Thursday, August 21, 2014

choose, fair ones, to rove

Daniel Deniehy the “graceful singer” liked the work of Charles Harpur (1813 - 1868), an early Australian poet who, like Fowler, gave J. Sheridan Moore a stab in the guts. “I was further induced to take the course I have followed, in consequence of the recent reproduction, in an obscure sectional weekly newspaper, of an illiberal criticism, by Mr. CHARLES HARPUR, on one of my poems, a criticism which I hope that gentleman will yet have the honesty and manliness to modify, and which, I am sure, the public will never endorse.” So he published Spring-Life. Where's that criticism now? I can't find it anywhere but Spring-Life has been uploaded as a .pdf by the University of Sydney. Bertram Stevens puts Deniehy in a group with Moore and a few other poets. “D. H. Deniehy, Henry Halloran, J. Sheridan Moore and Richard Rowe contributed fairly good verse to the newspapers.” Bad praise but he added him to the Anthology anyway.

O the Night, the Night, the solemn Night,
 When Earth is bound with her silent zone,
And the spangled sky seems a temple wide,
 Where the star-tribes kneel at the Godhead's throne;
O the Night, the Night, the wizard Night,
 When the garish reign of day is o'er,
And the myriad barques of the dream-elves come
 In a brightsome fleet from Slumber's shore!
      O the Night for me,
      When blithe and free,
Go the zephyr-hounds on their airy chase;
      When the moon is high
      In the dewy sky,
And the air is sweet as a bride's embrace!

(from A Song for the Night)

Four verses Deniehy spends messing around like that before he gets to the punchline.

      Wide is your flight,
      O spirits of Night,
By strath, and stream, and grove,
      But most in the gloom
      Of the Poet's room
Ye choose, fair ones, to rove.

In between you have a dying baby and “heaps of slain” “on the battle plain,” which, if you take the poem seriously, should be disquieting, this poet bouncing past corpses so that he can climax with imaginary spirits in his room. They “rove,” they fly, they pass, they do nothing concrete; they are flâneurs but not interesting flâneurs since they see nothing with their own eyes; they are an atmosphere and Song for the Night is a prose atmosphere. The deaths are there because he has already mentioned lovers, “Love in their eyes, | Love in their sighs,” and the key to Night is metamorphosis, “sacred Night,” “charming Night,” “wizard Night.” There is love, then there is death; it is a dramatic contrast. The purpose of this poem is to make you wait while it goes past; it is like a piece of music with “night” as a motif. There are no lovers, there are no babies, the writer and the reader have to tacitly agree that none of these things exist, they are not even honestly suggested to have existed, they are nothing but a passing impression of flavour or smell; they are a bit of coloured dye in clear water. The words are supposed to sing, not mean and the challenge for the author is a strange kind of pure aesthetic challenge: can he detain a piece of your time for virtually no reason; can he demote or muffle boredom?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

many brave soules losd

I search for old examples of the word "song" together with "poetry," in order to prove my own point to myself or to somebody else (then wondering why and who but pausing too briefly over it and pushed along by my own momentum, which has to be partly anxiousness stimulated by the sight of a thin old man pulling a Subway wrapper out of a bin – there are too many – like the children of Jude the Obscure, “The children were past saving, for though their bodies were still barely cold it was conjectured that they had been hanging more than an hour“ -- there are so many "past savings" here, mad, mad, lying on shirts, rocking on top of electrical boxes -- the box was under a mesquite tree -- in a desert at a hundred and ten nobody is mad enough to sit in the sun; you would have to be sane and stubborn --) -- that the conflation of poets with singers used to be normal and now it isn't.

“Sing, Heav'nly Muse,” says Milton in 1664, “I thence | invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song.” He abducts, with the word “Heav'nly,” the pagan Muse from Homer and upgrades it to a new technology of worship, a habit that Alexander Pope continued after him in 1715 when he translated the opening lines of the Iliad: “Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring / Of woes unnumber'd, heavenly goddess, sing!”

Milton could read his Homer in Greek but if he had looked at a translation then it would probably have been Chapman (c. 1559 - 1634), who starts his own Iliad with the more commanding word “resound.”

Achilles’ bane full wrath resound, O Goddesse, that imposd
Infinite sorrowes on the Greekes, and many brave soules losd
From breasts Heroique—sent them farre, to that invisible cave
That no light comforts; and their lims to dogs and vultures gave.

His Muse, in the opening lines of the Odyssey, will not sing, she will inform. “The man, O Muse, inform.” "Inform" is sort of accurate according to the Rev. Lovelace Bigge-Wither, author of A Nearly Literal Translation of Homer's Odyssey Into Accentuated Dramatic Verse (1869), who chooses “tell.” “Tell me, oh Muse.”

The man, O Muse, inform, that many a way
Wound with his wisdom to his wished stay;
That wandered wondrous far, when he the town
Of sacred Troy had sack'd and shivered down

Alliteration, I think as I look at those lines, is the sign of oral transmission. In prose it is like a pawprint from an animal that has gone past. Chapman's Muse doesn't sing but his poet sings. “To hear a poet sing the sad retreat | The Greeks perform'd from Troy.” Why does his “sack'd and shivered” town sound familiar? The anonymous Pearl Poet used the same seesaw before him in Gawain and the Green Knight: “troye […] brittened and brent.”

(Adrian West recently blogged about the artistic excitement of women being hurt. Troy, too, beaten, bashed, always popular.)

In 1961 Robert Fitzgerald brought the opening of the Odyssey closer to Milton -- “Sing in me, Muse” -- an observation that, if you take it on its own, with no other examples around to modify the idea, contradicts the point I was trying to make earlier; and the substitution of the word “sing” for “make poetry” has not been falling out of use for at least the past hundred years, because, look, it was being used in 1961 while Bigge-Wither in 1869 completely ignored it. John Donne, in The Triple Fool (1633), distinguishes between poems made silently and poems sung aloud.

    I am two fools, I know,
    For loving, and for saying so
        In whining poetry ;
But where's that wise man, that would not be I,
        If she would not deny ?
Then as th' earth's inward narrow crooked lanes
    Do purge sea water's fretful salt away,
I thought, if I could draw my pains
    Through rhyme's vexation, I should them allay.
Grief brought to numbers cannot be so fierce,
For he tames it, that fetters it in verse.

    But when I have done so,
    Some man, his art and voice to show,
        Doth set and sing my pain ;
And, by delighting many, frees again
        Grief, which verse did restrain.
To love and grief tribute of verse belongs,
    But not of such as pleases when 'tis read.
Both are increasèd by such songs,
    For both their triumphs so are published,
And I, which was two fools, do so grow three.
Who are a little wise, the best fools be.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

his quiet way

There is an abundance of evidence that singer and sing can be synonymous with poet and write, but when was the last time I saw anyone praise a poet by calling them a graceful singer, which is the phrase that The Cambridge History of English and American Literature (1907 – 21, in eighteen volumes) uses to describe the Australian poet Daniel Deniehy (1813 – 1868)? The same History says that J. Sheridan Moore (1828 – 1891) “sang in easy style of Australian scenes;” and the writer himself asserted that it was his duty to “sing” -- Vignette --


In the shining day —
In the shadowy night —
On his quiet way —
'Mid the world's fierce strife —
Where the flowers bloom —
Where the forests fade —
When his soul's in gloom —
When in light arrayed —
The Poet, to his instinct true,

-- is the first piece in Spring-Life: Lyrics (1864), which might be his only poetry collection, “an honest and affectionate, if not very valuable, contribution to the Literature of Australia,” as he tells you in the preface, “I am no poet, in the high and true sense of the word,” he says; I am a man who has written some incidental verses and sold them to “newspapers, or the pages of magazines.” One of the pieces was going to be set to music. “When I first wrote them, it was my intention — and I had hopes at the time of being able — to issue a series of Australian Songs, with appropriate music by some of our best composers. […] I hope I may yet be able to accomplish my first purpose, and issue a series of Australian Songs, which, both as regards Music and Words, will do us no discredit in the judgment of those who form the highest tribunal of Art-Criticism in London.”

He is so apologetic that he seems actually ashamed of the book and not just modest, but he will publish anyway because other people have been stealing his poems. “I allude more particularly to the cool and skilful appropriation made in Texts for Talkers (London: Saunders, Otley, and Co., 1860), where extracts from pieces of mine are given as the productions of one OAKFIELD.” Once Spring-Life is published they will not be able to steal from him any more and OAKFIELD will not steal anyway for OAKFIELD is dead, “beyond the reach of praise or censure,” and OAKFIELD never existed, you realise, when Sheridan writes about “a sly hint ... elsewhere prefixed [in Texts for Talkers], to the effect that “OAKFIELD” and the author of the “Texts” are identical” -- then who was OAKFIELD? -- if he was “the author of the “Texts”” then he was Frank Fowler, a British journalist who lived in Sydney between 1855 and 1858, a man that Sheridan was “familiar” with, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography. “Well known, if not universally popular, in Sydney's literary milieu, Moore was familiar with such men as N.D. Stenhouse, Richard Rowe, James Lionel Michael, Daniel Deniehy, W.B. Dalley, Henry Kendall, John Woolley and Frank Fowler, and edited the Month.” Fowler co-founded the Month.

When Fowler went back to London he published a memoir in which he seems to praise Sheridan, not by name but with a piece of code that the Sydney circle would have understood, when he opens a list of “The weekly press, in Sydney” with the words “a carefully-edited Catholic journal.” That journal was named Freemans and Sheridan was the editor from '56 to '57. Fowler's memoir, Southern Lights and Shadows, was published in 1859. He died four years later at the age of thirty.

When I remember that Texts was published in 1860 and Sheridan made his accusation in the preface only one year after his colleague was dead, I wonder if the news of the death had acted on him like a word of permission.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

imagine singing

What about the other poets in the Anthology?

The first time I read Bertram Stevens' choice I came away with a quick impression of softness and grandness or quietness and grandness, the language of grandness (“gold,” and “purple” objects, verbs happening “oft”) without royal aggression: here were people who would rather talk about roses than say anything satirical, here nostalgia was the fad, never comedy – and even on a second and third look it's not a funny book, Stevens not a man who cared about humour in poems (see his selection from Banjo Paterson -- nature things and Clancy of the Overflow), and Walter Murdoch in 1918 wasn't mad keen either, in The Oxford Book of Australasian Verse – still, the different level of attention in the second and third go-arounds penetrated that first impression and now I realise that a few poets like John Farrell (1851 – 1904) had the impatience that I smelt faintly, faintly when I was reading Bathgate's Sydney.

“The noisiest find quiet graves,” is the way he sums up the deaths of British adventurers abroad in Australia to England (1897), which may not look like much but when I saw him write in close phrases through the whole poem I thought that here was a poet whose ideas came to him so vividly that they came as song.

“I imagine singing I imagine | getting it right,” wrote Geoffrey Hill once, and Paul Muldoon, talking about T.S. Eliot in 2011, said, “He has a great ear, a rarer and rarer commodity these days, even among fairly highly regarded poets.” Ezra Pound is an advocate of song in The ABC of Reading. It's possible that Hill, who admires Pound, was echoing the ABC when he associates “singing” with “getting it right.” But Hill is hard on himself and uses absolutes. Not “getting it acceptable” but “getting it right.” “Either the thing moves, RAPMASTER, or it | does not,” is what he believes* in Speech! Speech!, the enjambment reminding me of the same before the word “mute” in Wordsworth's There was a Boy, which I would not have thought of if Himadri at The Argumentative Old Git hadn't written about it in July.

The moment of silence before the admission of incapacity, that's what I'm looking at, does not speak in one case, does not work in the other. “Hopefully, RAPMASTER, I can take stock | how best to oút-ráp you.” There's always something to live up to. (The Moldovan bots have overtaken the Russians in my stats.)

* He challenges the value of movement ("I disclaim spontaneity, | the appearance of which is power") but not the fact of it. "I wíll | mátch you fake pindaric for trite | violence, evil twin."

Thursday, August 7, 2014

his richest notes

Rummaging through Far South Fancies I go searching for darkness set against other things. “Our woods are dark, our lakelets' waters clear” from Faerie, “Where the dawn the darkness breaks | Floats a lightsome fleecy cloud” from Lament for Te Heu Heu, “Naught the expanse of yellow breaks, | Save where a darker spot denotes | Some straggling bush” (Our Heritage), “The sky was quickly darkened, | Where erst all had been fair” (The Praetor Aelius Tubero), “The moko chimes his richest notes |'Mid dark green kaio trees” (A New Zealand Reverie), and meanwhile in Light he, the poet, imagines darkness, representing self-interest, “smitten” by God: “God is light.”

Full many an evil influence doth lurk ;
Some dark as night, and others seeming fair

Seeming fair but dark at heart. Seeming fair, but, examined rightfully, it is dark. “Passion's oft for Love mistaken” in Eric Iredale but they are different. “Passion dies but Love's eternal.” A love that has passed is an illegitimate love. “But pure love is never sating.” A rock is more virtuous than a puddle, a tree is closer to heaven than a worm. To endure is virtuous, per se. Ezra Pound put the same assumption into his ABC of Reading. It was not uncommon.

Darkness is a sign of strength in The Clematis and a kind hiding spot in other places (“They gain the whare's safe retreat,| And in its friendly darkness hide” (Hinemoa)); descriptive threat of depth elsewhere.

He recks not what result his action brings,
The dark and rushing waters o'er his head

(from Eric Iredale)

We have harnessed the binary properties of electrons, said the mathematician to me when he was discussing life; and look at computers for example, which work by asking for discrete packages of energy either spurted or withdrawn, every unit always on or off, but what about the other properties, the not-binary, not understood by us, and never used, because we can't – he said, and wished that physicists would work widely, towards uncertainty, and not inwardly, towards corralling and reportable successes, public profiles: that was how he saw them, with expectation guiding them into a disappointing temptation. “Bauerlein et al. (2010) claim that we are currently experiencing an ‘avalanche of low-quality research’, and academia has become an environment where ‘[a]spiring researchers are turned into publish-or-perish entrepreneurs, often becoming more or less cynical about the higher ideals of the pursuit of knowledge’,” is the opening line of a quote at flowerville.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

ground where now we stand

If I had to choose a piece of Bathgate's scenery I would pick the contrast between the colours of the swans and the pelicans in The Sydney Exhibition, 1879, “The only fleet a flock of dusky swans, | Which, near some fearless white-plumed pelicans | Swam stately on the quiet water's breast” -- only I want the contrast jammed closer, eg: “For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 14, the line itself turning on the word “turn”), “fruitful strifes and rivalries of peace” (Tennyson, Idylls of the King), or in Hill's Funeral Music, “fastidious trumpets,” even “grim fatuous clown,” from First Dog On The Moon's cartoon about Joe Hockey, the closeness that is also part of jokes and jump cut edits, things close together seeming exciting by proximity, proximity being the arena in which events take place, change wrought, attacks carried out; the possibilities fly open; the poem should be shocked by the surprising contrast of white and black animals on the water.

Note that the colours haven't been mined any further by the author, who, in this narrative scene, is envisioning the First Fleet coming to Botany Bay, obvious, you'd think, obvious, the “poor native black” standing there a little way earlier in line six, looking at him, asking to be transposed into the swans, but does Bathgate think that way? Is that what “fearless” next to “white-plumed pelicans” is trying to do? The British have come and they are fearless, etc, to lead on from the earlier description of “the first daring English wand'rer” in line two?

A century complete has scarcely passed
Since the first daring English wand'rer stood
Upon this favoured ground where now we stand.

Bathgate is so gentle I can't tell. Question though: why does he give the pelicans credit for being fearless, on that quiet bay without the swans threatening them or the ships coming too close, or any other thing trying to attack? Does the act of water-riding seem terrifying in and of itself, to the mind of Alexander Bathgate, even if the water is quiet, and therefore is this act always performed either fearfully or fearlessly, in that same mind?

It is brave to be stately when your entire activity threatens you; and you are like an aristocrat getting into a tumbril.

Or else the absence of fear in these pelicans is so incredible to Bathgate that it doesn't need to be justified by any poem, even if he is the author of that poem. It is a royal majesty. Explanation is beyond the point. It should exist. It should have a lovely, pure existence. It should be possible to detect an incredible, impossible purity behind the word "fearless."

When John Donne discusses God in his Sermons he considers the rights of kings.

Donne was not a king any more than Bathgate was a pelican. So I see that the normal existences of alien beings can be a source, either of wonder or of speculation, since Bathgate is wonderstruck without speculating and Donne speculates without seeming wonderstruck.

There is no reason in the poem for the pelicans to be fearless and no reason either, for the wand'rers to be daring. Australia is not only "favoured," it is furthermore a “fairyland of flowers and bright-hued birds” where the “calistemon's flaming brush-like plume, | Meet and delight the adventurer's eye.” “Daring” becomes synonymous with “inexperienced.” When is it brave, entering fairyland? When you don't know that it's fairyland.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

peaceful waves

Bathgate's reviewer never mentions rhymes. The poem as a poem -- as a mechanism of language -- is almost concealed from the person who reads the review, aside from the mention of “lines which are both wise and true.” What's a line like when it's wise and true? The meaning matters to him, not the form. A poem can do two things in this review: it can introduce you to characters and it can describe landscape. It would be indistinguishable from prose if it didn't have those “lines.” The reviewer quotes from Ivan Graeme.

The glossy kine browse lazily,
Or on the grass repose.
The grey-duck swims so warily
In pool where raupo grows:
While from the sea there swiftly comes
The black-capped, long-winged tern;
The drowsy blue-fly heavy hums
Among the russet fern.
The wide Pacific's peaceful waves
Are scarce heard from the shore,
Save where a dark cliff's feet it laves
With distant muffled roar.

He likes the kind of poem that could be described as an “immersive experience,” smooth, jerkless, joltless, giving him the beautiful feeling of flying through the pages -- which is the style that Bathgate pursues; and so the reviewer doesn't describe it, he doesn't need to, it's the warm water in which he's lying; he looks up.