Monthly Archives: June 2019

page 162 of 253 of Justine

The point of view shifts a bit to look at Nessim as he goes about his day I’m assuming after he’s seen Justine cheating. It’s like we’re following him around like a PI. And I suppose all this is going to turn out bad for a lot of people based off the beautiful descriptions of how hot and arid everything is. First sickness, now a lack of water, yet Nessim is trying to build an oasis for a woman who does not love him.

My nosegays are for Captives

Bosporus, 1878, Ivan Aivazovsky
Background Image: Bosporus, 1878, Ivan Aivazovsky

Her use of the word “moor” is brilliant.

One definition could be straightforward in that a “moor” is marshland / poor soil where the “Captives” are “denied the plucking” of something beautiful (the flowers in the bouquet). This alludes to the labor humanity is burdened with after the fall out of Eden which she write about in the previous poem, “Angels, in the early morning” where the morning plenty turns to sand. Here she is talking about how this world, though it can be beautiful, it’s mostly a swamp and paradise is in the next life.

“Moor” can also be as in a ship being secured which references her images of a boat sailing to paradise. Multiple times she has used this image, such as with Noah in “Once more, my now bewildered Dove” where the ship has survived the voyage and the faithful search for dry land (hence the swamp imagery in today’s poem used as a metaphor for the poor soil of mortal land). She also uses the boat metaphor in “Went up a year this evening” where she watched her friend sailing off to a new land, which recalls her earlier poem “Could live – did live” of the spectators watching Jesus. Yet here the spectators are not joyous, but rather compared to “Captives”, prisoners to this mortal world until they are set free and must, until then, stand on the shore and watch their friends make the journey one by one and alone. Thus her “Nosegays” could also be a funeral bouquet.

“Moor” can mean outsider (think Othello who was Shakespeare’s ultimate outsider), and this alludes to the sense of humanity being out of place within this mortal realm, as if our true home is somewhere beyond, and not here (in Venice, nor in Cyprus where they sailed to).

Finally, “moor” can also mean ‘More’ as in wanting more which alludes to the point of a “prayer” in that the “Captives” are wanting for something better, they have no other “errand” than to be like the dove in “Could live, did live” who fly out with hope and faith that there will be dry land where the flowers grow all day.

Angels, in the early morning

Garten Eden, 2012, Adi Holzer
Background Image: Garten Eden, 2012, Adi Holzer

This reminds me of Oppen’s “Psalm” when he describes the small beauty of the deer in the wood, “That they are there!” Nature and beauty existing in a moment and he in that moment too. Dickinson is doing something similar by putting herself in a moment of (what Oppen calls “small beauty”): she smiles then sighs when it is too hot, yet the animals must persist in that environment.

Interesting how she describes the animals as “Angels”, but she could also literally be referring to angels too. She has written many times about the separation of humanity from nature and how Eden is closed off for us, yet for the animals Eden does exist in that eternally present moment that animals seem to live in. Yet because of biblical original sin, Eden is barred shut and so it is too for the animals who, once the morning dew evaporates, the sun grows hot and the landscape turns to sand. Eden then may have been an eternal morning of “Dews” and our fall is the “sighing” of the hot sun that parches the flowers.

Her addition of emotion into the description of the animals / angels is clever too. She describes them as “Stooping – plucking – smiling – flying” Which I read, in order, as the deer “stooping” to, as Oppen describes, “tear at the grass” with their “small teeth”, then “plucking” which might be the rabbits, then skipping to the end with the “flying” of the birds. Yet in each stanza, though she repeats this line, the third word changes. First there is “smiling” and this evokes not only a happy contented scene, but is also the emotion of the poet who is watching the “Angels”. Yet in the second stanza she uses “sighing” which not only describes the animals laboring to breath in the heat, but also her own feelings about how the beauty of the Eden-like morning has turned to sand (could read that word as dust, too). In both stanzas she is in the middle of the picture and equates her emotion to that of how nature feels and relates to her ongoing exploration of humanity’s relationship with nature vs. where the soul goes after death (as in leaving nature behind, which for Emily seems to be a tough decision).

Went up a year this evening!

Barbarians from the South, 1600, Kano Naizen
Background Image: Barbarians from the South, 1600, Kano Naizen

My initial / quick thoughts: I had to read and reread the poem multiple times to get a sense of what she’s writing about. She starts off with memory, remembering the past year, and the she talks about leaving on a journey of some kind, like a hero (Homer – ish) who the people will not know how long they will be gone. And then the crowd watches them leave (“ascended”) and never came back.

I got the impression she was writing about a friend who has left on an ocean voyage and may never return and this poem is her remembering the day she watched his ship sailing off over the horizon.

The first two lines speak of the memory (she “recollect[s]”) of a year ago, “a year this evening!” But the next two lines have an odd tinge of sadness in that there is no fanfare to recollect the subject of this poem, “no bells nor bravos”, but perhaps there is some gossip from “The bystanders will tell” – so maybe the town is also recalling this event?

The lines “Cheerful”, “Tranquil”, and “Chastened” describe the village where the speaker lives (perhaps) and from where this traveler came from, “this humble Tourist rose”. The wordplay here is nice in that rose not only could mean ‘to rise’ but also the flower, as in the rose is a tourist which brings beauty and love to wherever it goes. In fact, if you think about how a ‘rose is a rose’ (which Gertrude Stein so beautifully played with) but also of how wherever you go in the world there will be roses waiting for you there as if it’s the same rose all over the earth travelling around waiting for you.

The speaker then writes about time and fate (“propitious” meaning the merciful fates of the Gods / God willing) and of if the “Tourist” will ever be seen in this village again (and I recall Homer setting out). And again the poem mentions Roses, this time the flower, and how the “Tourist” will pick new flowers in a new land in a new time.

The final few lines speak of the crowd that watches the “Tourist” leave, and at first I recalled her poem “Could live – did live” where the bystanders – who she describes beautifully as “The wonderous”) watched “the launching” (alluding to Christ ascending into heaven and whose return is certain but the time unknown and this poem could also be an allusion to Christ), and here she builds on that image but mixes it with when you watch a ship sailing out towards the horizon and how it seems to ascend “from our vision”, as if the ship and horizon are above us (I miss watching ships on the ocean). And that ship is headed off to new lands (“A Difference”) and will pick new flowers (“A Daisy”).

Finally, since it’s been a year as the speaker recalls this moment, then we are brought back to the present time because the “Tourist” has not yet returned and thus “Is all the rest I knew” because she has had no new news.

Beautiful poem.

My friend must be a Bird

The Goldfinch, 1654, Carel Fabritius
Background Image: The Goldfinch, 1654, Carel Fabritius

Again she explores the relationship with things that fly with death (moving on to heaven / faith) and here she calls this her friend, but a friend with “Barbs” that could sting her (and wind up sacrificing itself in the process). She’s intrigued with the dual nature of things, how the friendly bee carries a weapon with it so as nobody can get too close to it.

Yet she is uncertain exactly who (or what) this friend is. She uses the words “must be” (twice) and the simile “like a Bee” – as well as the word “puzzlest” which gives the Bee a sonic quality with the ‘zz” sound – but what exactly is she referring to? The difference between a “Bird” and a “Bee” is an interesting question because at what point is one animal different from another? For example they both fly, they both die, and while one has a stinger, aren’t we just classifying things based on appearances? If you were to explain to someone who had no concept of what a bird is, then all things that fly (and die) would be birds, so then you’d have to explain that a bee is different because of some smaller unique characteristic. Yet (in evolution) when does one thing become a unique new thing? When does the bird become the bee (I know that they don’t, it’s a philosophical, not biological question I’m asking).

Perhaps then she is observing how alike things are in spirit, even though their outward appearances are different where the bird does not have a barb like the bee.

I think I need to spend the rest of today contemplating this poem more because I feel like there is a lot more going on here, but I need to dig deeper.

page 260 of 768 of Demons

Fascinating speech between Shatov and Nikolai about how each nation has their own God and a nation that does not have their own god but shares it with others is bound to fail. I can also see where the root of the ‘socialism leads to atheism’ argument comes from among nationalists and conservatives in how Shatov presents the idea. But is Nikolai that bad? Shatov is devastated, but which path is more dangerous?

So bashful when I spied her!

Hades Abduction of Persephone, 18th century, Unkown
Background Image: Hades Abduction of Persephone, 18th century, Unkown

This continues yesterday’s poem “Within my reach!” as a possible allusion to Hades’ rape of Persephone. This is all from Hades’ point of view or at least from the point of view of the sinner who has stolen or defiled something that was beautiful just to have it for themselves (“I shall never tell”). It has a childish feeling of selfishness / deviousness to the motivation.

The first stanza puts us in the point of view of whomever is spying and their conflicted feelings about the act they are to commit: she’s “pretty” and he (I’m assuming gender here) is “ashamed”. There is also a slight sexual allusion being made with “hidden in her leaflets” to mean perhaps her sexual organs. This idea of the beauty but also the shame of sexuality is not uncommon (even to this day, especially in America).

The second stanza seems to have almost a dual point of view as it could be the rapist who is “breathless” as they try to sneak up on her, but it could also be she who is “breathless” because she suspects she is being watched as her body is exposed (her “hidden” “leaflets” are visible). But then she is captured (rape is also a raptus in that in the medieval sense, such as with Chaucer and Malory, it also means abduction, not necessarily a forced sexual assault) and the use of “haunts” again gives strength to the argument this could be read as Hades dragging her down to the underworld and the idea that sexuality and sin are mixed images and the possibility that sexuality, especially elicit sexuality, leads to damnation. But it could also be the idea of a blossoming sexuality (or she’s just getting horny and writing a poem about that) and the duality of the “struggling” to not give in to that temptation is commingled with her “blushing” in that it’s possibly very enjoyable.

The final stanza has two very interesting words. “Dingle” is a deep, dark forest where she is hidden, but there is a sexuality to this word too in that the forest could be the pubic hair and the dingle could be the fun way of referring to the clitoris, the way someone who is sexually inexperienced might refer to their sexual organs (previous described as “leaflets”). There is also the meaning of “Dingle” as a ringing bell and this combines the sexual energy of this word with that of a church bell ringing out and reminding her of her sin. In the first two lines of this stanza there are the sins “robbed” and “betrayed” and the final two lines deal with confession (“ask me” and “I shall never tell”).

“Dell” is another interesting word in that this is also a forest but the obsolete usage of the word in the OED also means “a young girl (of the vagrant class), wench” which was last used by William Harrison Ainsworth in 1834 in his novel Rookwood so the word was still being used around Emily’s time, at least in literature. This idea of a wench, a girl whose morality is in question could refer to the girl in this poems’ conflicted sexuality.

All in all these two poems are a wonderful exploration of sexuality, myth, repression, and elicit excitement.

Within my reach!

Greek fresco depicting the goddess Demeter, 1st century AD, Unknown
Background Image: Greek fresco depicting the goddess Demeter, 1st century AD, Unknown

I wonder if she is writing about Demeter? Looking ahead to tomorrow’s poem “So bashful when I spied her!” I thought perhaps she is writing about Hades and thus today’s poem deals with the rape of Persephone. The goddess was picking “Violets” (and Narcissus) when she was abducted and so I feel like Emily is combining Demeter’s search and Persephone’s abduction in one image.

The first three lines could be from Demeter’s point of view as she searches for her daughter “could have”, “might have chanced”. Even if it’s not, there is a longing here, a lost opportunity that seems to have gotten away.

The next three lines have a very unusual ‘s’ alliteration that could allude to Persephone as she and her friends pick flowers – the image of softness and a floating gentleness dominates these lines. However, even without the Greek allusion, there is a gentleness to this section that is calming and pretty and delicate broken only by the tension of “unsuspected” which hints at the possibility of something coming to shatter this calm.

The final three lines (especially the last two) commingles the image of the delicate fingers picking the flowers with the greedier hands of Hades as he abducts Persephone “striving fingers”. These lines could also be recalling the first three where again an opportunity is lost, but the image is unusual in that it feels as if the “Violets” have bloomed only an hour after the “striving fingers” have come through – as if something beautiful has gone unnoticed. This could be how Dickinson might feel about a lover who has just missed her acquaintance (she blooms but nobody sees her) and her desire is mixed in with Persephone who was greatly desired and carried off. Not that I’m suggesting Dickinson wanted a violent encounter, but the classical myth of the gods desiring each other is a powerful image.

page 132 of 253 of Justine

So much illness everywhere in the novel, the people are sick, memories are ill, the city itself seems afflicted with a malady undetermined. Yet it is all so beautiful, such as how Clea paints the various lesions of the doctor’s patients. In fact you have to wonder how these sick people felt having this kindly woman deftly paint and pay attention to them and their ailments. Who wouldn’t want this attention at death?

page 202 of 768 of Demons

Now some of this is making some sense, if in a convoluted way. The poor Marya thought she was married to Nikolai, and he even paid her an allowance, but this was stolen by her drunkard brother who beat her. I now wonder how much of her story of having a baby is true? She seemed to think it might be, but she also might have imagined it. Poor woman.

Some things that fly there be

Two Swallows Aiming for Bee, 1912, Koson
Background Image: Two Swallows Aiming for Bee, 1912, Koson

Beautiful and cunningly constructed.

She begins with the dumb things that fly – and she has a small pun here with “Hours” that fly past. And I call them dumb in the sense that there is no “Elegy” for them when they die, unlike the final stanza which implies that she is wondering if there will be an Elegy (a place in “the skies” for her soul); this is the “Riddle” that she lies under looking up at. Once again she is equating nature imagery with things of this world as opposed to what lies beyond – which might seem like an obvious thing to say, but she has a strong attachment to this world and the beauty in it, and you can feel her appreciation of this world as the “Hours” fly past as she is lost in contemplating / appreciating them.

This leads into what they fly over (the earthly things on the ground). What’s interesting is her movement from “Hours” moving to “Eternity” which does not move but rather “stay[s]”. The unusual word choice of “behoove” made me think that she is recognizing that these images represent, for her, what the physical universe will require from all of us, but this also implies the separation of body (nature) from soul (spiritual) which happens at death, but in life the two are commingled, which she seems to question as being part of the “Riddle” she is trying to “expound”. How can a person be both physical AND spiritual? How can time be both made up of hours AND be eternal?

Up to this point I was curious about the word “Elegy”. She ties this into “Grief”, but and elegy is musical (usually at a funeral – and she alludes to the mound of a fresh grave with her use of “Hills” between “Grief” and “Eternity”). This musical component makes the line “These are that resting, rise” take on a musical note where upon death the body rests just as in music a rest is a pause, but the next word is “rise” which implies the music will begin anew, as well as alluding to Christ rising from the dead. This rising / flying also recalls “Once more, my now bewildered Dove” when Noah tossed the Dove to find land – we can imagine her soul rising heavenward as a bird would fly, only her bird is not a simple animal but is her spiritual being taking flight like a bird searching for home (dry land).

Finally she tries to reconcile the two states of the first two stanzas but it remains a “Riddle” to her because she hasn’t figured out how one makes the leap from “rest” to “rise”, though the key might be in the punctuation because she uses a comma between “rest” and “rise” which basically means ‘and’ thus they are two states of the chain of being – they are not different things, but are the same and thus connected.

page 56 of 344 of Walden: With an Introduction and Annotations by Bill McKibben

He spends so much time working that he has no time to pursue reading or any other artistic endeavors, just like most hard working people.

He is proud that he knows the cost of his home and has built every meter of it, and he bemoans ornament and over decoration, but most people are willing to pay a convenience to not be bothered with more labor than they can bear. Better to pay rent and have company than be isolated

He is very skeptical of all the “great” things humanity has built. He sees monuments as a waste of time, especially the Great Pyramids, and I suppose that’s one way to look at it, especially considering how much suffering and misery were laid upon the backs of the humans who actually lifted those stones. Yet as a species is it not remarkable that we are inclined to erect such structures purely on faith? Yes, hammering stone into ornament may be a waste from a practical point of view, but do all things have to be practical? How incredible is it that our ideas, our imaginations can exist as stone and monument?

And he frees the ox and horse from labor and carries the timber with his own muscles, but he has become only a laborer with no dream. What is the point of living if all one should do is lift a heavy load, dig a cellar, grow the potato, and shovel the snow? Is a person no better than the ox? Is the mind of a human filled with no more than what is in the mind of a fish?

He believes the student would be better mining the ore that makes up his pen knife than studying metallurgy with a professor, and he is right that this sort of first-hand knowledge would prevent the student from cutting his finger, but is the mind to only be filled with the things that the hand can touch and by put to use? Are not the moons of Neptune as wondrous as the slushy water upon a half frozen lake in New England?

Thoreau’s vision is very narrow and he sees only what is right in front of him. He lacks a certain imagination, he is insensitive to the desire of people who want to look good simply because to wear a fine suit feels good. Not all people who dress up or get a good education do so at the expense of someone who can’t or won’t; life isn’t always about other people.

page 112 of 253 of Justine

The scene when the furrier – Melissa’s old lover – dying in the hospital is heartbreaking. Imagine being the kind of man he is (was), someone who did terrible things, and then on your deathbed have the lover of your lover come in and talk with you as you die. The amount of disappointment, of realizing how bad you fucked up in life, and how futile it all will be for is overwhelming.

Delayed till she had ceased to know

The Battle of Alexander at Issus, 1529, Albrecht Altdorfer
Background Image: The Battle of Alexander at Issus, 1529, Albrecht Altdorfer

This is a complex poem so I’ll go through it stanza by stanza to attempt to better understand what her images are doing.

Stanza 1 is the image of a body whose spirit has left (at least) an hour before. The odd thing here is the first word of each of the first two lines, “Delayed”. What is delayed is Death who was “lagging” behind the body just a day before but has now caught up to the victim.

Stanza 2 is unclear but I love the line “a crier of joy” – this is her being clever with the image of crying and grief but also announcing (crier / town crier) joy from the hilltop. So there is joy here and mourning – the images are combined which could speak to the survivor’s grief but also the Christian joy they should feel for leaving to the next world. However, there is also the curious image of the slowness of death – “bliss so slow a pace” – which could mean how slow death moves towards us, but also how slow we move through life (bliss) with death always “lagging” behind. Perhaps that’s why she combines the “crier” and “joy” image since they are so woven together.

Stanza 3 speaks of none who are ever victorious over death and how this “thing” (a body devoid of spirit) will die before it can conquer death because it is frail (hence being “doubtful”). Not even a “king” can outrun death, an image she introduces with the image of the “imperial round” as if it were a king laying in state (the capital rotunda / body on display of a great leader who is dead nonetheless).

She also uses military / war language with “surrendered”, “undefeated”, and “Victory” which has the effect of our lives being a battlefield against death, but it’s a battle with the same outcome every time.

page 171 of 768 of Demons

Someone once told me that Dostoevsky would have been a very good playwright and I agree with that. He’s all about dialogue (though everyone talks in long speeches) and it always seems as if every scene takes place in a stuffy, dusty, airless room in which everyone is poor and miserable, except for one character who has money but is even more miserable (at least morally).

I still have no idea what’s going on, however.

There a wonderful comment on Goodreads from someone also reading this novel that says simply, ” Voy a paso de tortuga”. Me too, Natalia. Me too.

page 91 of 253 of Justine

End of part 1

“I feel as if heaven lay close upon the earth and I between them both, breathing through the eye of a needle.” He was alive but no longer existed: this is the dream state, the strange ether the book takes place in, a fever city of fumbling passion and crime and filth and people looking for love but having no idea what that even is and so they refuse to fall in love. 

And now he an Justine have had sex

Baffled for just a day or two

God Judging Adam, 1795, William Blake
Background Image: God Judging Adam, 1795, William Blake

The line “An unexpected Maid” made me think she was writing from Adam’s point of view waking up and discovering Eve in “my garden”. And when she “beckons” him it’s the image of her telling him to come to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and when she “nods” it’s her telling him it’s ok to eat the fruit. I love how she says the “woods start” – you can almost feel he trees and creatures gasp as these humans are about to eat the fruit.

The last two lines are him still “baffled” for not remembering Eden and these lines work as a sort of couplet (as in a sonnet which is supposed to ‘resolve’ the poem) but here instead of a resolution it’s the transformation from child of Eden to mortal man who can possess all knowledge of good and evil yet still be”baffled” because he no longer has that intimate connection to the divine and has forgotten (how to find) Eden. The use of “baffled” also follows the previous poem’s use of “bewildered” in another biblical story from Genesis. Is she struggling with coming to some sort of understanding with the nature of faith and love?

She’s dealt with a similar theme three poems ago in “I keep my pledge” where she equates a distance from coming home to God with being still a part of the natural world of the “Rose”, “Bee”, “Daisy”, “hillside”, “Bobolink”, and “Blossom” and thus with death not coming it’s a Eden since death did not exist before the fall. And so “such a country” that she (or Adam) is “surely” a place they were “never in” (as in forgetting which also recalls the river Lethe from “Lethe” in my flower) is that place where humanity can never go back to until death comes with it’s “simple gravity“.

I might need to start looking at each of her fascicles as part of a larger work of interconnected poems and images.

page 75 of 253 of Justine

The book by Jacob which describes Justine, but is renamed for the book (yet he still reads as Justine), is fascinating because we are reading a book about an author remembering his time with Justine and then comes upon a book written by someone else who also knew her and so we get a mirror-world of a man looking at his life though someone else’s words. It has the effect of understanding her distance from them both.

page 63 of 253 of Justine

The description of Justine’s childhood from her diary and the neighborhood she grew up in are extraordinary. The children’s hand prints on the walls (to keep the evil spirits away), the killing of the exhausted camel, “A house with an earthen floor alive with rats, dim with wicks floating upon oil”, “and everywhere the the veils, the screaming, the mad giggle under the pepper-trees, the insanity and the lepers.”

Once more, my now bewildered Dove

The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge, 1829, Thomas Cole
Background Image: The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge, 1829, Thomas Cole

She seems concerned with “Bewildered”, “puzzled”, and “troubled”, perhaps using Noah’s “Dove” as a metaphor for her own faith looking for “Land”? From the bird’s (and Noah’s) perspective it isn’t certain there is yet any land yet so she’s playing with uncertainty but also hopefulness in the act (she uses the word “Courage!”) of finding one’s faith.

I love her shifts in perspective; first it’s from the Dove’s POV, but the use of the word “flings” also paints a picture of Noah flinging the bird skyward – you can almost see the old “Patriarch” standing on the wet deck of the ark (“casement” “on the deep”) holding his arm skyward as he launches the bird off to look for land. It shifts again with “Columba” as if the Dove were like the Irish Evangelist who spread the gospel through Ireland and so the bird in motion searching for land is like Columba searching for a soul to land on and save.

page 42 of 253 of Justine

I did not plan on reading this on top of everything else, but this book (in fact the whole tetralogy) was recommended to me by Irwin at the bookstore. And I’m surprised how absorbed I am by it because I normally don’t go in for this sort of thing, but my goodness it’s beautifully written and he can create such fascinating characters with just a few words, such as the poor old furrier who lost Melissa.

page 141 of 768 of Demons

While everyone is somewhat mean and cruel to each other, I never get the impression that Dostoevsky is mean or cruel to them, he’s only showing us how these people live, and it’s about what you’d expect if you looked in on a lot of people’s lives: bickering, petty intrigue, half-baked ideas, affairs, generalizations about politics and society. But the point is that he wants us to care about these people.

Heart! We will forget him!

Soul carried to Heaven, 1878, William Bouguereau
Background Image: Soul carried to Heaven, 1878, William Bouguereau

I think back to “There’s something quieter than sleep” where she sees the dead body, and I’m imagining her writing about the heart and the spirit leaving the body here. The spirit (in this poem represented as “I”) is eager to move on yet the heart lags behind and the spirit is worried it will be called back to “the natural warmth he gave” of the body. For me the key word here is “pray” in that when the heart is done (as the body dies) it engages in prayer with the spirit so that the spirit can move on.

The previous poem, “I keep my pledge“, speaks of Death not coming for her and so she remains in the natural world of experience (I guess I’m thinking Blake here), and so these three poems form a sort of unity of thought and image where death is a calling to a new world, but there is a pull, a “simple gravity” to remain alive and experience the “light” and “warmth” of this world.

page 37 of 344 of Walden: With an Introduction and Annotations by Bill McKibben

I’m starting over because I want to deal with this book at a deeper, more philosophical level and make sure I’m giving it a fair shake.

I still stand by my position that he is very privileged to be able to “get away” from society. That might seem an odd sort of privilege since he was living in abject poverty, but think about how difficult that would be for us to give up our responsibilities and go live in the woods? Much is made of the parable that Jesus taught about the man who gives up everything to follow him – many people think that that is fundamentally an easy thing to do, but it is very, very hard to just give up our lives, even if they are good lives and go with God.

He is not wrong to show how a simple life can be more fulfilling – I agree with him – but his disdain for society, a disdain that he hints at stemming from his townspeople not accepting him as part of their inner circle, is a little too harsh. Is man really so much the worse to live in a house he does not own made from materials that come from a factory? Are man’s activities that take place in the home so far from the “natural good man” that he is worse off than the “savage”? Thoreau may live closer to God in nature, but his use of the word savage betrays his sense of kinship with his fellow man. He seems to see savages everywhere, not just in the American Indian, but especially there he does not possess the empathetic spirit that comes from people who have spent many hours in their homes thinking about how their action might negatively affect others. A man who has to get his meat on the hunt will have no time to worry if he is hurting anyone’s feelings, yet the man who lives in comfort is well aware how lucky he is and (should) attempt to extend that privilege to everyone.

In this he lacks a portion of empathy for his fellow individual man while at the same time he does love humanity writ large.

page 117 of 768 of Demons

Kirillov’s philosophy that man is only free once he no longer fears death is interesting and threatening. He sounds like someone who wants to not have anything left to lose in order to make some sort of grand statement (though he probably doesn’t know what). Either way he seems very dissatisfied and I like how it’s pointed out to him that his desire to blow everything up will cost him his job of building a bridge.

I keep my pledge

Old Woman Dozing, 1656, Nicolaes Maes
Background Image: Old Woman Dozing, 1656, Nicolaes Maes

She uses three related words: pledge, plight, and oath. Each (can) mean a pledge (perhaps her devotion to God), and the repetition (though each time a different word) speaks to her continually needing to reaffirm it, either out of devotion or perhaps desperation? The last line “Will surely come again -” is not exactly a reassuring statement with the open ended punctuation.

Another unusual feature is in lines 2 and 3 when Death does not come for her (she is not called) – is this perhaps a punishment for not keeping the pledge? To go to the glory of heaven is seen as a reward because life is full of sin, yet she equates her continued existence with natural / nature imagery: “sainted Bee” (sainted be wordplay), “Daisy”, “hillside”, “Bobolink”, and “Blossom” (b alliteration: to be, I be, I continue to be as I am?).

And she ends with a reference to “Her”, perhaps the Blossom, but perhaps someone else, such as her spirit or the previous poem’s quiet fairy of the soul? Christian imagery would usually refer to the oath to Christ as being male: He, however she could be playing with the idea of the female quality of nature which reconciles her oath to Christ (male) with her current state of living (female).

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When he talks about writers whose ideas have run out and younger generations have all forgotten I wonder who he had in mind when he wrote that. 

I’m still having a hard time wondering what the point of all this is, and to be honest I probably would have stopped reading were it written by nearly anyone else. Basically there ins’t really a plot driving anything forward, it’s all domestic squabbling which is depressing

There’s something quieter than sleep

Θρήνος στο σπίτι του δασοφύλακα, 1880, Nikolaos Gyzis
Background Image: Θρήνος στο σπίτι του δασοφύλακα, 1880, Nikolaos Gyzis

I admit to having a little trouble with this poem at first but I came across a wonderful analysis of it on a blog called The Prowling Bee. This helped me center the image as her speaking about being witness to a young person’s corpse whom the “simple-hearted neighbors” are watching over and trying to make sense of someone who is too “Early dead” (taken before their time).

It’s remarkable how she equates death with something that is a living spirit. She refers to (perhaps the soul) as “the quiet fairy” who would be scared off if it saw us crying over the body of even a young person taken too soon. The image of death as birds fleeing still has the image of life and movement in it, a transition from one sort of movement to another.

I like that she refers to her neighbors as “simple-hearted” and then uses the word periphrasis to describe how they use so many words to try and make sense of this tragedy, as if words are the only thing keeping us grounded to this side of death and that the more we speak the more likely we might be to keep away the possibility of death coming for us. Yet she also explores reality and death with words, but as a poet she has the eye and ear to give art to this scene by describing the young person’s soul leaving the body as the “Birds have fled”.

Emily’s whole world seems to consist of words, but she’s aware how all of our lives are made up of words – often too many of them – but the great artist is the one who can make best use of those words to give us an image that is simple and free from complication.

Episode 7-14, Sub Rosa

The Oxford English Dictionary definition for dumb (7b) is “Foolish, stupid, ignorant (chiefly of persons)”. This episode would have been better had Beverly just read random entries out of the OED for an hour rather than having to witness this lousy episode. What the producers should have done upon seeing a script involving a Scottish “ghost” that has haunted the Crusher family for generations, they should have said “Welp, let’s just stop making episodes because we’re officially out of ideas.” Everyone involved in this episode ought to be ashamed of themselves.

My Wheel is in the dark!

Hataori, 1832, Yanagawa Shigenobu
Background Image: Hataori, 1832, Yanagawa Shigenobu

A lot of wordplay here, specifically with Loom and foot imagery. Loom meaning as in weaving and the foot imagery of the foot treadle working it, but there is the laborer’s “dripping” foot and the factory owners “stately” foot. Bu there is also the meaning of Loom as a nautical term to mean something indistinct coming into view, a promised land referring back to the poem from 2 days ago (Could love – did live).

The word “Wheel” also could be read in the way Boethius might have meant it (fate / time) and this fits well with the idea of weaving and a loom. Finally, the word “Tide” also recalls yesterday’s poem of the people standing on the shore, but also has the imagery of movement (back and forth) similar to the weaver’s Loom (threading in and out and back and forth).

She’s equating the industrial ownership of the “stately” with the poorer folks who work the loom and are caught up in the Wheel of Fate, but she’s also alluding to the proverb of the rich man passing through the eye of the needle.

This one was a lot of fun!

If she had been the Mistletoe

This is in reference to the Longfellow poem, Evangeline, which I have not read, and also was addressed to her friend Samuel Bowles. I’m not sure what the context is supposed to be here, but there is one line I enjoy, “My velvet life to close”. This is a very domestic image (the velvet on the table) and perhaps she is hoping to share this with him as the Mistletoe and Rose?

Episode 7-13, Homeward

Image getting Paul Sorvino to be a guest star and then handing him this unfinished mess of a script. The best acting he ever did was in this episode as he kept a straight face all the way to the bank. To be fair it’s not a terrible episode, there are some interesting ideas here, but there is SO MUCH GOING ON between failing holodecks, a dying planet, an entire civilization (which seems to consist of about 20 people), a primitive young man who wanders onto the Enterprise, the Prime Directive being thrown out the window … it just goes on and on. Why they felt they had to make Paul Sorvino Worf’s brother was dumb, they had no chemistry together and even though they are not supposed to be related by blood, they were not believable as brothers with a past. And the main story of breaking the prime directive could have been good if they just stuck to it, but you never really get to know any of the people and they just wander around in a holodeck cave all episode. Season 7 is a real let down.

Episode 7-12, The Pegasus

Pretty good episode, but it seems the writers keep having to find something in everyone’s past to create a decent story, and I’m not sure I buy this story about Riker keeping this secret of the Pegasus for 12 years. Also, there was a much earlier episode with a rogue Admiral breaking all the rules to get his way and so this is sort of a retread of that episode, however the acting is good – I always liked Terry O’Quinn (especially on the great but forgotten Millennium) – and the Romulan captain was a good character, too. Overall a good episode, but the premise was weak.

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I’m still a little unclear what is going on, but it seems Varvara wants to marry off Darya to Stepan because she thinks something was going on with Darya and her own son, Nikolai. It’s all vague and I’m honestly having a hard time trying to find a reason to care about these characters, but there is something unseemly about these people that is sort of fascinating to watch.

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I like the odd relationship between Stepan and Varvara; their bickering is funny to listen to. It’s odd to think that these people have the means to not have to work because they don’t act like they have much class – they’re almost low class in their scheming and behavior, yet they have land and money and leisure to act – well I wouldn’t say horribly, but they aren’t the sort of people I’d want to spend time with.

To venerate the simple days

Ville D'Avray - Paysans Causant Sur le Chemin Longeant L'etang, 1865, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
Background Image: Ville D’Avray – Paysans Causant Sur le Chemin Longeant L’etang, 1865, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

The first time I read this poem I imagined the “simple days” as a group of children holding hands as they play or cross a road. I suppose what made me think of that image was how when we are young time seems to pass much more slowly which she describes here as our own “mortality” being just a “trifle”, as if we don’t care that we will one day day because today time seems to pass so slowly that the fateful day will never come. Emily is saying that each day carries off with it just a “trifle” of mortality each day and as the days turn into seasons then we become more aware of how much time has passed and how much closer to death we are. But in the moment we do “venerate the simple days” because, like children, we live in the moment and don’t notice how time is slipping past until we’re much older and then we’re racing just to keep up.

Unlike the first stanza which deals with the passage of time, the second stanza deals with our place in the world, specifically how though the “days” may be “simple”, our small “Acorn”-like existence can grow into a forest “For the upper air”. There is a majesty and a dreamlike quality to the image of the tops of trees rising up out of acorns and into the sky above, but the “upper air” could also be referring to heaven and that our life is just an “Acorn” and that we won’t really hatch (as from an “Egg”) until we die. In fact the final image, as beautiful as it is, is also sad in how it seems a little futile, that our lives will become little more than an audience in the “upper air”.

In fact the whole poem is quite sad as it deals with the slow passage of time leading to the eventuality of death and how after death we are bound only for “the upper air”. She seems to be combining both the beauty of being alive with the uncertainty of what’s to come.

Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time, Volume 1: Read from March 1 to June 10, 2019

Of all the novels I have read, this one comes the closest to reading poetry. And I’m not just saying that because the language is beautiful, but rather because each line – sometimes extending for nearly an entire paragraph or even the whole page – is far denser than the line in a typical novel. Here the mere mention of a sip of tea at the end of the novel recalls entire passages of memory from earlier i the novel, each image and expression carries far more weight and does far more work than normal prose. And I also get the impression that I missed a lot as I read and that were I to go back and reread the novel I would discover whole oceans of thought that I failed to explore the first time around. In short this is a remarkable novel, but it’s also a remarkable experiment in modernism in that the author is trying to convey a way of thinking and feeling by playing with how language can communicate to us. I was not expecting a novel that deals so often with nostalgia for a lost time to be so radically modern.

Proust also explores something even more radical in this experiment, though perhaps without even realizing it. Years later the ideas of Saussure would create the foundation for structuralism, specifically the ideas of the signified and signifier. Proust seems to have intuited this concept and his image of the cup of tea causing a flood of memories to come flowing back into his mind is a perfect example of what Saussure was trying to explain. Yet Proust takes it even further (in the sort of direction the philosopher Bergson would be familiar with) by vitalizing the connection between signified and signifier as the essence of human experience which gives the real meaning to things. True, signifiers (mere words) are arbitrary and basically meaningless on their own, but it is we who give them their meaning, even if each of us has a different definition for what, say, a cup of tea might mean. We are, after all, creatures of language and the whole of our existence is a construct of language, so wouldn’t it be true that such a reality is only real because of how each of us experiences the universe, even if we’re all doing it differently?

There are multiple instances in the novel when Proust describes a person’s glance and then describes an observer interpreting what that glance means. Proust devotes pages and pages to just Odette moving her eyes a few millimeters, and Odette may have meant absolutely nothing by the way she moved her eyes, but for Swann (and us), there is more meaning in such a glance than could be contained by the Library of Alexandria. Meaning – meaningful meaning – is created by each of us in our own way, and often, as with Swann, can go too far, but it is the essence and vitality of our lives which we are creating every moment. Every glance, every word contains multitudes (Whitman) and our reality consists of parsing these meanings into something we can understand – or when it goes wrong we wind up like King Leontes in The Winter’s Tale who have lost our common social connection with other people and thus go mad. 

And like Bergson debating with Einstein about the nature of time, time for Proust is like an erosion that alters the past, and seems to work deeper the more time that passes. Events that were as clear to us as our playmates when we were children are almost unrecognizable when we are older. How did time do this? Why does time alter our memory? Why are we never fixed in any place or time, like Proust not wanting to ever leave Paris? Are we always trapped in that separation between Saussure’s signified and the signifier? Is the human experience a necessary part of the universe (as Bergson believed) or do our experiences remain forever relative and without “True” meaning (as Eisenstein believed)? 

Proust seems very much in the camp of favoring the human experience, and so do I.

Looking back on some of my favorite books it seems I really enjoy stories about people who long for a time that will never return, such as Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday, Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes, Elspeth Huxley’s The Flame Trees of Thika, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, and now this. Maybe it’s because the older I get the more I can relate to characters whose interior life consists more and more of memory than it does of ambition for the future or because as time goes on each of us becomes more and more painfully aware of how much the world doesn’t actually make any sense at all unlike when we were young and everything seemed so simple.

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It’s been awhile since I’ve read Dostoevsky, which is a problem because it always takes awhile to get into gear with his novels. The only other author I feel this way about is Shakespeare because whenever I start one of his plays I always feel lost until about Act 3 or 4. This novel is starting off the same way with a huge list of (unusual) characters but with no plot to attach them to. But I’m sure I’ll love this.

“Lethe” in my flower

A Pair of Shoes, 1886, Vincent Van Gogh
Background Image: A Pair of Shoes, 1886, Vincent Van Gogh

“Lethe” is one of the river’s of the underworld in classic mythology and according to The Aeneid, when a soul drinks from the river they forget everything and thus can move on. Lethe has often been alluded to in poetry to talk about memory and forgetting as well as explorations as to ideas and notions of the self and self-identity.

What is interesting is she begins the poem immediately with “Lethe”, with forgetting – the very first word is forgetfulness, yet she describes this as being part of, “in” the “flower”, as if the act of negation, the act of forgetting is a substance that exists within this “flower” that she holds. She doesn’t describe the “flower” other than to say it consists of “Merely flake of petal” because she is trying to get at the essence of the “flower” – it’s visual and physical characteristics are not what are important to her, what the flower means, what the flower does is what is important here.

The philosopher Martin Heidegger explores in his essay, The Origin of the Work Of Art, how a work of art unconceals (his terminology) a world that is greater than just the object presented in the work of art. For example, in Van Gogh’s painting, A Pair of Shoes, the subject is simply a pair of boots, but when we understand about those boots is far more encompassing than what is actually painted on the canvas. Through this simple painting we understand something about who wore those boots, perhaps they were a laborer and based on the condition of the boots, they worked very hard and were probably poor. We know something more than just that there is a picture of a pair of boots and that is what art does because art is somehow able to unconceal the world and all the things that connect to the world through the subject of the work of art.

Emily is doing the same thing here but rather than a pair of boots, for her it is the “flower” – and to go one steep closer, for us it is the poem itself. Emily is also a participant in this work of art because she is holding the “flower” in the poem what we hold in our hands; she is doing the work of discovering what is unconcealed when she looks at the “flower” at the same time we do as we read this poem.

And what has been unconcealed?

Well, on the surface level we see “Merely flake or petal” just as out “Eye beholds”. Her physical senses sees the object “flower” just as ours sees the physical object of a poem. Yet what is unconcealed is “the Bobolink”, the sound of a bird in nature and its hectic and joyous chirping. In fact, Emily probably had synesthesia in which a person would associate multiple senses to an object, such as seeing the color red when they read the number 1, or hearing a “bobolink” when they see a “flower”. A new sense is revealed when she holds the “flower”, a new world opens up to her and thus she not only sees the “flower” with her “Eye” but she “[perceives] the rose!”, the whole “rose” and everything that is associated with it, such as the garden, the bees that pollinate the flowers, and the chirping birds who eat the insects. All things are uncovered – unconcealed – when she holds a simple “flower” – the object is transformed into something beyond just its obvious characteristics.

Yet she started the poem with “Lethe” which is the opposite of remembering, or in this case, the opposite of having something revealed. Or is it? It could be that the poem begins with us in a state of forgetting and that holding the “flower” (or reading the poem) helps us remember the rest of the world – that the the space before the poem begins is a representation of our own state of living in a state of forgetfulness. Emily could be saying that we walk around only interacting with objects at a surface level – what the “Eye behold”. Yet she could also be saying that the act of forgetting the world of mere objects allows us to see the world behind these objects, that forgetting is actually a process of unconcealing a larger truth in which a “flower” becomes a “rose”. A flower is, after all, just a pollen delivery system so that the species can procreate, but a “rose” is a symbol of love, of friendship, even of troubles when we prick our fingers on the thorns. A “rose” is not just a rose, but what a rose means to us.

What Emily is asking of us is to “perceive”, not just merely see.

One sister have I in the house

The Alling Children, 1839, Oliver Tarbell Eddy
Background Image: The Alling Children, 1839, Oliver Tarbell Eddy

Apparently Emily wrote this poem as a gift for Sue on her 28th birthday on December 19, 1858.

This first stanza deals with officials and legal record keeping and explains how though Emily has a sister already living in her own home, she has another, Sue, who lives just one hedge over. Sue and her husband did live right next door, so she’s being literal here. Emily is also referring to the church / town records of whom is born and when and though her own sister is “recorded” as being a Dickinson, Emily also believes that Sue “belongs to me”, as in her own family. Emily is thus creating her own version of an official document, only it’s in poetic form, and thus has even more meaning than the official book of record.

The second stanza deal with birth, and “the road that I came” is quite literally the birth canal that she and her blood sister were born from. They also shared the same clothes in that the “gown” Emily wore one year was then handed down and worn by her sister the next. Then, once again, Emily turns to the poetic to claim Sue as her sister, this time by referring to nature and how a bird will make “her nest” in their family tree. She could also be thinking of how one bird might use a nest they didn’t build to raise their family and thus the two families are connected as having been raised in the same home. Either way, she’s claiming that the bonds of the heart are just as valid as the bonds of shared blood – and since the blood flows through the heart then it all mixes together in one “nest” anyway.

The third paragraph is unusual in that rather than comparing Sue with her own blood family, she is marking Sue’s distinction – she “did not sing as we did”. Emily is referring back to the nest imagery, and here she is implying that Sue is like the hatching of a bird from a different bird’s egg and thus her bird song is from another species – yet notice how although she is aware of the differences, we get the sense that Sue has been fully accepted and will be raised along with the other birds despite her differences. This is a clever stanza and it works because she introduced the nest image in the second stanza as well as made comparisons in the first two and so even though this stanza deals with differences, we’ve already accepted Sue as one of her own as well.

Emily continues to build on the growing of this relationship by traversing years and years of growing up together in the same nest and tells us at the start of stanza four that “Today is far from childhood” implying that now many years have passed since those days in the “nest”. Yet she continues to use the imagery of “childhood” and paints an image of girls holding hands as they play on the hills. And the final line of the fourth stanza has the effect of not only describing how being with a good friend makes time fly (which it has between stanza 3 and 4), but it strengthens the bond between them, both physically with “her hand the tighter” and also metaphorically as the bonds of a close friendship are are strengthened over time.

The fifth stanza takes an unusual turn, however. Emily uses the words “Deceives”, “lie”, and “Mouldered” which a person wouldn’t normally use to describe a friendship. There is a sense of something amiss, as if Emily is all too aware that the case she has made so far in her official poetic record of her relationship with Sue is based on deception and that as close as she is with Sue, there will always be some distance between them – a “hedge away”. In fact, the word “hedge” has multiple meanings in that it’s not just a natural barrier, but in economic terms it is the act of “making transactions on the other side so as to compensate more or less for possible loss on the first” (OED). Emily is perhaps aware that she is hedging her bet on accepting Sue as her sister and is aware of the risk involved in such a transaction. Sue isn’t her real sister after all, rather she is her poetic sister, but the official records only recognize her blood sister.

The fifth stanza does not have to be read negatively, however. There is a quality of playful deceit here as Sue’s “hum” is childlike as it tricks the “Butterfly” into thinking Sue sings the same song as Emily does, and the “Violets” in her “Eye” is a beautiful image of friendship in that the flowers she gives to Sue are reflected in her eye – think of this scene from the point of view of Emily as she holds a bunch of flowers in her hand as she gives them to Sue and in one image we can see the flowers in her hand but are also reflected in Sue’s eyes.

The final stanza is quite remarkable and my favorite of the poem. The image of her splitting “the dew” is an unusual image and there is a possible connection to the sadder imagery of the previous stanza in that the “dew” might refer to tears, though it’s unclear if they are tears of joy or sadness. Emily is, I believe, keeping it intentionally vague because her feelings for Sue are so strong that though she longs for her to be her sister, she is still “a hedge away” which can feel like an insurmountable barrier. Thus splitting the dew could be an image of her wiping the tears from her face as she decides to “take the morn” and makes reference to the rising sun, “this single star”, and describes her decision to accept Sue no matter how much joy or grief may separate them over the years because of all the stars in the “wide night’s number” of stars in the sky, once the sun rises it overpowers them all and becomes the most important source of light and life of them all. Thus Emily is saying that even if they are not related, the same sun warms us all equally no matter if we are sisters or not.

If I should cease to bring a Rose

Herbarium - Vol 1 - Seq 34, 1846, Emily Dickinson
Background Image: Herbarium – Vol 1 – Seq 34, 1846, Emily Dickinson

Apparently this poem was written for a friend on the birthday, though imagine being the recipient of a poem which, though it starts off saying if she fails to “bring a Rose” it’s because she is unable, but then ends with an image of her struggling to speak as death “Clasps” its fingers over her mouth as if she’s choking or drowning. However, I would imagine being friends with Emily would mean you either have a high tolerance for this sort of thing from her, or might possibly see it as something humorous.

I mention the possibility of humor here because the two main images in this poem – a “festal day” and “Death’s fingers” – contrast so much that if this was a gift to someone it might be Emily having a little bit of morbid fun with a friend. I can’t prove this at all, but given what we know of her personality and her sense of devious fun, I wouldn’t put it past her to play up her morbid interests with a friend for a laugh – it’s something we’ve all done with our own friends when we joke about the quirks of our own personalities, so why do we have to assume she’s being completely serious here? Granted, I’m 100% speculating, but it’s not so “beyond the Rose” as to be impossible.

However, if she is being serious, she’s seems interested in the image of mouths and of speaking. In the first stanza she uses “festal” which is a festival and a feast where food is involved.Yet in the final line of the first stanza, she has “been called away” – someone said something to her to cause her to go somewhere else. In other words, instead of a celebration where people “commemorate” another (usually with joyous words), some mysterious speaker calls her away.

This image is built upon in the second stanza with the image of her “lip” still “murmuring” – meaning she’s still trying to speak but she is being prevented by something stronger than her. Her mouth is covered and so she is unable to participate in a “festal” commemoration and can’t eat or speak. In fact she even implies that her own name (her identity) has been stolen because she is unable to speak (and we could extend this to writing, too). She claims she is unable to “take the names / My buds commemorate” meaning that when her friends call out to her she can no longer hear them because she has been transformed somehow, as if her identity has been so altered that nobody can call her back. This is, in fact, a terrifying image of death, especially since she seems to be struggling against “Death’s finger” with her “murmuring lip”.

The final stanza could also be read as her “buds” being her poems and that her poems which usually “commemorate” her friends “names” will cease when “Death’s finger” (her finger) no longer “clasps” the pen, but because she is dying she can no longer write a new bud. In this sense she is speaking about how her poetry is her voice and her way of commemorating her friends and is even implying that she is unable to do so in any other way.

Bless God, he went as soldiers

Home, Sweet Home, 1863, Winslow Homer
Background Image: Home, Sweet Home, 1863, Winslow Homer

Her point in this poem is that if only God would let her see the glorious soldier as the angel he has become in the afterlife then it will give her the courage to face death and not be afraid of dying since she would know that there is something awaiting her on the other side.

Yet there is no resolution in the poem, she does not see the soldier “In [his] epauletted white” (as in he’s been transformed into an angel in white robes), she is only asking “God” to let her “behold” the image because as it stands right now she doesn’t have the strength of faith to face the “foe” and fight the “fight”. She wants proof, but God remains silent all through the poem.

And this doubt is carried over from the previous poem, “When I count the seeds” which she describes as the “Bee” whose sting of doubt she is trying to avoid. That poem predicts the countless dead who will lay on the battlefields of the US Civil War which will occur in just a few years, and perhaps her doubt is a manifestation of the uncertainty of the times in which the future of the nation was in doubt. In other words, she wants to know that everything will work out and that fighting the battle to come will be worth it and won’t just result in a lot of people laying in graves, that our lives, like her nation, will live on.