A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

St. Lucie's Day

Today is the feast of St. Lucy, by the unreformed Julian calendar the shortest day of the year. It's the festival of light, particularly in Sweden, parts of which are in complete darkness on this day. There it's customary for the youngest girl in the household to dress in white, wearing a crown of candles, and awaken the family with a traditional breakfast of coffee and Lussekattor. The formerly blazing candles are now electric, much safer for the beautiful long tresses of young girls.

I'm going to risk copyright infringement and print one of the most beautiful poems in the English language, composed by John Donne for this occasion. The "her" in the poem apparently refers to Donne's wife, Anne More, who died after giving birth to their twelfth child:

A Nocturnall Upon St. Lucies Day,
Being The Shortest Day

’Tis the yeares midnight, and it is the dayes,
Lucies, who scarce seaven houres herself unmaskes,
The Sunne is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rayes;
The worlds whole sap is sunke:
The generall balme th’ hydroptique earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the beds-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar’d with mee, who am their Epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers bee
At the next world, that is, at the next Spring:
For I am every dead thing,
In whom love wrought new Alchimie.
For his art did expresse
A quintessence even from nothingnesse,
From dull privations, and leane emptinesse:
He ruin’d mee, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darknesse, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soule, forme, spirit, whence they beeing have;
I, by loves limbecke, am the grave
Of all, that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have wee two wept, and so
Drownd the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
To be two Chaosses, when we did show
Care to ought else; and often absences
Withdrew our soules, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing, the Elixer grown;
Were I a man, that I were one,
I needs must know; I should preferre,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; Yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; All, all some properties invest;
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am None; nor will my Sunne renew.
You lovers, for whose sake, the lesser Sunne
At this time to the Goat is runne
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all;
Since shee enjoyes her long nights festivall,
Let mee prepare towards her, and let mee call
This houre her Vigill, and her Eve, since this
Bothe the yeares, and the dayes deep midnight is.


Bad Poetry: Rain

One of my fantasies is to host a literary salon; in fact, "literary salon" has been officially napkin-listed as one of my resolutions in the past. I've got the perfect space, and I'm slowly assembling enough literary acquaintances to populate it. Fellow writer Christopher would undoubtedly be a regular.

But since I don't have a salon--yet--and since Christopher for the time being is finding it inconvenient to travel to Massachusetts (long story), we have been for some time holding court in various decidedly un-literary spots near his home in Connecticut. This week found us at a noisy sports bar in Enfield. One of the topics we tried to discuss during the evening was a "poem" Chris had posted on his blog (http://www.cfaille.blog-city.com/a_poem_or_notes_of_a_journalist.htm):

Rare in the desert.
Running? Effect on war.

Chris poses the question, "When we say that some set of words is a poem, do we mean that something specific has been accomplished or only that something has been attempted?" If we assume that the above lines were intended to be a poem, and find literary merit in them, does that make them a poem? What happens if we subsequently discover that they are, in fact, only notes made by a journalist? Does that disqualify them as a poem?

Henry and I both jumped on Chris for citing authorial intent as a criterion. We both place art in the eye of the beholder. Henry calls "the fact that it was created by accident" "merely an incidental historical fact."

Three years ago I hung my first hubcap on the wall simply because a nail happened to be sticking out there. I didn't want to forget to give it to the person I'd scooped it out of the snowbank for. But as I looked at it every day, I began to appreciate it as an object, apart from its intended function. Now I've got a wallfull. In another context, that wallfull might be a junkyard or a warehouse. Instead, I've got a gallery.

The hubcaps, though, are beautiful. Although the manufacturer didn't intend them to be art, and although I didn't initially begin displaying them as art, as a viewer I submit that they are art. The above lines, on the other hand, even if printed on ivory vellum in a chapbook, just don't do it for me. Sorry, "Rain," you're not a poem.

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