / I was whipping a wild beast like Samson / When I, for an offer of fifty dollars, / Dragged him out to his cage. / One time I entered my blacksmith shop / And shook as I saw some horse-shoes crawling / Across the floor, as if alive- / Walter Simmons had put a magnet / Under the barrel of water. / Yet everyone of you, you white men, / Was fooled about fish and about leopards too, / And you didn’t know any more than the horse-shoes did / What moved you about Spoon River.

-Shack Dye (in whole)

James Joyce

June 16, 2006

joyce.jpg
(1882-1941)

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce
Expatriate Irish writer and poet
Major figure of the Modernist movement
Uses “stream of consciousness” narrative

Quotations:

Frail the white rose and frail are/ Her hands that gave/ Whose soul is sere and paler/ Than time’s wan wave.
Rosefrail and fair- yet frailest/ A wonder wild/ In gentle eyes thou veilest,/ My blueveined child.

-A Flower Given to My Daughter (in whole)

The Dead (1914)

Final short story in the 1914 collection Dubliners
Longest story in the collection and widely considered to be one of the greatest short stories in the English

Quotations:

“Those who still remained in the drawing-room seemed tired of dancing and were conversing quietly in little groups.  Gabriel’s warm trembling fingers tapped the cold pane of the window.  How cool it must be outside!  How pleasant it would be to walk out alone, first along by the river and then through the park!  The snow would be lying on the branches of the trees and forming a bright cap on the top of the Wellington Monument.  How much more pleasant it would be there than at the supper-table!”

“He felt quite at ease now for he was an expert carver and liked nothing better than to find himself at the head of a well-laden table.”

“Those were the days, he said, when there was something like singing to be heard in Dublin.”

“Some would say, perhaps, that with us it is rather a failing than anything to be boasted of.  But granted even that, it is, to my mind, a princely failing, and one that I trust will long be cultivated among us.”

“Our path through life is strewn with many such sad memories: and were we to brood upon them always we could not find the heart to go on bravely with our work among the living.  We have all of us living duties and living affections which claim, and rightly claim, our strenuous endeavours.  Therefore, I will not linger on the past.”

“A wave of yet more tender joy escaped from his heart and went coursing in a warm flood along his arteries.  Like the tender fires of stars moments of their life together, that no one knew of or would ever know of, broke upon and illumined his memory.”

“A shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him.  He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealising his own clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror.  Instinctively he turned his back more to the light lest she might see the shame that burned upon his forehead.”

“So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake.  It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life.”

“The air of the room chilled his shoulders.  He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife.  One by one they were all becoming shades.  Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”

“His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead.  He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence.  His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.”

“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

T. S. Eliot

June 16, 2006

eliot.jpg
(1888-1965)

Thomas Stearns Eliot
American-born British poet, dramatist, and literary critic
One of the most influential Modernist poets of the 20th century
In 1948 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature
Converted to Anglicanism
Poetry derives its power from the capacity to embody and reconcile contradictory characteristics : Deeply conservative and traditional, but emerged as a trailblazer of experimental modernism
Youngest of 7 children: born in St. Louis
Mother was an aspirating poet frustrated by her limited educational opportunities
Shy, witty, self-ironic, and reserved in manner
Brilliant student : Earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at Harvard by the age of 23
Abandoned expected career path as a philosophy professor in the U.S. when he met Pound in England on a traveling fellowship
Married vivacious and sensitive but emotionally unstable Englishwoman Vivien Haigh-Wood, but failed to offer a living wage: took a post in the colonial and foreign department of Lloyeds Bank
Suffered a mental and physical collapse in 1921: sought treatment at a sanatorium in Lausanne, Switzerland and completed the initial draft of “The Waste Land” which he later revised with Pound
Left Llolyds Bank for an editorial position at the London publishing firm of Faber and Gwyer
Joined the Church of England and became a British citizen in 1927
Returned to harvard to give a series of lectures published as “The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism”
Vivien was permanently institutionalized in 1938 and died 9 years later
Turned to drama in later years to win a larger audience
Married again after 1957 and fell virtually silent as a poet
Died in 1965 and is buried in East Coker, the English village from which his Eliot ancestors had originated

Quotations:

Stand on the highest pavement of the stair- / Lean on a garden urn- / Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair- / Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise- / Fling them to the ground and turn / With a fugitive resentment in your eyes: / But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair

She turned away, but with the autumn weather / Compelled my imagination many days, / Many days and many hours: / Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers. / And I wonder how they should have been together!

-La Figlia Che Piange

All this was a long time ago, I remember, / And I would do it again, but set down / This set down / This: were we led all that way for / Birth or Death?  There was a Birth, certainly, / We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, / But had thought they were different; this Birth was / Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death. / We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, / But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, / With an alien people clutching their gods. / I should be glad of another death.

-Journey of the Magi

You tossed a blanket from the bed, / You lay upon your back, and waited; / You dozed, and watched the night revealing / The thousand sordid images / Of which your soul was constituted; / They flickered against the ceiling. / And when all the world came back / And the light crept up between the shutters / And you heard the sparrows in the gutters, / You had such a vision of the street / As the street hardly understands; / Sitting along the bed’s edge, where / You curled the papers from your hair, / Or clasped the yellow soles of feet / In the palms of both soiled hands.

-Preludes

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915)

Follows the conscious experience of a man, Prufrock lamenting his physical and intellectual inertia, the lost opportunities in his life and lack of spiritual progress, with the recurrent theme of carnal love unattained
Although Prufrock seems to be middle-aged, Eliot wrote most of the poem when he was only 22
Relayed in the “stream of consciousness” form indicative of the Modernists

Quotations:

Let us go then, you and I, / When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherised upon a table;

Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’ / Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be times / To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’ / Time to turn back and descend the stair, / With a bald spot in the middle of my hair- / [They will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’] / My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, / My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a / simple pin- / [They will say: ‘But how his arms and legs are thin!’] / Do I dare / Disturb the universe? / In a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

And I have known the eyes already, known them all- / The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, / And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, / When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, / Then how should I being / To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways? / And how should I presume?

I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

I grow old… I grow old… / I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? / I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. / I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea / By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown / Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Tradition and the Individual Talent (1919/1920)

Quotations:

“In English writing we seldom speak of tradition, though we occasionally apply its name in deploring its absence. We cannot refer to ‘the tradition’ or to ‘a tradition’; at most, we employ the adjective in saying that the poetry of So-and-so is ‘traditional’ or even ‘too traditional.’ Seldom, perhaps, does the word appear except in a phrase of censure. If otherwise, it is vaguely approbative, with the implication, as to the work approved, of some pleasing archaeological reconstruction. You can hardly make the word agreeable to English ears without this comfortable reference to the reassuring science of archaeology.”

“…we might remind ourselves that criticism is as inevitable as breathing, and that we should be none the worse for articulating what passes in our minds when we read a book and feel an emotion about it, for criticising our own minds in their work of criticism. One of the facts that might come to light in this process is our tendency to insist, when we praise a poet, upon those aspects of his work in which he least resembles anyone else. In these aspects or parts of his work we pretend to find what is individual, what is the peculiar essence of the man. We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet’s difference from his predecessors, especially his immediate predecessors; we endeavour to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed. Whereas if we approach a poet without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may =be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously.”

“Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to any one who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feelig that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his own contemporaneity.
No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead.”

“He must be quite aware of the obvious fact that art never improves, but that the material of art is never quite the same. He must be aware that the mind of Europe – the mind of his own country – a mind which he learns in time to be much more important than his own private mind – is a mind which changes, and that this change is a development which abandons nothing en route, which does not superannuate either Shakespeare, or Homer, or the rock drawing of the Magdalenian draftsmen. That this development, refinement perhaps, complication certainly, is not, from the point of view of the artist, any improvement.”

“But the difference between the present and the past is that the conscious present is an awareness of the past in a way and to an extent which the past’s awareness of itself cannot show.”

“The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.”

“I have tried to point out the importance of the relation of the poem to other poems by other authors, and suggested the conception of poetry as a living whole of all the poetry that has ever been written. The other aspects of this Impersonal theory of poetry is the relation of the poem to its author. And I hinted, by analogy, that the mind of the mature poet differs from that of the immature one not precisely in any valuation of ‘personality,’ not being necessarily more interesting, or having ‘more to say,’ but rather by being a more finely perfected medium in which special, or very varied, feelings are at liberty to enter into new combinations.
The analogy was that of the catalyst. When the two gases previously mentioned are mixed in the presence of a filament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid. This combination takes place only if the platinum is present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum itself is apparently unaffected; has remained inert, neutral, and unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum. It may partly or exclusively operate upon the experience of the man himself; but, the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmit the passions which are its material.”

“The poet’s mind is in face a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.”

‘It is not in his personal emotions, the emotions provoked by particular events in his life, that the poet is in any way remarkable or interesting. His particular emotions may be simple, or crude, or flat. The emotion in his poetry will be a very complex thing, but not with the complexity of the emotions of people who have very complex or unusual emotions in life. One error, in fact, of eccentricity in poetry is to seek for new human emotions to express; and in this search for novelty in the wrong place it discovers the perverse. The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all.”

“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an excape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an excape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to excape form these things.”

“The emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done. And he is not likely to know what is to be done unless he lives in what is not merely the present, but the present moment of the past, unless he is conscious, not of what is dead, but of what is already living.”

The Waste Land (1922)

Read as a representation of the disillusionment of the post-war generation
Dedicated to Ezra Pound, who suggested cuts and changes for the manuscript
Includes quotations from and allusions to Shakespeare, Dante, Charles Baudelaire, Richard Wagner, Ovid, St. Augustine, Buddhist sermons, folk songs, and the anthropologists Jessie Weston and James Frazer
Deliberate use of fragmentation and discontinuity
Deals with the decline of civilization and the impossibility of recovering meaning in life, shifts between satire and prophecy, abrupt and unannounced changes of speaker, location and time, elegiac but intimidating summoning up of a vast and dissonant range of cultures and literatures
According to Time magazine:

“There is a new kind of literature abroad in the land, whose only obvious fault is that no one can understand it.”

Eliot reading The Waste Land

Quotations:

April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Dull roots with spring rain.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow / Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, / You cannot say, or guess, for you know only / A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, / And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, / And the dry stone no sound of water. Only / There is a shadow under this red rock, / (Come in under the shadow of this red rock), And I will show you something different from either / Your shadow at morning striding behind you / Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; / I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

‘You gave me hyacinths first a year ago; / ‘They called me the hyacinth girl.’ / -Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden, / Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not / Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither / Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, / Looking into the heart of light, the silence.

Unreal City, / Under the brown fog of a winter dawn, A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, I had not thought death had undone so many.  Sighs, short and infrequent , were exhaled, / And each man fixed his eyes before his feet. 

There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: ‘Stetson! / ‘You who were with me in the ships at Mylae! / ‘That corpse you planted last year in your garden, / ‘Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year? / ‘Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed? / ‘Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men, / ‘Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again! / ‘You! Hypocrite lecteur! -mon semblable, -mon frere!’

‘What is that noise?’
The wind under the door.
‘What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?’
Nothing again nothing.
‘Do / ‘You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember / ‘Nothing?’
I remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
‘Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?’

I too awaited the expected guest. / He, the young man carbuncular, arrives, / A small house agen’s clerk, with one bold stare, / One of the low on whom assurance sits / As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire. / The time is now propitious, as he guesses, / The meal is ended, she is bored and tired, / Endeavours to engage her in caresses / Which still are unreproved, if undesired. / Flushed and decided, he assaults at once; / Exploring hands encounter no defence; / His vanity requires no response, / And makes a welcome of indifference. / (And I Tiresias have foresuffered all / Enacted on this same divan or bed; / I who have sat by Thebes below the wall / And walked among the lowest of the dead.) / Bestows one final patronising kiss, / And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit…
She turns and looks a moment in the glass, / Hardly aware of her departed lover; / Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass: / ‘Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.’ / When lovely woman stoops to folly and / Paces about her room again, alone, / She smoothes her hair with automatic hand, / And puts a record on the gramophone.
 

These fragments I have shored against my ruins

Oscar Wilde

June 9, 2006

oscar_wilde.jpg
(1854-1900)

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde 
Anglo-Irish playwright, novelist, poet, short story writer and Freemason
One of the most successful playwrights of late Victorian London
Sometimes called ‘the apostle of beauty’
Among the last of the Victorians: he posed as an exponent of new ideas but was also of an old school of thought
Major celebrity of his day, known for his barbed and clever wit
Suffered a dramatic downfall and was imprisoned after being convicted for gross indecency (homosexual acts)
Known for his role in the aesthetic and decadent movements
Gravestone is covered in lipstick marks

Quotations:

Tread lightly, she is near / Under the snow, / Speak gently, she can hear / The daisies grow.
All her bright golden hair / Tarnished with rust, / She that was young and fair / Fallen to dust.
Lily-like, white as snow, / She hardly knew / She was a woman, so / Sweetly she grew.
Coffin-board, heavy stone, / Lie on her breast; / I vex my heart alone, / She is at rest.
Peace, peace; she cannot hear / Lyre or sonnet; / All my life’s buried here, / Heap earth upon it.

-Requiescat (in whole)

Written after the death of Wilde’s younger sister

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

A portrait made of the eponymous Dorian Gray is marred because of his many sins, becoming old and disfigured, while he himself remains young and perfect
Themes of aestheticism and the morality of art, homosexuality, beauty, youth, Hedonism, Romanticism/Realism

Quotations:

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.”

“All art is quite useless.”

“‘Harry,’ said Basil Hallward, looking him straight in the face, ‘every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.  The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion.  It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself.  The reason I will not exhibit this picture is that I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul.'”

“‘I believe that if one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling , expression to every thought, reality to every dream- I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies of mediaevalism, and return to the Hellenic ideal- to something finer, richer, than the Hellenic ideal, it may be.  But the bravest man amongst us is afraid of himself. The mutilation of the savage has its tragic survival in the self-denial that mars our lives.  We are punished for our refusals.  Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind, and poisons us.  the body sins once, and has done with its sin, for action is a mode of purification.  Nothing remains then but the recollection of a pleasure, or the luxury of a regret.  The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.  Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.'”

“‘…You have a wonderfully beautiful face, Mr. Gray.  Don’t frown.  You have.  And Beauty is a form of Genius- is higher, indeed, than Genius, as it needs no explanation…To me, Beauty is the wonder of wonders.  It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.  The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible…'”

“Yes, there would be a day when his face would be wrinkled and wizen, his eyes dim and colourless, the grace of his figure broken and deformed.  The scarlet would pass away from his lips, and the gold steal from his hair.  The life that was to make his soul would mar his body.  He would become dreadful, hideous, and uncouth.”

“‘How said it is!’ murmured Dorian Gray, with his eyes still fixed upon his own portrait.  ‘How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful.  But this picture will remain always young.  It will never be older than this particular day of June…. If it were only the other way!  If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old!  For that-for that- I would give everything!  Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give!  I would give my soul for that!'”

“‘She behaves as if she was beautiful.  Most American women do.  It is the secret of their charm.'”

“‘Never marry at all, Dorian.  Men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious: both are disappointed.'”

“‘When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one’s self, and one always ends by deceiving others.  That is what the world calls a romance.'”

“‘A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures.  But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating.  The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look.  The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible.  He lives the poetry that he cannot write.  The others write the poetry that they dare not realize.'”

“The expression looked different.  One would have said that there was a touch of cruelty in the mouth.  It was certainly strange… There were no signs of any change when he looked into the actual painting, and yet there was no doubt that the whole expression had altered.”

“But the picture?  What was he to say of that?  It held the secret of his life, and told his story.  It had taught him to love his own beauty.  Would it teach him to loathe his own soul?  Would he ever look at it again?”

“There is a luxury in self-reproach.  When we blame ourselves we feel that no one else has a right to blame us.  It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.”

“‘So I have murdered Sibyl Vane,’ said Dorian Gray, half to himself-‘murdered her as surely as if I had cut her little throat with a knife.  Yet the roses are not less lovely for all that.  The birds sing just as happily in my garden.  And tonight I am to dine with you, and then go on to the Opera, and sup somewhere, I suppose, afterwards.  How extraordinarily dramatic life is!'”

“‘The girl never really lived, and so she has never really died…She was less real than they are.'”

“Yes: there was to be, as Lord Henry had prophesied, a new Hedonism that was to recreate life, and to save it from that harsh, uncomely puritanism that is having, in our own day, its curious revival.  It was to have its service of the intellect, certainly; yet, it was never to accept any theory or system that would involve the sacrifice of any mode of passionate experience.  Its aim, indeed, was to be experience itself, and not the fruits of experience, sweet or bitter as they might be.  Of the asceticism that deadens the senses, as of the vulgar profligacy that dulls them, it was to know nothing.  But it was to teach man to concentrate himself upon the moments of a life that its itself but a moment.”

“…no theory of life seemed to him to be of any importance compared with life itself.”

“On his return he would sit in front of the picture, sometimes loathing it and himself, but filled, at other times with the pride of individualism that is half the fascination of sin, and smiling, with secret pleasure, at the misshapen shadow that had to bear the burden that should have been his own.”

“Society, civilized society at least, is never very ready to believe anything to the detriment of those who are both rich and fascinating.  It feels instinctively that manners are of more importance than morals…”

“For the canons of good society are, or should be, the same as the canons of art.  Form is absolutely essential to it.  It should have the dignity of a ceremony, as well as its unreality, and should combine the insincere character of a romantic play with the wit and beauty that make such plays delightful to us.  Is insincerity such a terrible thing?  I think not.  It is merely a method by which we can multiply our personalities.”

“To him, man was a being with myriad lives and myriad sensations, a complex multiform creature that bor within itself strange legacies of thought and passion, and whose very flesh was tainted with the monstrous maladies of the dead.”

“Dorian Gray had been poisoned by a book.”

“Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man’s face.  It cannot be concealed.  People talk sometimes of secret vices.  There are no such things.  If a wretched man has a vice, it shows itself in the lines of his mouth, the droop of his eyelids, the moulding of his hands even.”

“The dead man was still sitting there, too, and in the sunlight now.  How horrible that was!  Such hideous thins were for the darkness, not the day.”

“Time stopped for him.  Yes: that blind, slow-breathing thing crawled no more, and horrible thoughts, Time being dead, raced nimbly on in front, and dragged a hideous future from its grave, and showed it to him.  He stared at it.  Its very horror made him stone.”

“‘Don’t speak about those days, Dorian: they are dead.’
‘The dead linger sometimes.  The man upstairs will not go away.'”

“Ugliness that had once been hateful to him because it made things real, became clear to him now for that very reason.  Ugliness was the one reality.  The coarse brawl, the loathsome den, the crude violence of disordered life, the very vileness of thief and outcast, were more vivid, in their intense actuality of impression, than all the gracious shapes of Art, the dreamy shadows of Song.  They were what he needed for forgetfulness.”

“Each man lived his own life, and paid his own price for living it.  The only pity was one had to pay so often for a single fault.  One had to pay over and over again, indeed.  In her dealings with man Destiny never closed her accounts.”

“…we have lost the faculty of giving lovely names to things.  Names are everything.  I never quarrel with actions.  My one quarrel is with words.  That is the reason I hate vulgar realism in literature.”

“‘Life has been your art.  You have set yourself to music.  Your days are your sonnets.'”

“‘The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.'”

“Ah! in what a monstrous moment of pride ad passion he had prayed that the portrait should bear the burden of his days, and he keep the unsullied splendour of eternal youth!  All his failure had been due to that.  Better for him that each sin of his life had brought its sure, swift penalty along with it.  There was purification in punishment.  Not ‘Forgive us our sins,’ but ‘Smite us for our iniquities,’ should be the prayer of man to a most just God.”

“It was his beauty that had ruined him, his beauty and the youth that he had prayed for.  But for those two things, his life might have been free from stain.  His beauty had been to him but a mask, his youth but a mockery.  What was youth at best?  A green, and unripe time, a time of shallow moods, and sickly thoughts.”

“When they entered, they found hanging upon the wall a plendid portrait of their master as they had last seen him, in all the wonder of his exquisite youth and beauty.  Lying on the floor was a dead man, in evening dress, with a knife in his heart.  He was withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage.  It was not till they examined the rings that they recognized who it was.”

The Critic as Artist (1890/1891)

Argues that criticism is a creation within a creation: criticism is just as respectable of an art as the object it is interpreting
Set up as a conversation between Gilbert and Ernest 

Quotations:

Gilbert: …When man acts he is a puppet. When he describes he is a poet.

Gilbert:…Those who live in marble or on painted panel know of life but a single exquisite instant, eternal indeed in its beauty, but limited to one note of passion or one mood of calm. Those whom the poet makes live have their myriad emotions of joy and terror, of courage and despair, of pleasure and of suffering.

The statue is concentrated to one moment of perfection. The image stained upon the canvas possesses no spiritual element of growth or change. If they know nothing of death, it is because they know little of life, for the secrets of life and death belong to those, and those only, whom the sequence of time affects, and who possess not merely the present but the future, and can rise or fall from a past of glory or of shame. Movement, that problem of the visible arts, can be truly realized by Literature alone. It is Literature that shows us the body in its swiftness and the soul in its unrest.

Gilbert: But, surely, Criticism is itself an art. And just as artistic creation implies the working of the critical faculty, and, indeed, without it cannot be said to exist at all, so Criticism is really creative in the highest sense of the word. Criticism is, in fact, both creative and independent.

Gilbert: …Dullness is always an irresistible temptation for brilliancy, and stupidity is the permanent Bestia Trionfans that calls wisdom from its cave. To an artist so creative as the critic, hat does subject matter signify? No more and no less than it does to the novelist and the painter. Like them, he can find his motives everywhere. Treatment is the test. There is nothing that has not in it suggestion or challenge.

Gilbert:…Indeed, I would call criticism a creation within a creation.

Nay, more, I would say that the highest Criticism, being the purest form of personal impression, is in its way more creative than creation, as it has least reference to any standard external to itself, and is, in fact, its own reason for existing, and as the Greeks would put it, in itself, and to itself, an end.

Gilbert: …For the highest Criticism deals with art not as expressive but as impressive purely.

Gilbert: …Who cares whether Mr. Rsukin’s views on Turner are sound or not? What does it matter? That mighty and majestic prose of his, so fervid and so fiery-colored in its noble eloquence, so rich in its elaborate symphonic music, so sure and certain, at its best, in subtle choice word and epithet, is at least as great a work of art as any of those wonderful sunsets that bleach or rot on their corrupted canvases in England’s Gallery; greater indeed, one is apt to think at times, not merely because its equal beauty is more enduring, but on account of the fuller variety of its appeal, soul speaking to soul in those long-candenced lines, not through form and colour alone, though through these, indeed, completely and without loss, but with intellectual and emotional utterance, with lofty passion and with loftier thought, with imaginative insight, and with poetic aim; greater, I always think, even as Literature is the greater art.

And so the picture becomes more wonderful to us than it really is, and reveals to us a secret of which, in truth, it knows nothing, and the music of the mystical prose is as sweet in our ears as was that flute-player’s music that lent to the lips of La Gioconda those subtle and poisonous curves. Do you ask me what Leonardo would have said had any one told him of this picture that ‘all the thoughts and experience of the world had etched and moulded therein that which they had of power to refine and make expressive the outward form, the animalism of Greece, the lust of Rome, the reverie of the Middle Age with its spiritual ambition and imaginative loves, the return of the Pagan world, the sins of the Borgias?’ He would probably have answered that he contemplated none of these things, but had concerned himself simply with certain arrangement of lines and masses, and with new and curious colour-harmonies of blue and green. And i is for this very reason that the criticism which I have quoted is criticism of the highest kind. It treats the work of art simply as a starting point for a new creation. It does not confine itself – let us at least suppose so for the moment – to discovering the real intention of the artist and accepting that as final. And in this it is right, for the meaning of any beautiful created thing is, at least, as much in the soul of him who looks at it, as it was in his soul who wrought it. Nay, it is rather the beholder who lends to the beautiful created thing its myraid meanings, and akes it marvelous for us, and sets it in some new relation to the age, so that it becomes a vital portion of our lives, and symbol of what we pray for, or perhaps of what, having prayed for, we fear that we may receive.

Beauty has as many meanings as man has moods. Beauty is the symbol of symbols. Beauty reveals everything, because it expresses nothing. When it shows us itself, it shows us the whole fiery-coloured world.

Gilbert: …For a painter is limited, not to what he sees in nature, but to what upon canvas may be seen.

For, when the ideal is realized, it is robbed of its wonder and its mystery, and becomes simply a new starting point for an ideal that is other than itself.

Gilbert: …But I see it is time for supper. After we have discussed some Chambertin and a few ortolans, we will pass on to the question of the critic considered in the light of the interpreter.
Ernest: Ah! you admit, then, that the critic may occasionally be allowed to see the object as in itself it really is.
Gilbert: I am not quite sure. Perhaps I may admit it after supper. There is a subtle influence in supper.