Archive for the 'American Literature' Category

Mar 17 2018

World’s Greatest Advice

From Preface to Leaves of Grass (1855), by Walt Whitman.

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body… . The poet shall not spend his time in unneeded work. He shall know that the ground is always ready ploughed and manured … others may not know it but he shall. He shall go directly to the creation. His trust shall master the trust of everything he touches … and shall master all attachment.

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Mar 11 2012

Adapting Yourself to the Cosmos

From The Colossus of Maroussi (1941), by Henry Miller:

Along the Sacred Way, from Daphni to the sea, I was on the point of madness several times. I actually did start running up the hillside only to stop midway, terror-stricken, wondering what had taken possession of me. On one side are stones and shrubs which stand out with microscopic clarity; on the other are trees such as one sees in Japanese prints, trees flooded with light, intoxicated, corybantic trees which must have been planted by the gods in moments of drunken exaltation. One should not race along the Sacred Way in a motor car—it is sacrilege. One should walk, walk as the men of old walked, and allow one’s whole being to become flooded with light. This is not a Christian highway: it was made by the feet of devout pagans on their way to initiation at Eleusis. There is no suffering, no martyrdom, no flagellation of the flesh connected with this processional artery. Everything here speaks now, as it did centuries ago, of illumination, of blinding, joyous illumination. Light acquires a transcendental quality: it is not the light of the Mediterranean alone, it is something more, something unfathomable, something holy. Here the light penetrates directly to the soul, opens the doors and windows of the heart, makes one naked, exposed, isolated in a metaphysical bliss which makes everything clear without being known. No analysis can go on in this light: here the neurotic is either instantly healed or goes mad. The rocks themselves are quite mad: they have been lying for centuries exposed to this divine illumination: they lie very still and quiet, nestling amid dancing colored shrubs in a blood-stained soil, but they are mad, I say, and to touch them is to risk losing one’s grip on everything which once seemed firm, solid and unshakeable. One must glide through this gully with extreme caution, naked, alone, and devoid of all Christian humbug. One must throw off two thousand years of ignorance and superstition, of morbid, sickly subterranean living and lying. One must come to Eleusis stripped of the barnacles which have accumulated from centuries of lying in stagnant waters. At Eleusis one realizes, if never before, that there is no salvation in becoming adapted to a world which is crazy. At Eleusis one becomes adapted to the cosmos. Outwardly Eleusis may seem broken, disintegrated with the crumbled past; actually Eleusis is still intact and it is we who are broken, dispersed, crumbling to dust. Eleusis lives, lives eternally in the midst of a dying world.

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Sep 20 2008


Published by under American Literature

Recently, thanks to Algabal, I discovered a wickedly delicious volume of poetry called Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments, written by Witter Bynner and Arthur Davison Ficke, and published in 1916. Spectra was a literary hoax which fooled just about everyone who mattered in literary America of 1916, up to and including Amy Lowell, Edgar Lee Masters and William Carlos Williams. The book is fabulous nonsense from beginning to end. It begins with a gasbag manifesto explaining how the spectrist “movement” was supposed to be about the colors of the spectrum and and how they produce “spectres”, or something like that. Then you get to the poetry, which contain a howler in practically every line. Bynner used the pseudonym of Emanuel Morgan, while Ficke was Anne Knish. Further details of the hoax are online here.

I have long admired Bynner’s work–he produced a wonderful translation of Chinese poetry, The Jade Mountain (1929), and an excellent version of the Tao Te Ching: The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu (1944). Ficke is not as well known but deserves to be. Google Book Search has some of Bynner early work online here, and Ficke’s here. Spectra was their only joint effort and deserves to be rediscovered.

Particularly at the present time. One of the most interesting aspects of Spectra is the remarkable similarity of the spoof poems to what passes for “serious” poetry here in the 21st century. Study the pomposity, the flights of inanity, the disconnectedness, and the pretentiousness on display in Spectra, and behold, you will discover identical crap everywhere in cutting edge contemporary poetry—especially the stuff on display at The Page. Sometimes, whenever I am feeling sufficiently masochistic, I try to search through the prestige offerings at this prestige site, but what I always seem to discover are nice little doohickeys like this, which starts off:

Child waking up in a dark room
screaming I want my duck back, I want my duck back

in a language nobody understands in the least —

There is no duck.

But the dog, all upholstered in white plush —
the dog is right there in the crib next to him.

Years and years — that’s how much time passes.
All in a dream. But the duck —
no one knows what happened to that.

Witter and Arthur, where are you when we need you? Why doesn’t someone write spoofs of the prize winning doggerel being tossed about these days? Well, maybe one day it will actually happen. So ye of the fancy MFA degrees: beware! beware! There really is a duck! With my own eyes I have seen the duck! One of these days the duck is going to stomp out all of academe’s lethally boring postmodern vacuousness, and then you will be seen for the frauds that you are!

Spectra is now available at my website here. Read and enjoy. As for me, whenever I want my poetry fix, looks like I’ll have to stick with the fin-de-siècle, or the Romantics, or the Elizabethans, and or maybe even with old Epicurean fogies like Virgil, Horace, and Lucretius.

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